‘Man of Tai Chi’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated November 9th, 2014 at 6:20 pm,

Man of Tai Chi Reviews Starring Tiger Chen and Keanu Reeves Man of Tai Chi Review

Reeves is not yet the bridge between east and west moviemaking he’s aspiring to be, but considering this is his first time out of the gate of feature filmmaking, the result is only half-bad.

Man of Tai Chi follows Tiger Chen (Tiger Hu Chen), a student of Tai Chi who has the ambition of proving that his traditionally passive style can be a formidable system of martial arts combat. Warned by his master that his ambition may be too great (in place of balance in humility), Tiger nonetheless pursues his goal, enlisting in a local martial arts competition.

However, when the competition reveals the skills possessed by “The Man of Tai Chi”, it has the unforeseen consequence of catching the attention of Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves), a powerful businessman who moonlights by operating a high-stakes illegal fighting circuit. Donaka thinks that in Tiger he has found a martial arts master with the killer edge – and as Tiger is drawn into the web of underground fighting, he begins to discover that Donaka’s instincts about his true nature may indeed be on the mark.

Keanu Reeves directs and stars in Man of Tai Chi Man of Tai Chi Review

Keanu Reeves directs and stars in ‘Man of Tai Chi’

As the directorial debut of Keanu Reeves, Man of Tai Chi is a somewhat confused mishmash of filmmaking styles and concepts – but thankfully, one of those concepts is top-notch fight choreography. The script by video game writer Michael G. Cooney (Resident Evil 6Devil May Cry 4) is actually a fairly well-conceived character drama that offers real progression and development – albeit, according to some pretty conventional martial arts movie tropes. But simplicity and convention prove to be effective, offering a tried-and-true roadmap for a film that is, in many other ways, utterly unsure of itself.

Man of Tai Chi shines brightest in its middle act, when Tiger embarks upon an opponent-by-opponent quest to kick-ass and take names, pitting his Tai Chi style against various other popular styles of fighting. Those sequences are probably the biggest selling point of the movie, thanks to legendary action director/fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (The Matrix) and a combination of hardcore stuntmen and some real-life elite fighters. Indeed, as if playing a solo game of Street FighterTekken – or any of the other popular fight-genre video games – the rapid progression of visceral combat between simplistic fighting caricatures (MMA guy, Tiger-style guy, etc.) is the type of basic payoff that fans of the genre expect.

Man of Tai Chi Star Tiger Chen Man of Tai Chi Review

Tiger Hu Chen in ‘Man of Tai Chi’

Beyond that meat in the middle, however, there is very little quality film to be found. Man of Tai Chi (like its director) is the product of two worlds, but manages to be at odds with itself rather then finding balance. When showcasing sequences featuring Reeves and his underground fighting world, the movie looks every bit like a sleek Hollywood action flick; however, when it delves into Tiger’s world (and the accompanying Asian culture story beats and themes) the movie takes on the budgeted look and overall style of a Hong Kong martial arts B-movie. It’s a glaring (and strange) disparity – a sign that Reeves is still tinkering with various elements of filmmaking in an attempt to find a style and voice that is uniquely his own.

As for Reeves in front of the camera? It’s unclear whether or not his stiff, deadpan delivery is an attempt at real characterization or unabashed acknowledgment and send-up of his own screen persona… but it’s definitely strange. Stoic sociopath one moment, violent warrior the next – sprinklings of Buddhist musings and interior decorating –  the character is just offbeat and strange down to his very name (“Donaka Mark”?). And sure, Keanu was a surprise with his martial arts abilities when The Matrix came out in 1999; but in  a modern, post-Raid: Redemption world, his fisticuffs just don’t cut it on the same level, which is readily apparent when actual martial artists and stunt experts like Tiger Hu Chen and Raid: Redemption star Iko Uwais are standing next to him onscreen. To that end, the movie’s climatic fight is anything but…

man of tai chi Man of Tai Chi Review

Martial artist stuntman Tiger Hu Chen manages to give a good leading man performance. He creates the necessary complexity to make Tiger’s journey into the heart of Tai Chi darkness a believable and compelling event, laced with an amount of subtly and control that is surprising for an actor whose trademark is physicality. Other than Chen and Reeves, it’s only Karen Mok (Shaolin Soccer) who stands out from the herd of bruised and bloodied athletes, playing chip-on-her-shoulder detective Sun Jingshi. Though regulated to the movie’s B-storyline thread, Mok has the charisma to make the deviations into her scenes worthwhile.

In the end, Man of Tai Chi is an okay way for fans of the genre to kill an afternoon, as they morbidly explore the possibility of Keanu Reeves, the action movie director. Reeves is not yet the bridge between east and west moviemaking he’s aspiring to be, but considering this is his first time out of the gate of feature filmmaking, the result is only half-bad.

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Man of Tai Chi is now playing in limited theatrical release, and is available through Video On Demand services and digital download. It is 105 minutes and is Rated R for violence.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

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  1. Thought it was pretty good and in the end keanu got what he deserved in my opinion. I would like to see keanu in another movie playing the bad guy for he does it well.

  2. Some harsh phrases here:

    “… unclear whether or not his stiff, deadpan delivery is an attempt at real characterization or…”

    We all know Mr Reeves is and has been far from the most expressive performer in the industry, but I saw his role as a counterpoint. The passive but forceful to the involved but evolving of composed from Tiger Chen.

    “To that end, the movie’s climatic fight is anything but…”

    But the comparative was the point compared to the flair of previous fights and in fitting with the character of Mr Reeves I mentioned above (passive and forceful). Personally, I found the final fight satisfying and Mr Reeves more than a little intimidating due to the sheer difference in height.

    “…as they morbidly explore the possibility of Keanu Reeves, the action movie director.”

    Now you are just being nasty, my friend. A budget of around $20 million for a co-funded labour of love from Mr Reeves to a discipline that has served him well on and off screen. Made triple its budget back, garnered decent, respectful reviews across the board and he got to work with some prime Asian talent. What more can a first time director want?

    7/10. You meanie, you.

    • I don’t want to disagree with you for sake of it as I went in to this movie with an open mind, however…

      I found Chen Lin-Hu unbearably cliched with no nuances to engage any compassion or any emotion towards at all.

      Keanu reeves was Keanu Reeves, nothing wrong with that. Keanu fans may enjoy a darker (I think he was trying to be darker?) side.

      The underground fights were nothing like underground fights (Eastern, Western hemisphere, any bloody sphere for that matter).

      The only praise I can give this film is the fact the main protagonist at least was aware he was doing everything for personal gain (I’m amazing at this martial art that no one else appreciates and I want to sleep with a random girl that works where I deliver packages to)

      I like kung fu movies but this felt like a personal project that Keanu wanted to do regardless of shoddy the end product!

      I’m well aware that this film isn’t truly bad but for those predisposed to the genre will surely find the same problems.

      • I beleive it was a personal project. Not that I stick up for him but what was ‘shoddy’ about it? Everything but the protagonist being aware?

        How many Millionaires do you know? Do you know what they do in their spare time? Not the actors and such but the seedy ones that made their money the old fashion way.

        What I am getting at this style of underground fighting (until they got to the online aspect but could still be a thought) IMO was one for the ‘rich’. Do I believe this exists? Probably not but I wouldnt put it past some rich people that are bored. Ala the most dangerous game aspect.

        I also thought Keanu was stiff and at times looked CGI’d in the face. (maybe the make-up?) However it was still entertaining and worth the price of admission. (VOD at home, can pause, eat what I want etc. IMO makes really terrible movies a little better so there is that)

        • You’re right I don’t know many Millionaires and I wouldn’t know what they do with their time. I do however know many MMA fighters, Boxers of varying ability’s. Many of them I know have had unlicensed fights but never for millionaires looking to get their kicks.

          I wasn’t impressed by the fight choreography and that’s what compelled me to describe the film as shoddy.

          As I said this film isn’t bad just not for me.

  3. Without exception, every time that Keanu Reeves’s opens his mouth in Man of Tai Chi, I chuckled. And I wasn’t alone. Every member of the audience was stifling giggles as Reeves stumbled his way through brief chunks of unwieldy dialogue. We burst into laughter when Reeves breaks the third-wall with a roar – teeth-bared and thrashing at the camera like a lion ripping at hunks of sirloin. It’s as if the fog has lifted and Reeves recognizes just how awful an actor he truly is. Seeing Man of Tai Chi is like watching Reeve’s B-list baptism, as the man onscreen embraces his goofy robotic persona to the fullest extent, milking all he can with self-deprecating automockery.

    • The script was a little weak at times but I thought it was a good film and I was entertained all the way through. If the film was really so bad, I’m sure you and others wouldn’t have watched it until the end. I liked the roar part way through, I felt it was one of a few times I’ve seen Keanu Reeves let go and fully commit to an emotion on screen. I’ve seen him in various films and he is capable of transforming himself into different personas but I think he either lacks confidence or just puts up walls and this hugely affects his acting. When I read comments about actors which are mocking and rude I just wonder why anyone would be so hurtful towards someone they don’t even know. If they deserved it then fair enough but I don’t know anything about this guy that tells me he deserves to be publically insulted. Also, way too much CGI in the film!

  4. It was actually a better movie than I thought it would be.

  5. I agree. Not a “great” movie, but by no means garbage; definitely fun if you have any love of Martial Arts films.

    The scene I will refer to simply as “The tai chi vs Tai Chi Fight” stands out as a bright point that may even make the entire film worth the viewing, however it was depressing that it was followed was Keeanu’s rather lackluster martial display.

    It’s too bad too, as I was sure they would use the mask he wears in several scenes to enhance the fight by simply not actually having him in it, but then there may have been some ego thing going on there.

  6. I would give it a 3. Not a solid 3 but a 3 based on the enjoyment of the genre.

    While I understand people like to see ‘art’ in their movies im still old school and at times just like to be entertained by a movie.

    This movie entertained.

  7. sorry skip it,

  8. For his directorial debut Reeves did a good job. No it is not ground breaking work, but it was a solid film. Not great, not awful. It would have been nice to see Reeves step away from the camera and not have such a large role, but this was as entertaining as The Grandmaster.

    A huge part of me supporting this film, besides a love of karate flicks, is Reeves’s philanthropy. He has earned my dollars. As Ajeno pointed out, the unnecessary jabs at Reeves are unwarranted and disappointing from an “unbiased” reviewer.

    I agree Reeves is a piss poor actor, but I would like to see what he can do with a bigger budget.

  9. The character’s name is Mark Donaka. In China, the surname always comes first. So the fact that the character is called Donaka Mark is not strange at all. Just look at Yao Ming for example. Yao is his last name, not his first name.