Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
We are fans here at the FCU of actor Keanu Reeves, not so much for his filmography, but because he seems like such a nice and genuine person.  And since most of us know that Mr. Reeves isn't the greatest actor around, I tend think that this persona of his is true.  But even if we might question Keanu's acting ability, it's still a unique style that is all his own, and that really isn't something anyone can legitimately debate.  Today we are privy to see Keanu Reeves directing debut with this film 'Man of Tai Chi', and from what I can tell after watching 'Man of Tai Chi' is that it looks like, at least, that Mr. Reeves was paying a little attention to what was going on the other side of the camera of the plethora of films he has appeared in.

Keanu assumes the role of Donaka Mark, an American living in Hong Kong who does something or another that pays him an awful lot of money, which allows him to reside in a dope sky-rise apartment building, drive lots of nice cars and fly his own private plane.  In his spare time, Donaka likes to host illegal closed circuit fights, and while these fights look to be lucrative, the money doesn't seem to matter to the man, but more so the theater of the individuals involved.  The individual that Donaka was using as a headliner for his fight game won't be of much use to him at the moment, he kind of fell on a knife over and over again, so now Donaka will need a new person to attempt to corrupt.

This introduces us to Tiger Chen, as played by Tiger Chen.  We must assume that during production, Mr. Chen had difficulty answering to any other name, so they just called by his regular name.  Tiger is attempting to become a master of the discipline of Tai Chi, but his sensei Master Yang (Yu Hai) feels a disconnect in his young pupil.  Part of this disconnect could be that Tiger feels Tai Chi is more than exercise and a path to internal peace, but can also be a viable combat martial art.  He even enters a local martial arts competition and proves this to be the case, which brings him to the attention of Donaka.
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You are probably familiar with the routine.  Donaka asks Tiger to fight for him, offers up boatload of cash, Tiger politely refuses, Donaka puts a few subtle things in motion which will force Donaka, of his own imagined free will, to fight for him, and now the young man is seduced by the money, the notoriety, and the feeling of power that can only come by having pockets full of money and beating people near to death.

While Donaka is entertained by Tiger's descent, all he really cares about is the endgame.  Complete Corruption.  And without that, it's all been a waste of time, and Donaka Mark doesn't like wasting his time.  Somehow, someway, he's going to make this young man do what he wants.  The showdown looms.

For his first foray into narrative storytelling, director Reeves certainly isn't taking too many chances with 'Man of Tai Chi' as this is about as straightforward and as linear as an action film can get, and this is a simplicity that we can appreciate.  No need to reinvent the wheel, no need to get cute, just give the fans what they want and then get out of town.  Now of course it takes that little extra, that little special something that we've never seen before or a  special re-imaging of something we've seen before that will make a movie great, which 'Man of Tai Chi' is not, but it is solid, action filled, martial arts entertainment.

First order of business, cast yourself a super athletic lead who can kick ass and hopefully act a little bit.  One out of two ain't so bad.  Tiger Chen isn't so much a bad actor, just one that's not all the compelling to watch, unless of course he's beating somebody up.  Considering he's our main character and our emotions are designed to be caught up in his plight, Chen simply didn't have the emotional range to bring us into this plight of his.  At least in our opinion.  This just might be the opposite for Reeves character of Donaka Mark, as Keanu Reeves just might be a bad actor, but to the contrary, he's almost always compelling to watch because he does possess a certain amount of screen presence which demands your attention.   The casting office also had the foresight to cast Hong Kong acting veterans, and personal favorites of ours in Karen Mok as the cop investigating Donaka, and Simon Yam as her boss.  And since it is Simon Yam in a movie, chances are he's up to no good.  These actors didn't have much to do in this movie, but their presence was appreciated.

Second order of business, see if Yuen Wo-ping is available to choreograph the fight sequences.  He was, and the fight sequences are clearly the most impressive thing  about this movie, and Reeves the director did an admirable job in filming these sequences, which is made all the more impressive with the limited use of wire work.  The cinematography was also a cut above, with most of the movie given to a hazy muted grey tone which highlights the overall darkness of the subject matter, except for a few of the fight scenes which are slick and hyper colorful. 

'Man of Tai-Chi' isn't a special film or a ground breaking film, but it was an entertaining film, highly so if one were to ask me.  Assuming this is Keanu Reeves new calling in life, I will be looking forward the next project he chooses to take on.
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