After I saw 47 Ronin, I was prepared to write off Keanu Reeves for good, along with this movie. But then I saw John Wick, and the Keanu train was back on the tracks for good, for me at least. This film found its way back on my radar, and it's been there ever since just waiting for me to finally watch it. Man of Tai Chi is an engaging action thriller that uses good old-fashioned fight choreography and stuntwork as its centerpiece. I'd expect nothing less from Keanu's directorial debut, considering he's well-known for doing his own stunts and shining a light on the impressive stuntwork being done in Hollywood. Hell, his hero in this film, Tiger Hu Chen, is a stuntman in real life.
Tiger Chen plays a fictionalized version of himself, a highly skilled, highly disciplined martial artist. Tiger uses tai chi as his form, as a way to show people that tai chi can be powerful. He catches the eye of Donaka Mark (Reeves), a dangerous crime lord who runs an underground fight club for rich people to watch lawless fights. Tiger accepts the deal, not fully aware of what he's signed up for, and the more he fights with the metaphorical gloves off, the more he gets corrupted by greed, pride, and rage. The film does a surprisingly good job building up Tiger's transformation into a full-fledged monster, with Tiger himself doing a fantastic job in his performance and in his fights, which are pretty stellar. Reeves does a decent job at playing a bad guy, which is tough because he's so damn likable. However, his performance is pretty one note and made me thank God once again for the John Wick franchise.
Man of Tai Chi is a fun film if you're a fan of classic kung fu movies made by people like the Shaw Brothers. It has that classic feel to it that a lot of martial arts movies don't have these days. Considering I was ready to cast it aside as a straight to DVD Keanu paycheck gig, the final product is a neat movie that I think will definitely surprise people who are willing to give it a chance.