Tiger Chen (Chen Hu), a student of Tai Chi, get pulled into an underground fighting ring by Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves).
The directing debut of Keanu Reeves (The Matrix Trilogy, Point Break), Man of Tai Chi is a martial arts film that hearkens back to the days of Bloodsport, without succumbing to the b-movie cliches found in the tournament style martial arts films. It is an extremely entertaining film and should not be missed by martial arts fans.
Tiger Chen is the sole student of the Ling Kong Tai Chi style. When he enters a martial arts tournament and wins his match, he gets the attention of Donaka Mark, the head of an underground fighting ring. Struggling with his delivery job, Tiger accepts Donaka’s offer to fight for him. As the wins start to pile up, his innocence slowly begins to melt away.
A Chinese/American production, Man of Tai Chi is a wonderful throwback to the days of tournament style martial arts films that were popular in the ’80’s and launched Jean-Claude Van Damme to international super stardom. While the film is violent, it is nowhere near as violent as those ’80’s films, though. There is very little blood and no broken bones. The fighters get right back up and fight on. The wire work in this film is fabulous. In fact, were this film rated, which it is not, it would be PG-13. In other words, it is safe for some children to watch.
What I found particularly interesting about the film was the motivation of Keanu Reeves character, Donaka. A rich business man (we are never told what it is he actually does), he stages and operates these fights for a select online community. His motivation, though, is to see the loss of innocence; to turn a peaceful man into a warrior and then a killer. He finds the perfect person in the form of Tiger.
A man who studies Tai Chi, not normally known as a martial art fighting style, Tiger has a lot of rage inside. This is shown to you in the beginning of the film when him and his master have a conversation about power. Not believing his master, Tiger enters a martial arts tournament where he wins easily. It is at that point he gains the attention of Donaka. As the film progresses, we see this peaceful man turn sour, his heart darkening by the fights he is participating in. Even for a peaceful man, the lure of excessive amounts of money is too much to bear. Especially when Tiger is forced into needing the cash through the manipulations of Donaka.
I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Man of Tai Chi. As a throwback to the tournament films of the ’80’s, it was a wonderfully nostalgic film. As a modern martial arts film, it is well choreographed and filmed. While some of the actual fight scenes needed a little more crunch to them, it is enjoyable taken on it’s own. I can’t wait to see what Keanu Reeves has for us in his next film. I will certainly be watching for it.
If you enjoy a good martial arts film, you owe it to yourself to see this. It is currently available on Netflix, as well as Blu-Ray and DVD.
*** out of ****
BIZZAM!! Fun Facts!
- This is the directorial debut of Keanu Reeves.
- The film is partly inspired by the life of Reeves friend, stuntman Tiger Chen.
- Click here to go to Wikipedia to read more about Tai Chi.