Man of Tai Chi


Keanu Reeves is probably one of the most intriguing figures in Hollywood. He’s been in a successful cult trilogy, The Matrix, in a pop-corn blockbuster, Point Break, in an acclaimed indie feature, My Own Private Idaho but also in quite a few duds – anybody remembers Chain Reaction? He’s also often panned by critics for his limited acting abilities but his lack of emotions was not only well suited for some of his roles but also seems to reflect his detached, disillusioned personality making him probably the last poster boy for the Generation X – sorry Mr. Grohl.

To be frank, I didn’t know what to expect from his first feature, especially since it is a martial arts flick, western filmmakers’ fascination for Asian cultures usually resulting in a series of clichés.  To my surprise, Mr. Reeves’s debut is particularly nuanced and layered, the actor delivering a solid, dark martial arts feature, which also criticizes sports as a voyeuristic entertainment medium.

Interestingly, Mr. Reeves takes the backseat to play the villain, leaving the spotlight to Tiger Hu Chen, a stuntman and trainer who worked with him on The Matrix trilogy but also served as a double for Uma Thurman in Quenti Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga. If you compare both men, you will quickly realize that they have similar facial features, which makes them alter egos. While they are opposite forces, like the yin and yang, they also sometime seem to be attracted to each other, both of them embracing their inner evil in their own way.

Mr. Chen plays Chen Lin-Hu, an ordinary deliveryman who joins an underground fighting society in order to raise money to save his temple. As he turns into a fighting machine, he also slowly succumbs to his darker instincts, before realizing he’s just a puppet manipulated by the media mogul Donaka Mark (Reeves).

Mr. Reeves showcases here a very strong aesthetic sense, composing his shots very carefully. Knowing his body of work, unsurprisingly, he’s interested in technology and new media (videos and internet), but also emphasizes their dangers exposing Big Brother-like voyeurism. He also pays homage to one of his most influential films, setting up a fight in an office building reminiscent of The Matrix. Staying away from Hollywood stereotypes, he offers us a highly flawed central character while choreographing brutal, dry fighting scenes. As for his emotionless acting, it works perfectly here, Mr. Reeves embracing it to incarnate a figure lacking any humanity.

While Man of Tai Chi is a minor but solid debut, I wish Mr. Reeves had kept his story realistic, as the ending takes some unnecessary magic turns. I’m also still not sure what were his intentions regarding the final confrontation, which looks suspiciously like a video game sequence. Is he also condemning the apology of violence in video games or is the climax just poorly shot and edited? It’s hard to know and this somewhat lessens the overall experience. Fortunately these flaws do not overshadow the new talents he exhibits here, as a director.

Director: Keanu Reeves – Actors: Tiger Hu Chen, Keanu Reeves – Running time: 1:45 – Year: 2013 – Country: USA

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.