You surprised me Mr. Keanu Reeves!
I wasn’t so interested to watch this movie but decided to give it a go because of Tiger Chen, it was interesting to see him in action, but besides martial arts skills as an actor, he doesn’t possess Jet Li or Donnie Yen’s charisma.
Opening in China in July and slated for a release in the U.S. by Radius at the end of 2013 martial arts film Man of Tai Chi is a directorial debut of Keanu “Neo” Reeves with Tiger Chen as a lead.
This project heralded by China Film Group is a prime exemplar of a foreign Hollywood star coming to China and making an authentic Chinese martial arts film with a simple and very often used storyline of a man forced to fight in underground bare-knuckle championships against most talented fighters.
Reeves himself plays the Hong Kong-based bad guy Donaka who runs an international underground fight network for the viewing pleasure of rich customers. Looking for a new champion, he locks on Beijing Tai Chi student with a stressful, low-paid job as a courier in Beijing. Chen uses Donaka’s offer of employment to quickly raise the needed cash to save the temple from demolition.
Keanu looks very good as a bad guy and identifies himself more as the Lucifer than a businessman motivated by profit only. Deadly fights and oft-repeated response “Does it matter?” helps Tiger gets to the next level of evolution of his own style and becomes able to channel chi with deadly force.
The central question being posed in Man of Tai Chi is what a martial arts expert is fighting for.
Tai Chi is mostly a physical form of meditation rather than a fighting art, but what Chen’s master fears are that Chen’s blood lust will be aroused by the violent contests and his Tai Chi discipline will be corrupted in the process.
Moves and flow what Chen got from his Master Yang really do show Tai Chi to be very fluid and strong. However, as the movie progresses, it gets harder to recognize any of the unique Tai Chi techniques that put film apart from commonly seen martial arts movie fights.
The climactic battle in which Keanu himself appears as a skilled (clumsy) martial arts expert (sorry Keanu, but you still didn’t make me believe in that) demonstrates the triumph of the spiritual center of Tai Chi.
A subplot involving a Hong Kong cop played by Karen Mok who is determined to bust the underground fighting ring and her cynical superior officer played by Simon Yam adds nothing to this movie and looks like additional scenes taken from somewhere else.
Man of Tai Chi is a decent martial arts movie with catchy OST, good cinematography, quality stunts and fighting choreography but a lack of originality. Those who expect great things from the reunion of Matrix Reeves and Yuen Woo-ping will not be disappointed by the skull-cracking action on offer.
Keanu Reeve’s delivered a slightly under average action movie for his directorial role and should consider tackling a movie with more context and plot elements.