I’m really excited about this month of swaps between Kyle and I because he is giving me all foreign films. I’m going to admit, if I had to choose a least favorite genre, it’d be foreign. That’s not because I don’t appreciate them or even like them, I’ve seen some fantastic foreign films. I just haven’t seen too many and usually have trouble making myself go out of the way to view them.. So, with that said, it makes me excited because Kyle is giving me some foreign films that are geared more towards what I like. I was really excited to see that the first film he was giving me was Man of Tai Chi, Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut and as a big fan of Reeves, I was excited to check this one out.
Man of Tai Chi is semi based on Reeves’ stunt double on the two Matrix sequels, Tiger Chen (played by Chen himself), a man who is the only student at Ling Kong Tai Chi. He is a fantastic fighter but hasn’t been able to control his Chi and therefore, his spirit hasn’t fully embraced this style of fighting. He begins to compete in a local fighting tournament using Tai Chi, a style which isn’t typically used as a fighting style, and sets out to prove that this can be used as a serious fighting style. He is noticed by the mysterious Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves) who invites him to join his underground fighting ring and at first, Chen is reluctant. But, when the Ling Kong temple is in trouble, he has to join in hopes to make enough money to save the temple and when Mark’s true motivations are learned, Chen realizes he may have made a mistake.
Let me say this right off the bat, this film is shot beautifully. The action is stunning and that is the main draw here. There are a ton of long takes that showcase these actors actually doing their own stunts. You can see that Reeves has a ton of passion for the martial arts genre and that shows in how he directs this picture. He embraces every cliche and fight scene with grace. Every time there was a fight scene, I was in awe of just how beautiful and fluent each one was, building to a finale fight scene that was really intense.
Tiger Chen surprised me a lot in this movie. Being a stuntman, I didn’t expect him to be as good of an actor as he was. He goes from being a innocent honorable man to something a littler darker throughout the movie and he plays it off really well. Keanu Reeves is an interesting actor. He has a stoic, stonewall performance style that he can only pull off and be so badass doing it. I also respect that he does almost every stunt that he psychically can and that goes a long way in making his performances believable. Here, he does something really different. He plays a villainous character and I would really like to see him do this again. He comes out so mysterious and even creepy in some scenes that I bought him as a villain. Some of his lines are really stilted but other times, he’s downright chilling and cartoony but in a scary way.
My flaws with the film are that the story was really predictable and had no surprises whatsoever. That made me less invested with the story then I wanted to be. While I was interested in seeing Tiger’s journey, I just found myself dipping in and out when there wasn’t a fight going on. It’s not a bad story, just a OK one.
Man of Tai Chi was a solid directorial debut from Keanu Reeves. He really cares about this genre and that shows in his directing. His performance was like 75/25 with more positive then negative and Tiger Chen was a revelation. The cinematography was gorgeous and the action was fantastic and exciting to watch. I think people who enjoy martial arts films and films where the action is all practical and not put together from the editing room will enjoy this. While the story wasn’t he greatest, it is still worth seeing Tiger Chen’s character come full circle. It was a good choice for Kyle to start out with this one because it was mostly Asian but still had English in it. I’m ready for the next film Kyle!
Kyle’s Next Film:
Swiss Army Man (2016)
Kyle knows how much I adore this movie and had to have known it was coming. This is a first however for Silver Screen Swaps because Kyle has actually previously seen this movie but has stated multiple times that he has wanted to rewatch it. I think it’s been enough time where it’ll be a fresh viewing and will open his eyes to just how original and fantastic this film is. Enjoy!