MAN OF TAI CHI Movie Review
What Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut lacks in substance and story development makes up for it in action sequences due to the talents of legendary martial arts stunt coordinator Woo-ping Yeung, the man responsible for classic fight scenes in everything from Drunken Master to Kill Bill. One might see this as a vanity project of sorts to showcase the talents of Tiger Hu Chen, who worked on stunts for both sequels to The Matrix. Shot authentically in Beijing and Hong Kong, this straight forward action flick keeps light on metaphors with the exception of harmonic philosophy associated with Taoism and embracing the meditation of chi gung. The focus is more of a throwback to classic Bruce Lee vehicles like Enter The Dragon and Game Of Death, mirrored rooms and all.
Man of Tai Chi opens up with an underground fighting tournament, the match is meant to last until an opponent meets their death. When said death isn’t delivered, a masked man chooses to intervene by snapping the defeated opponent’s neck. The masked reaper is revealed to be the tournament mastermind Donaka Mark portrayed by Keanu Reeves who instead of flexing his stoic acting abilities, decides to have some fun by giving us an over the top bad guy that wouldn’t be out of place in a classic Shaw Bros. flick. Michael G. Cooney’s script is your typical underdog story surrounding Chen on a spiritual journey of self discovery as he evolves and changes in drastic situations much like his colorful fighting style. Fighting is where Chen really shines because his character is pretty non-charismatic when not performing flying kicks.
From an action perspective, this movie delivers the goods and the fight sequences are dazzling to look at with their strobe-lit backgrounds that only enhance the look of Chen’s acrobatic abilities. There’s plenty of blink and you’ll miss them surprises for fans of the genre like a short fight sequence featuring Iko Uwais of The Raid: Redemption and subtle references to films like the Shaolin Temple series that featured a rising Jet Li. Light on the mysticism that drove the films this pays homage to, it’s still an entertaining bare bones action film that gets by on sheer visceral tenacity and masterful fight choreography that’s gorgeously lit and a work of art in itself.