Directed by: Keanu Reeves.
Written by: Michael G. Cooney.
Starring: Keanu Reeves (Donaka Mark), Tiger Hu Chen (Chen Lin-Hu - Man of Tai Chi), Iko Uwais (Gilang Sanjaya), Karen Mok (Sun Jingshi), Simon Yam (Wong), Silvio Simac (Uri Romanov), Qing Ye (Qingsha), Yu Hai (Master Yang), Sam Lee (Tak Ming), Michael Tong (Policeman Yuan).
I suspect one’s tolerance for Keanu Reeves Man of Tai Chi will depend on how much time one has spent watching, and loving, martial arts movies of the past. This is a movie that Reeves has clearly made as homage to the films of his youth that he loved – and I think he’s probably made precisely the film he set out to make. To me though, who likes martial arts movies, but doesn’t love them that much, I could get by the horrid pacing of the movie, the threadbare, obvious plot, or the wooden acting of pretty much the entire cast. Yes, they all hallmarks of the genre in many ways – no one goes to see martial arts movies for the acting or plot, they go to see people kick the crap out of each other in elaborately staged fight sequences – which I why I say I like, but don’t love martial arts movies. I need something more than just pure ass kicking – which, it must be said Man of Tai Chi delivers. It just doesn’t deliver anything else worth your time.
If you’re like me, you probably didn’t even know Tai Chi could be used in fights. My 61 year old mother does Tai Chi, and only took it up a few years ago. My only knowledge of Tai Chi comes from her, and those times you see a group of old people in a park, moving very, very slowly. So I was somewhat relieved to be informed early in Man of Tai Chi that it is not, generally, used to kick anyone’s ass. The main character is Chen Lin-Hu (Tiger Hu Chen), who studies under a Tai Chi master, and fights in tournaments against his wishes. It is in these tournaments that Chen gets the attention of Donaka Mark (Reeves) – and it’s precisely because he uses Tai Chi, which is not normally used in fighting, that Donaka wants him. We know Donaka is a criminal, using these fights as a sort of pay-per-view show, where people sometimes die (that’s the ultimate endgame for all of them) – but Chen doesn’t know this at first. He just wants to make enough money to save his master’s temple – which Donaka can provide him with.
I won’t go through the rest of the plot of Man of Tai Chi – which is plodding and obvious and broken up by expertly staged fight scenes, because there really is no point. Even if Chen is hopelessly naïve about Donaka’s evil intentions from the outset, I doubt anyone in the audience will be – and if they like this type of film, they won’t much care either. They came for the fights – and Man of Tai Chi mostly delivers on that front. Tiger Hu Chen is mainly known for his stunt work, which he’s brought to films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix movies, and yes, he is a very good martial artist – who shows his skills more and more as the film progresses. He cannot really act – he is stone faced through most of the movie, although I have to think that it a deliberate choice on Reeves’ part – as everyone, including Reeves, is also stone faced. Say what you will about Reeves acting ability – he can be more expressive than he is here.
The problem for me with a movie like Man of Tai Chi is that no matter how good the fight scenes are – and they are quite good here, if never quite awe inspiring as the best sequences in movies can be (or the entirety of something like last year’s The Raid: Redemption), is that I need something else to hold my attention. After a while, I get bored of just watching people kick each other. If you don’t require things like plot or character or acting ability, and just want to watch people kick each other, than Man of Tai Chi is a movie for you.