Man of Tai Chi (2013)

(On Cable TV, April 2015) I can’t help but see in Man of Tai Chi an echo (and only an echo) of the kind of Hong-Kong martial arts movies I consumed so frequently in my twenties.  It’s all about fights, fights and more fights, loosely coupled with a plot about a young man being seduced into a world of underground fighting.  Surprisingly enough, the plot is a bit more interesting than the action sequences, especially in seeing how the protagonist (Tiger Hu Chen, sympathetic enough) eventually goes against a cold and mysterious business man (Keanu Reeves, making the most out of a relatively cold screen persona) while a policewoman (Karen Mok, surprisingly credible as a driven cop) tries to take down the lethal fighting organization.  It’s more noteworthy to point out that this is Keanu Reeves’s first film as a director, and that he does pretty well in his freshman outing: his action sequences (choreographed by the legendary Yuen Woo Ping) are fluid, he makes good use of lengthier shots and keeps the plot moving effectively.  Man of Tai Chi also has the advantage of explicitly taking place in modern metropolis China, providing an interesting look at an area of the planet that is often ignored on American big screens.  While this may not be more than comfort food for martial-arts enthusiasts, it’s well-made enough to be interesting even in-between the action sequences.  As an homage to martial-arts film shot by a westerner, Man of Tai Chi would make an interesting double-bill with the more visually sumptuous The Man with the Iron Fists.

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