Above Picture: Poster of Man of Tai Chi
Hard to believe that it has been nearly 15 years since The Matrix was unleashed on the world. That film solidified Keanu Reeves as an action star, surprisingly, however, after two somewhat tepid sequels, he was relegated to a variety of lower profile material. Man of Tai Chi represents a leap of for the nearly 50 year old actor into uncharted territory directing. The daunting task of wearing two hats, (Reeves stars as Donaka Mark, a ruthless underground fight promoter) on a production is difficult, especially when the production takes place in China and English is your native language.
Above Pic: Reeves as Donaka Mark, a stoic businessman. (C) 2013 Village Roadshow Pictures
Man of Tai Chi opens very brutally with an underground fight taking place and the winning fighter stopping just short of maiming or killing his opponent, he is ordered by Donaka Mark (Reeves) to "finish him", when he refuses, not only is his opponent killed by Mark wearing a black face mask, but Mark later dispatches the winning fighter, calling him a coward while stabbing him! Keanu is his usual self, stoic, expressionless, and unemotional, but for his ruthless villain character, it works to some extent.
Above Pic: Karen Mok says "This isn't About Fighting" HAHA! It is about fighting! (C) 2013 Village Roadshow Pictures
Hot on the trail of this underground fight organization is Sun Jingshi, portrayed by Karen Mok. She is trying to look for an angle to break up the ring. Jingshi is a no-nonsense Hong Kong policewoman, leading the investigative team against Donaka. Karen is a long time veteran of a variety of HK action and dramatic films, and her performance in Man of Tai Chi represented a willful determination, breathing life into the "cop" role, often portrayed as a bumbling, unsympathetic character.
Above Pic: Tiger Hu Chen demonstrating his handy-work (C) 2013 Village Roadshow Pictures
The real star in Man of Tai Chi is Tiger Hu Chen. He portrays the title character of Chen Lin Hu, Man of Tai Chi. His character is pulled in several directions. His hi stress job as a priority package delivery guy, he is constantly being pressured by his boss. Chen tries to focus his energy to Tai Chi, delivered artfully by his master Yang, played by Yu Hai. Hai serves as a grounding point, later in the film his temple is threatened by demolition, and Tiger feels obligated to help financially. Finally his longtime girl/fiance Qingsha, played wistfully, caring, and innocently by Qing Ye. Chen is an excellent fighter, and obviously is working hard to potray the difficult character, with a few more films under his belt his acting ability should be on par with his fluid fighting ability.
Although the underground fight film has been beaten like a rented mule lately, Man of Tai Chi tries, somewhat to portray the inner struggles of a fighter as he turns from honor to greed. To save his master's temple Chen turns to Donaka Mark, who promises him a high paying 'security job'. In the first part of the film a car is sent to pick Chen up, he goes all be it reluctantly. Near the end Chen revels in the fight game, and the audience never really knows if it is the fighting or the money he likes more.
Where Man of Tai Chi excels is in most of the fights and filming. Although it does appear a few of the fights were cut down to achieve the 101 minute running time, this film offers far more fight action than the average American film. With longtime choreography veteran Woo-Ping involved in the fight mix get ready for some solid action in Man of Tai Chi. My minor complaint is that there is some wire work in some of the fights and none in others, either way I wanted to see a bit of consistency. Several fighting styles are represented, which is a plus, along with the creative angle camera work, made for enjoyment for the action in Man of Tai Chi.
Due to the fact that Man of Tai Chi had a bit of a larger budget, the scenery and fight locations were more creative and opulent than the standard gritty underground fight club film. For one of the fights Chen was helicoptered to this floating barge, where a luxury club had been set up for patrons to watch his fight. Hiring a sexy female fight announcer also added a bit of flare to Man of Tai Chi. Normally I try to stay away from minor characters, unless important to the film, but having an actual onstage announcer for the main fights is a wise choice. Helene Leclerc exudes sexiness, with her looks and commanding speaking voice, she pushes the Man of Tai Chi pre-fight build-up to a crescendo.
Above Pic: Helene Leclerc brings a bit of sexiness to the announcing role, thank goodness Michael Buffer never wears an outfit like that! (C) 2013 Village Roadshow Pictures
Overall I liked Man of Tai Chi, despite the minor quips of some of the fight scenes being cut, some wooden acting, the underground fight-club plot being played out, and the back and forth between English and Chinese language being used throughout. The film is a wall to wall fight-fest that should please any action junkie, I give Man of Tai Chi a solid 7 out of 10.