Please note that this is a capsule review. Our full review is under embargo until closer to the film’s release date, which is September 27th.
Keanu Reeves steps both behind and in front of the camera for his directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi. Acting as an excuse to allow the actor’s wildest martial arts dreams to play out on the big screen, the film lacks a heart and soul, but almost makes up for it with its exhilarating and expertly choreographed fight scenes that fill up most of its runtime.
Reeves, in another stilted performance, finds himself playing Donaka Mark, the powerful head of a Hong Kong security firm who runs an underground fight club of sorts, where his wealthy clients pay to watch martial artists fight to the death.
Hungry for some new blood for his fight club, Mark persuades Tai Chi disciple Tiger Chen to join and pretty soon, the innocent martial artist finds himself caught up in the dark world of underground fighting. Also at play is a subplot involving a young police detective who is determined to bring Mark’s little side project to an end.
The story here is paper thin and quite bland, it really serves only to just barely tie everything together. The bulk of the film is the fighting, as it should be, and luckily, the fights themselves are excellent. They are visceral, fierce and hard hitting, with the camera moving fluidly around the combat, allowing us to see the impressive choreography. It’s clear that Reeves has a good grasp on the genre and can handle filming exciting combat.
Unfortunately though, as good as the fights are, they can’t fully make up for the poorly developed film that houses them. Reeves’ direction in the scenes without any fighting usually falls flat, dialogue is beyond stiff and the acting is just plain awful. Plus, watching fight, after fight, after fight does get a bit tedious, despite how well done they are.
While not the worst way to spend a few hours, Man of Tai Chi is nothing more than a showcase for some impressive fight choreography. But if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll probably enjoy what Reeves has put together.