Review: MAN OF TAI CHI (2013) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Review: MAN OF TAI CHI (2013)

MAN OF TAI CHI is fairly exhilarating when comes to fight scenes but Keanu Reeves' directing debut is as robotic as his acting, coupled with weak storyline and Tiger Chen's wooden performance.

On the surface, MAN OF TAI CHI looks like a refreshing throwback to the martial-art movie centers on a hero pitting against various opponents in the arena. The good news is, actor-turned-first-time director Keanu Reeves manages to deliver what fans and viewers want for this kind of genre. Too bad almost everything else here falls short of expectation.


MAN OF TAI CHI begins with an Asian fighter named Chi-Tak (Jeremy Marinas) battling against his opponent in a cell and manages to defeat him. But Chi-Tak refuses to "finish him off", as ordered by the owner of the underground fighting tournament Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves). So Donaka dons a mask and kills the opponent himself. Not long after, Donaka proceeds on stabbing Chi-Tak in the locker room for failing to follow his order earlier. Enter Hong Kong police inspector Suen Jing-Si (Karen Mok), who has actually assigned Chi-Tak working on an undercover operation to infiltrate Donaka's underground fighting activities. With Chi-Tak already dead, Suen's police chief (Simon Yam) decides to close off the case altogether but Suen refuses to give up and demands to continue investigation anyway. Meanwhile, Donaka is desperately searching for Chi-Tak's replacement. While watching a TV broadcast of a Chinese national martial-art championship, he is particularly impressed with Chen Linhu's (Tiger Chen) incredible tai chi skill and wants him badly to join his tournament. So he invites Chen, who is a sole disciple of the Lingkong School of Tai Chi, for a "job interview". That "job interview" is actually a test whether Chen is capable of defeating his opponent. However, Chen ends up declining Donaka's lucrative offer that can earn him lots of money. It's not until Chen forces to change his mind when the temple, guarded by his master (Yu Hai), is about to face demolition unless renovations are made.

Yuen Woo-Ping's fight choreography is typically exhilarating that showcases not only tai chi, but also other forms of martial arts such as karate, MMA (mixed martial arts) and taekwondo. Kudos also goes to director Keanu Reeves and his cinematographer, Elliot Davis, for not shooting this martial-art picture with typical shaky-cam method. Stuntman-turned-actor Tiger Chen is especially good when he gets to strut his dazzling martial-art skill. Karen Mok's performance as the relentless cop Suen Jing-Si is typically feisty, while Simon Yam makes good use of his limited screen time playing the police chief.

Even though the movie does offer enough action to keep the viewers busy, it's quite a waste that Elliot Davis rarely moves his camerawork around to give the fight scene a certain kinetic flair that characterised most Chinese-language martial-art genre. Keanu Reeves' direction is as stiff as he gets, while his rare bad-guy role here is largely unconvincing and sometimes laughable as well (particularly in one scene where he literally snarls in front of the camera). That's not all -- Reeves also squanders his chance to showcase what would have been a memorable fight scene between Tiger Chen and Iko Uwais (of THE RAID: REDEMPTION fame). Unfortunately, that scene is abruptly cut short to make way for Tiger Chen to face off against Reeves himself in the climactic finale, which is not surprisingly, feels anticlimactic. While Tiger Chen excels in his physical performance, the same cannot be said with his lackluster acting skill. Rounding up the flaw is Michael Cooney's disappointingly generic screenplay.

MAN OF TAI CHI is the kind of movie where you don't have to rush to cinemas to watch it. Wait for DVD release instead.

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