Man of Tai Chi

Man of Tai Chi
Made in: China, United States
Language: Mandarin, Cantonese, English
Director: Keanu Reeves
Starring: Tiger Chen, Keanu Reeves, Karen Mok, Yu Hai, Ye Qing, Simon Yam
Year: 2013

Synopsis: In the sprawling city of Beijing, Tiger (Tiger Chen) is a humble young man working a menial job as a courier for a demanding delivery company. In his spare time, he practices the ancient martial art of tai chi. He is the only student of the wise and elderly master Master Yang (Yu Hai).

Although highly skilled, Tiger is inclined to win a conflict by resorting to brute force. It is a strategy that runs contrary to the philosophy of his master, and one that has Master Yang visibly concerned.

Tiger justifies this break with his master's style, explaining that tai chi must adapt to the modern age. And as a rising star in high-profile martial arts competitions, Tiger's point of view appears to hold water with each victory.

But the mysterious and sinister Donaku Mark (Keanu Reeves), the head of a shadowy security firm, takes notice of Tiger's abilities. He offers Tiger the opportunity to take part in illegal underground fighting contests, which comes with huge cash payouts. Tiger initially refuses, as he doesn't want to fight for money.

But when city planners serve up eviction papers for Master Yang, whose ancient temple failed numerous safety inspections (apparently it wasn't built to code), Tiger reconsiders. He agrees to participate in the underground pit fights, and with each win, Donaku rewards Tiger with enough cash to pay for the temple renovations.

But little does Tiger know, Donaku is under investigation by tenacious Hong Kong police inspector Sun-Jing Shi (Karen Mok)… for murder and a number of other crimes.

With each no-holds-barred fight and victory, Tiger begins to change. His ambition and willingness to embrace brutality sets him on a dangerous path where he might lose not just his freedom, but his soul as well...

The Good:Man of Tai Chi is highly entertaining. Yes, the plot is pretty simple and the basic morality tale at its core is nothing new, but it's told in a very effective way. In fact, at the end of the film, you might even appreciate its cautionary message of pride and temptation.

The action set pieces probably won't blow the minds of seasoned martial arts movie fans, but they're still expertly crafted. Veteran action choreographer Yuen Wo Ping is apparently still in top form.

There's also a sense of authenticity in the film, as it takes place entirely in China with the proper Chinese dialects, Mandarin and Cantonese, being utilized. And although this is meant to be an entertaining action flick, it's nice that director Keanu Reeves opted to tell the story from the point of view of a Chinese protagonist as opposed to showing us a "Hollywood-ized" version of Asia.

The Bad: Some of the fight moves seem a little slow, and the acting is pretty wooden throughout. But knowing that Keanu Reeves was the director, one might be inclined to let that slide.

Who would like this movie:Man of Tai Chi is definitely geared towards seasoned martial-arts and action movie fans. I'm not sure how much autonomy Keanu Reeves was given for his directorial debut, but assuming he did have a lot of creative control, he should be commended for eschewing grandiosity in favor of concentrating on a tightly written, sensible narrative.

Veteran Hong Kong actor Simon Yam is a welcome addition, as is Indonesian martial arts star Iko Uwais (from The Raid).

Tiger Chen isn't a traditional action movie hunk, but that actually works to the story's advantage. He's got an everyman quality that has its own appeal, and he's definitely a protagonist the viewer can care about.

It's no grand masterpiece, but Man of Tai Chi is a highly engaging and competent film that probably has more depth than you'd expect.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang
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