"No rules. No mercy. Pure fighting."
Finally a tagline that's actually true to a film! It defines pretty well what Keanu Reeve's directorial debut film is all about: fighting. Reeves proves that he isn't just a martial arts fan, but he knows the genre really well and has successfully incorporated it to his film. It is a flawed film with a rather predictable story, but the choreographed fighting scenes are great and plentiful. I enjoy martial art films although I don't consider myself a huge fan of the genre and for the most part I find films that focus entirely on the action a little boring and dull, but it wasn't the case with Man of Tai Chi. Despite being purely an action film I had a great time with it because the scenes were really well choreographed (Yuen Woo Ping, who is mostly known for his work in Kill Bill, receives the credit for this as the action director) and Tiger Chen does an amazing job in the lead role. The cinematography was also pretty strong and everything about Man of Tai Chi looked great. Despite its predictable and generic story I had a great time with this film and was entertained. It's hard to say anything about the script, written by Michael Cooney, because there is more fighting than actual dialogue here. I do wish Reeves explored a little more some of the themes he introduced such as voyeurism and the conflict of selling out that the lead character experiences. I think fans of the genre will enjoy this film because it's highly entertaining and satisfying.
The story centers on Tiger Chen (Tiger Hu Chen), one of Tai Chi Master Yang's (Hai Yu) last students. During the day he works as a delivery man, but he makes time to train and meditate in the early mornings. Tai Chi is more of an inner exercise, it isn't typically used for fighting, but Tiger Chen wants to prove that it is and therefor signs up for a martial arts tournament. Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves) is a businessman who runs an illegal underground fighting club that Hong Kong Police Officer Sun Jingshi (Karen Mok) is desperately trying to seek and shut down. When Donaka discovers Tiger Chen in the martial arts tournament he sets up an interview for him to enter his underground fighting club. When Tiger Chen discovers that the temple where he trains is going to be demolished for modern urbanization, he accepts to work for Donaka to come up with the money to pay for the temple's needs. Tiger Chen is introduced into a dark and dangerous world that slowly begins to change him. He doesn't realize that his every move is being followed by a select group of fans through Donaka's voyeuristic enterprise.
Tiger Chen proves in Man of Tai Chi that he is a talented action star. He shines in his role and the choreographed fighting scenes are entertaining. Keanu Reeves gives a strange performance as the villain. His expressions are empty and looks stiff most of the time, but I think he was purposefully doing so to give his character a mysterious vibe. I can see how it could've displeased most people, but it worked for me, and the final face off scene between him and Tiger Chen was great. I did have some issues with the final third act which seemed like it was trying to extend the movie a bit. Overall this generic martial arts film still works thanks to the great choreographed action scenes, and strong cinematography and editing despite its weak plot.