He Knows Kung Fu…And Directing: Man of Tai Chi Review

man-of-tai-chi (aintitcool)
(Photo: aintitcool)

I remember when I was younger, I used to love watching kung-fu movies. This was back when even Jackie Chan’s American movies received generally fair praise and the name Bruce Lee was a familiar one. But as of late, it seems like with the exception of “Ip Man” and it’s sequel, there haven’t really been any noteworthy kung-fu movies (and before you ask, no. I have not seen “The Raid” yet). But not too long ago, Keanu Reeves, a person most will only know from “The Matrix” series directed his first movie, “Man of Tai Chi.” Having recently watched it, I felt compelled to sum up my feelings towards it because it reignited my love of kung-fu cinema.

The story is intriguing. It follows Tiger Chen, the last student of his Tai Chi temple who is trying to preserve his temple, and find his true self while getting caught up in the Chinese equivalent of Fight Club only this one is run by Mr. Reeves and not Brad Pitt. The movie takes a very philosophical approach and it raises some good questions, even if not all of them are original. If I were to judge the movie in parts I’d say the beginning is great followed by an equally good middle, and concluded with a so-so third act.

The actors seem to give it there all, both while in combat and during their dialogue scenes. This also goes hand in hand with some (mostly) good writing. Tiger had me convinced this was his life and not just some movie and Keanu…is Keanu. Yeah I’ve always loved him and felt like his performance lived up to his past ones but I’m aware that many don’t appreciate his brand of acting. For those people, I’d say that this probably isn’t the movie for you. That being said, things are a little different as we see him don the role of the villain in place of the hero he’s traditionally cast as. Tiger’s sensei does a good job and most of the other actors do well enough so unless you’re not a fan of Reeves you shouldn’t have much a problem with the acting.

“Man of Tai Chi” easily excels in the fight scenes. Whether it’s a respectable tournament fight or a brutal go for the throat underground brawl, each is unique and offers plenty of entertainment value. They all manage to be flashy enough to the point of wonder but not too flashy to the point where it all feels too fake and that’s a difficult feat to accomplish. All of this is complimented by some surprisingly good directing from Keanu. This in turn is aided by some great editing. If you’re the kind of person who tires of the poorly-shot American action movies where the camera is far too close to the action and the editing is rapid and ends up obscuring the choreography then this is your movie. Not once did I have trouble understanding what was going on during the fight scenes and as such, I was able to fully appreciate all the fantastic choreography on display.

There are a few minor problems in the film. As I said earlier, near the end, some plot specific choices, which I will not spoil for you, made the movie drag on for a little bit. There were also a couple moments that just felt odd. Like the normally good dialogue got a tad cheesy or the plot took a less interesting turn.

In the end, none of “Man of Tai Chi”’s issues kept me from enjoying what Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut had in store for the viewer. Not many directors have a first film that shows such a promising career, especially considering this is an actor turned director but still also an actor! I’m really curious to see what he’ll do next but until then, I guess I’ll just have to wait for the next big Keanu action film, “47 Ronin.” December can’t come any sooner.

“Man of Tai Chi” gets an 8/10