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Man of Tai Chi
"Man of Tai Chi", Reeves' feature film directorial debut, has the same sometimes-awkward blend that Reeves brings to the table as an actor. The film is super serious (as befitting the martial arts genre, where everything is a matter of life or death), with moments of strange stilted dialogue (also par for the course) and scene after scene of thrilling physical combat, filmed with grace and certainty and no small amount of awe for the athletes involved. Tiger Chen, a stuntman in the two "Matrix" sequels, plays the eponymous character, also named "Tiger Chen". He is a devoted practitioner of the ancient art of tai chi, working with a master named Yang (Yu Hai) in a beautiful temple. For his day job, Tiger works as a delivery boy, driving packages around the city, and flirting with a receptionist at one of his regular stop-offs. He lives with his parents. He does not have ambition to "do anything" with tai chi, because the rules underlying his apprenticeship with Master Yang say that those who practice tai chi do not do so for money, glory, or even to win. But during a public competition, his undeniable skill brings him to the attention of a mysterious individual named Donaka Mark (Reeves). Donaka lives in a cold man-cave of a penthouse, furnished in black leather and chrome. He strolls around barefoot on shiny black marble floors, he speaks only in terse commands. He has a security detail working for him that would rival the NSA's. He reaches out to Tiger, offering him a security job, when in reality it is a recruitment for a deadly underground fighting ring. Tiger is flown to an undisclosed location, put into an empty grey room with a mirror on one wall, as he waits to see what will happen. A female voice commands: "Fight", and from out of nowhere an opponent grabs Tiger from behind. Tiger is then engaged in a fight for his life in that grey room with the big mirror, and it is an Alice-through-the-looking-glass moment which will bear fruit through the rest of the film: Like Alice, Tiger is catapulted from one strange experience to the next. The normal rules of regular life no longer apply. Donaka, of course, is watching through that mirror. That first fight is a test. Tiger passes, but it is only the first of many. Donaka's fight club is run like a cult, where essential information about the nature of the organization is withheld from the participants until they are too deeply embroiled to get out. Tiger finds himself back in that grey room again and again, fighting increasingly vicious and skilled opponents. To what purpose? What is it all for? The money Donaka offers is substantial. When Master Yang's temple is slated for demolition unless money can be raised for necessary repairs, Tiger caves. And so the sacred temple is now being financed by someone who has betrayed the underlying principles taught there, a terrible irony. Tiger Chen, a superb athlete (to watch him is to go slack-jawed in wonder and appreciation), is also a terrific actor, going believably from sweet open kid to cold lean killer with a haunted aspect. "Man of Tai Chi" takes place in a deeply moral universe where our choices have spiritual implications. The fighting ring is illegal. The cops (one in particular) close in on Donaka, who remains elusive and omniscient. Donaka understands that tai chi is not the usual fare in the martial arts underground, and he gets off on the fact that Tiger has sold out. That's the turn-on, the power trip. Reeves isn't in the film all that much, and there are a couple of extremely stiff scenes of dialogue, but he does get a very impressive fight scene with Tiger near the end. This is Tiger Chen's picture all the way. You watch him transform, and you watch his soul go dark.
- Keanu Reeves as Donaka Mark
- Tiger Hu Chen as Chen Lin-Hu
- Jeremy Marinas as MMA Fighter
- Steven Dasz as Vip audience
- Karen Mok Man-Wai as Sun Jingshi
- Michael Chan as Police Officer #1
- Qing Ye as Qinsha
- Yu Hai as Yang
- Sam Lee as Tak Ming
- Iko Uwais as Gilang Sanjaya
Comments by the Master:
This is a great movie. This is the Master's type of tai chi and concept. If Keenu Reeves did not create this movie now the master would have. The representation of true tai chi is magnificent. Most of you do not understand true tai chi but this movie did a great job in conveying chen tai chi skills. The fighter was lead to fight over and over again to convert the nice guy into a killer. The movie setting was in a modern high tech China along with the school in old school China. A very nice mix. I love the old school fighting. It reminds me a little of Shaw Brothers movies up until the CGI starts.
One con of the movie is the last fight scene involves Keenu's character (Donaka Mark) and the main character Tiger Hu played by Chen Lin-Hu. As myself being a tai chi master, clearly as a martial artist Keenu Reeves cannot tie Chen Lin-Mu shoes. So the movies reverts to matrix type CGI to give the appearance that Keenu can actually compete with Chen. CGI is a no no to real martial artists.