Man of Tai Chi Review
"Man of Tai Chi" is the director debut of Keanu Reeves. Yes, Keanu Reeves has made his very first movie. Set in China, we follow the life of Tiger Chen Linhu (played by Tiger Chen, I shit you not.) and how he is down and out of a job he can't stand. All the while his Tai Chi temple is going to be evicted. He is the sole student of the Ling Kong Tai Chi temple, and he will do whatever it takes to hold onto this 600-year tradition. Chen meets Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves), who runs an underground fight club that offers Chen big bucks. He joins the club and soon all the fighting begins to take over his life, and he wonders who he truly is as a person.
I am sure that after you read that this was directed by Keanu Reeves, you probably rolled your eyes, you probably said "are you kidding?" at your computer screen, and you probably thinking about not reading further into this review. The truth is, if Keanu Reeves decides to continue to direct, "Man of Tai Chi" is actually a good start. Most movies that fall under the kung-fu/karate genre tend to be silly and overly-stylized. But Reeves was able to make something truly heartfelt. "Man of Tai Chi" isn't some listless melodrama though, the action scenes are brutal, intense and well-staged. Reeves lays bare everything he loves about martial arts in a movie that shall surely rock your socks off.
Reeves makes his film feel very authentic by setting his film in China, casting Chinese actors and having them speak Chinese with English subtitles. Tiger Chen, in particular, does a very good job in his role. Chen is an interesting character, a man who is out to show that Tai Chi is not just meditation and exercise, its a real martial art. I thought it was important to show us why this temple is so sacred to Chen. Its a long tradition of an art that he is the only student of. He doesn't join this lucrative fight club at the drop of a dime. This movie very much plays on the loss of innocence, and I thought Tiger Chen conveyed that very well.
Keanu Reeves is his typical self. No matter what emotion he's suppose to produce, he always comes off half-asleep and he does so in "Man of Tai Chi." It was interesting to see him play a more villainous character and his big fight scene with Chen at the end is lots of fun. Reeves' performance doesn't derail the movie in any form, but its pretty clear Reeves hasn't learned any new tricks recently. But, this is what we've come to expect from him, so do we hold it against him?
Overall, this is a great directorial debut for Keanu Reeves. A no-holds-barred, in-your-face martial arts film that is brutally fun. This isn't a movie that reinvents the genre, but Reeves has definitely left his personal stamp on the genre. I think that is pretty cool overall. Not everybody can make this strong of a movie this early out of the gate, but Reeves pulled it off. Very impressive.
FINAL GRADE: B