The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum

MAN OF TAI CHI (2013) *** ½

Keanu Reeves makes his directorial debut with a doozy of a Kung Fu flick. It’s one of the best chopsocky films of the 21st century and the best Kung Fu flick since The Raid. The film is Reeves’ love letter to the genre, made with genuine heart and the skill of a veteran action director. Man of Tai Chi features some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in a long time (the choreography was by Yuen Woo Ping) and also contains what is probably Reeves’ best performance of all time.

In short, it feels like Keanu’s apology letter for 47 Ronin.

Tiger Chen (a stuntman from The Matrix, playing a character named “Tiger Chen”) spends his time practicing Tai Chi with his master. He competes in a tournament using Tai Chi as a fighting style and catches the eye of a sleazy rich guy (Reeves) who runs a top secret Pay Per View fighting tournament. He has a meeting with Tiger and hires him on the spot.

Tiger: “What happens if I lose?”

Keanu: “You’re fired!”

Keanu then puts Tiger into a series of increasingly challenging fights with varying opponents. Tiger earns money from fighting to save his decrepit Tai Chi temple from some greedy real estate developers. But eventually, Tiger’s master becomes wise to his changing demeanor and warns him he’s going down a dark path. Of course, it all leads to a big fight between Tiger and Keanu.

I have to tell you, Man of Tai Chi is a blast to watch. It’s a simple story, told with conviction that hits the right notes. But it’s the way that Keanu hits those notes that makes all the difference. He understands the genre and is able to breathe life into old clichés and make them seem fresh.

My favorite scene comes when Tiger fights his master. No words are spoken between the two before the fight. Tiger just runs inside the temple and the two start fighting. There’s no dialogue exchange and there doesn’t need to be. Tiger knows he’s perverting his master’s teachings and in a fit of guilt and rage wants to show his master up. The master is full aware of what Tiger has been doing, and is more than willing to take him down a peg. It’s a great moment, made greater by the fact that the emotion is in the fighting, not the dialogue.

And it has to be said that Reeves has never been better in front of the camera. He should direct himself more often. His line deliveries are flat as ever, but since he’s playing a slick, manipulative, and calculating villain, it totally works. Not since Terry Silver in Karate Kid 3 have we had a villain this despicable. And if you know me, and you know my insane love for Karate Kid 3, you know that there is no praise higher I can bestow.

The film has one major debit that contains a big spoiler, so if you don’t want the film spoiled, please stop reading now. During the big match at the end of the film, it is revealed that Tiger’s opponent is none other than Iko Uwais from The Raid!!! Normally, this would be a cause for celebration (heck, I cheered when he showed up), but the thing that sucks is that by this point in the film, Tiger has given up fighting. Iko comes after him with a few punches and kicks, and yet Tiger straight up refuses to fight him; resulting in a disqualification. It’s more than a tad disappointing. The great fight between Keanu and Tiger in the next scene takes some of the sting out of it. But really, you can’t bring Iko Uwais out and NOT let him kick some ass. Other than that, this is one heck of a good Kung Fu flick.

Tags: action, kung fu, m

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