Set in modern Beijing, 'Man of Tai Chi' marks Keanu Reeves' directorial debut. The film, also starring Reeves, follows the spiritual journey of a young martial artist (played by Tiger Chen) whose unparalleled Tai Chi skills land him in a highly lucrative underworld fight club. As the fights intensify, so does his will to survive.
Keanu Reeves has made a career out of martial arts thanks to the popularity of The Matrix trilogy and while his star rating has cooled in recent years he is still devoting time to his passion for the craft. His latest film, also his first time behind the camera, is all about honing the skill but while the choreography and attention to detail is stunning the film lacks a clear story and by the end you are left wondering what in the world just happened.
Man of Tai Chi follows Tiger Chen (Tiger Chen Linhu), a skilled expert in Tai Chi, a martial art used purely as a form of meditation, a kind of spiritual exercise as some might view it. However when Tiger begins to use Tai Chi as a way of fighting he is invited to battle in an underground league that is run by Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves). What Tiger doesn’t realise is that Donaka is looking to turn all his fighters into killers, in one way or another and Tiger must decide for himself what he is going to do and if he is going to kill.
Reeves clearly understands the beauty hidden within martial arts, esspecially the beauty of Tai Chi but he doesn’t quite grasp the human element of the craft, the devotion and the perserverence are there but the sense of pride and honor seem to have been left on the cutting room floor in favour of a twisted tale of murder and forgiveness. While the film presents a different view of the modern action movie, it still falls into the same plot problems and cliches that litter Hollywood movies.
That being said the film is fresh, unique and beautifully filmed as Reeves shows he has a fine eye for direction. His skill directing also transfers over to his acting as his Donaka is more than your stereotypical villain, he is equal parts charming, monstrous and debonhair. Reeves is terrific in the role and he makes the conflict between Tiger and Donaka seem that much more plausible and tense.
The film may take some liberties and it may not always hit the right marks but this is an experimental tale and one that works extremely well if you know what to expect and whats on offer is more than enough to satisfy, despite the story leaving you in a state of confusion at times.