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Man of Tai Chi: Reeves of Fury

February 12, 2014

Man of Tai Chi movie poster

Man of Tai Chi is a straight forward butt-kicker that brings the pain and allows Keanu Reeves to relax on screen. It is an absolute joy as it navigates wonky plotting, face kicks and 40 minutes of fighting. Man of Tai Chi is a throwback fight film that questions corruption and features a maniacal villain who has his own lair and all black attire.

Keanu Reeves made this film for his friend Tiger Chen whom he worked with on The Matrix sequels. He studied the Chinese culture and worked meticulously to give his leading man the best choreography possible. Reeves enlisted Yeun Woo-Ping (The Matrix) to choreograph the fights and it shows during the brawls. Tiger fights his way through many styles and each battle has a different personality.  I love how Tai Chi has been re-imagined as force of pain and it’s glorious to watch as Tiger uses it against his many foes.

The characterization is never deep but I dug how Reeves opened the film following Tiger through his average day. You get a feel for Hong Kong daily life and it establishes the personality of the lead character.  He teaches himself English, works a nine-to-five job and enjoys dinners with his family. Tiger is also a Tai Chi practitioner who has trouble embracing the soft/defensive side of the discipline. His teacher senses he wants to go hard and this leads to some pretty amazing Tai Chi skirmishes between contrasting sides of the discipline (think Jake LaMotta’s bully style vs. Floyd Mayweather and his counter punching)

Keanu Reeves plays Donaka Mark (great villain name). Donka is a rich business man who notices Tiger and brings him into his world of underground fighting.  Of course, it leads down a rabbit hole of money, crime, face punches and anger.

The movie builds to a bravura battle between Chen and Reeves. Reeves and his 6’1 frame stand tall over Chen and the two engage in a spirited hard nosed brawl. It feels like you are back in The Matrix as the camera lingers on the fight. The two contrasting styles mix well and the two give everything they’ve got.  I wondered why Keanu’s style was so stiff but this quote from Tiger answered that question.

Well, for real, he is stronger than me. He’s bigger than me and has arms longer than me, especially legs much longer than me. Yes, he’s more powerful than me. Master Woo-ping tried to make him like hard style, very strong, stiff but lots of power.

I loved watching Keanu in this film. He was able to cut loose and enjoy being the bad guy. His Bond-like villain is the all seeing baddie who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. His character is a complete 180 degree flip from his stoic bore in 47 Ronin. He yells with rage, punches with aplomb and has a sweet pad.

Keanu Man of Tai Chi

Man of Tai Chi is a throwback film that simply wants to entertain. It is Keanu bringing us the goods, and he has succeeded. The fight scenes are well choreographed and my only complaint is that Iko Uwais didn’t get enough screen time . The camera moves with the action and I enjoyed watching fights that don’t cut to something different every 1/20th of a second.

Man of Tai Chi is pure cinema. It is an incorruptible piece of work much like its lead character. The movie has flaws but was never meant to be perfect. I can’t wait to see what Reeves does next.

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