July 22, 2013
The titular "Man of Tai Chi" refers to Tiger Chen, a dutiful son and student who wanted to show the world that the peaceful martial art form of Tai Chi is not simply for show, but also an effective form for combat. When ruthless underground fight club promoter Keanu Reeves witnesses Tiger's innocence behind his awesome skills, he knew he had the perfect star for his evil show -- someone ripe for corruption into the dark side.
This film is as much about the meditative philosophy of Tai Chi as it was about the exciting fight scenes. The story had promise. I liked that the film dealt on cultural preservation and loyalty to one's master. Unfortunately, this film had quite a number of negatives that weigh it down.
The main protagonist Tiger Chen simply did not have enough charisma for the big screen. He comes alive only during the fight scenes, which were very very good and authentic. But in every other non-fighting scene though, he does not. He only had one expression on his face, the one with knit eyebrows. They just knit a little tighter together to denote his evil phase. This lack of acting skill limited the film considerably.
As an actor, Keanu Reeves was rather one-note as the antagonist. His climactic fight scene with Tiger was rightfully exciting, but Keanu himself looked awkward, especially with his kicking. For a very bankable A-list star earlier in his career in the 1990s, his career as an actor seemed to have stalled. I do not remember watching a film of his since "The Lake House" and that was back in 2006.
I was surprised that Keanu chose this martial arts genre to be his directorial debut. As director, his execution of the story is OK. I am sure a film in three languages (English, Mandarin and Cantonese) is not exactly easy to manage But overall, the directorial technique was basic, not yet distinctive. That said, I am looking forward to seeing more of Keanu Reeves as director.
All I can say is that this could have been a much better film if the casting of the lead was better. But I guess it would not be easy to find an excellent tai chi fighter, who also looked good on screen, and acted proficiently well. Well, as things go in the movie business, they can always remake this film when they do find such a man. 4/10.