REVIEW: Man Of Tai Chi (2013) – ManlyMovie

REVIEW: Man Of Tai Chi (2013)

There’s always a certain amount of value to a Keanu Reeves movie.  At the very least, you know that Reeves’ acting is going to be a spectacle, and usually not for good reasons.  Reeves’ acting is bad enough when working under competent directors.  But here, with Reeves making his directorial debut, he’s pretty much left to his own devices, acting wise.  This movie was not written as a comedy, but that doesn’t mean the belly-laughs don’t come a lot more than they should, mostly at the expense of Reeves’ cardboard supervillain.  Firstly, because Keanu Reeves’ acting is fascinatingly hilarious.  Secondly, the story is like something somebody wrote on an airplane flight, possibly stoned. Some people may not take the ‘so bad it’s good’ axiom seriously, but aside from the unintentional humor are some reasonably competent fight sequences.  And that’s all that matters in a short fighting movie, right?

The plot – and I think we’ve heard of this somewhere before – goes like so; A ‘mysterious’ supervillain (that would be Reeves) recruits a young and naive fighting prodigy to take part in his underground death matches.  The story is about as fleshed out as fifty nonstop bouts of Tekken, with loading screens standing in for character development, logic, dialogue and any other such inconveniences usually found in movies.  While this kind of thing won’t win the movie many awards, it is a charm on it’s own.  It doesn’t take itself seriously and strengths are played to, despite the outrageousness of it.  There is one fight at least every 6-7 minutes, and the movie/director seems to be a bit spooked by filming that shit where people stand around talking.  In fact the cast seem to get more stressed and worn out through conversations that go on for more than 40 seconds than the fights themselves.  After one particularly difficult scene where a co-worker keeps him talking for an excruciating 2-3 minutes, Tiger Chen, as if about to take a panic attack, immediately gets on the phone to Reeves: “I need a fight!”.  Then comes the  response; “Then a fight you shall have!” before ending that brief exchange and cutting to, well, a fight. It’s refreshingly honest if nothing else.

Suspect writing aside though, we mustn’t forget this is a martial arts movie.  We’re not here to see Reservoir Dogs, we’re here to see someone get beat to shit with some impressive moves.  And while that’s exactly what we get, the pertinent question is how do the fight scenes stand up?  How has the worst actor of all time handled explosive mortal kombat on his first day of the directorial job?  The answer is, he has done a surprisingly effective job. In the age of the hyper edited shaking camera, the fight scenes gain major points for being approvingly coherent and conservatively edited.  We appreciate being able to see what happens to who in a fight scene, and greenhorn/debut director Keanu Reeves makes a relatively satisfying job of that.  How much of this is down to stunt co-ordinators and the like?  Who cares.  Although it has to be said, the fight scenes – especially towards the end – do become a little too fond of wire fu technique.  There’s another problem too, Iko Uwais, star of The Raid, appears only in a glorified extended cameo.  Boo.

This movie just about cuts it as entertainment.  Maybe not for the right reasons, but the hilariously undercooked script and the halfway decent fight scenes make it worthy of checking out.