Yu Hai, left, plays the Tai Chi master and Tiger Hu Chen a fight clubstar fighter in 'Man of Tai Chi.' (Radius-TWC)
“Man of Tai Chi” packs some serious, and surprising, punch.
The surprise comes from its director, Keanu Reeves. With his first film, director Keanu shows he knows the martial arts genre very well indeed, throwing some modern touches into a classic form. It’s hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it is darn slick and entertaining.
Plus, he’s in the movie! Playing the bad guy! Who would be the mysterious head of a security company in China named Donaka Mark.
Mark also runs a serious underground fight club that broadcasts a sort of reality television show about its fighters to rich aficionados around the world.
Since the fights eventually become fight-to-the-death, Mark is always looking for new talent. He finds it one day while watching a young man named Tiger Chen (played by Tiger Chen) compete in a martial arts contest using Tai Chi.
Mark convinces Tiger to fight for him, pushing him by endangering the temple of Tiger’s master and showering him with money. At first Tiger doesn’t know anyone else is watching the fights, but then he’s performing in front of audiences and his blood lust begins overtaking the purity of his training. Mark is creating a monster.
All sorts of conventions are adhered to: Tiger has a chaste relationship with a female acquaintance. He respects his parents. And of course there’s a tough cookie female cop (Karen Moc) trying to bring down the fight club.
The fights are spectacular — Tiger Chen doesn’t need wires — the camera work is cool, the music sizzling. And of course Keanu (who’s looking awfully good at 49) and Tiger mix it up in the end. Hey — good movie, dude.
'Man of Tai Chi'
Rated R for violence
Running time: 105 minutes