I wasn’t expecting much and got much more than I bargained for. Man of Tai Chi, directed by Keanu Reeves is a little gem than had ducked under the radar until now. People maybe put off by the language constantly flipping between Mandarin, Cantonese and English but they shouldn’t.
The story follows Tiger, played by, well…Tiger Chen, an innocent who is frustrated with the daily grind of life and his only escape is Tai Chi. For years, he had followed his masters instructions and is rewarded by being able to cultivate great internal energy but soon finds it difficult to control the power and it quickly turns to a quick temper and aggression. This soft internal art is turned into a hard external weapon as Tiger pitches himself against the best that the martial art world has to offer. There is even a Mongolian wrestler thrown it!
Keanu plays the wealthy bad guy who runs an underground fight club and tries to systematically turn Tiger to the dark side. The fight scenes are very well choreographed and shows a mix of styles as they try combat Tai Chi.
All of this shouldn’t work. Tai Chi is an internal art and Tiger himself appears small, skinny and slightly effeminate with his floppy hair compared to some of the beasts he gets into a scrap with. At times this may look unrealistic. When the fight scenes ramp up though, Tiger changes demeanor completely. Towards the end, when he tears off that top, he shows an athletic ripped physique below that naive innocent face.
The acting quality is very good all around, although Keanu’s bad guy can sometimes wobble back and forth from delightfully evil bad guy to silly Bond villain. The film features one of the most intense job interviews I’ve seen. There is some wire work but very minimal and done very cleverly so that you would hardly notice.
For me, this is the whole package. You have a very good story with (mostly) believable characters. Tigers story mirrors the growing pains of a youth fighting to be recognised as his own man and the master student relationship is more like father and son. The martial arts is constant, thick and fast but doesn’t drown out the intriguing story. My only criticism would be the end fight but I will let you decide on that yourself. On the whole it is the story that makes this film and I am extremely pleased and surprised by it.
Check out our article on Traditional Chinese medicine and Tai Chi by clicking here.