A young martial artist’s unparalleled Tai Chi skills land him in a highly lucrative underworld fight club.
Tai Chi is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. Some of Tai Chi’s training forms are especially known for being practiced at what most people categorize as slow movement. Here, we are introduced to Tiger Chen, a Tai Chi student who is rather rebellious and uses Tai Chi to fight, despite his master’s concerns. When the temple that he studies at gets threatened from modern redevelopment, he brawls in an underground fight club to get money the temple needs. However, he soon realizes that his employer has other negative motives. When it was announced, some time ago, that Keanu Reeves would be making his directorial debut with a movie that would be shot in Hong Kong and would use Chinese actors speaking in Mandarin and Cantonese, people thought he was crazy. But then again, people thought the same thing when Mel Gibson shot “The Passion of the Christ”, not in English but rather Aramaic and Latin, with English subtitles. And that movie went on to gross over $600 million worldwide. Mr. Reeves has been pretty good at keeping a low profile in Hollywood but as far as his film career goes, the last time we saw him in a high-profile movie, was back in 2008 with “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
But we won’t hold that against him, after all, he did give us “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, “Point Break”, “Speed” and “The Matrix” trilogy, to name but a few. I’ve always liked Mr. Reeves and in my list of favorite top five movies of all time, “The Matrix” is in there. He got great guidance by that movie’s directors, Andy & Lana Wachowski and it appears that Mr. Reeves has put that knowledge to great use with “Man of Tai Chi.” The main character, Tiger Chen, reminded me of Neo in “The Matrix.” He is rebellious and loyal, even if he isn’t fully aware of what’s going on around him but when he does, he rises above all obstacles in order to be the last man standing. Tiger uses his skills for tournament fighting but when he’s offered a ‘security job’ from the mysterious Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves), he reluctantly accepts so he can financially help his family and his temple. He quickly finds out though, that his ‘job’ is not in security and it becomes abundantly clear that Mr. Mark is shaping him to become the next big underground fighter.
Detective Sun Jingshi (Karen Mok) will stop at nothing to foil the illegal ring, having mysteriously lost an informant on the inside but her superior, Captain Wong (Simon Yam) is not keen due to a lack of solid evidence. There are some nice twists along the way and the film wastes no time in laying the foundation for the inevitable final showdown between Tiger and Mark, which was very evocative of “The Matrix.” For his directorial debut, Mr. Reeves has crafted a solid action movie along with some truly magnificent fight scenes. He was wise to use Yuen Woo-Ping, the martial arts choreographer on “The Matrix” and the “Kill Bill” movies. Mr. Reeves has aged, like fine wine but still looks good and I have to give him kudos for taking on the bad guy role and he seems more than happy to be Agent Smith rather than Mr. Anderson. Mr. Reeves’ appreciation for the genre and the fact that good fighters appear throughout will make martial arts fans happy. “Man of Tai Chi” is a noble inclusion to the genre, an impressive debut from a first-time director whose reverence for martial arts shines through with prominence. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does display a love for the art. Highly recommended.
In theaters September 21st
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