Fight fans will salivate at the re-teaming of Keanu Reeves and the man who created some of the most memorable fight scenes ever. Choreographer Yuen Woo-ping brings the same physical pyrotechnics to “The Man of Tai Chi” as he did to “The Matrix,” but this time there’s no blue or red pills or metaphysical mumbo jumbo, just fist-to-the-face action wrapped around a story about honor and bloodlust.
Linhu (Tiger Chen) is a Bejing courier and practitioner of a form of tai chi called Ling Kong, which means “Empty your spirit.” He is a keen but impatient student whose master is constantly instructing to slow down.
Tai Chi is not usually used for fighting but Tiger Chen wants to prove it can be useful for more than just exercise. He gets the chance to showoff his skills when he is recruited by high rolling businessman Donaka Mark (Reeves) to fight in his underground (and illegal) fight club.
“No referees, no rules, real fighting, man to man,” says Mark. Linhu justifies the increasingly brutal nature of the fights by giving the money he earns to his master to pay for badly needed renovations to his ancient and crumbling temple.
Soon though, Linhu fights his biggest battle yet, an internal struggle between his pacifist teachings and his newly developed violent impulses.
With “The Man of Tai Chi” director Reeves has made an entertaining genre movie that pays tribute to the past with a traditional story about honor and the discipline of martial arts. He’s thrown in a curveball or two, but it is essentially possible to draw a straight line between this story–in Chinese with subtitles–and the great kung fu movies of Bruce Lee and the Shaw Brothers.
Not that it kicks as high as Lee’s movies. The fight scenes are fun, particularly a wild strobe lit sequence, but, agile as Tiger Chen is, he’s nit nearly as charismatic as many if those who have come before him. He’s a fearsome but slightly dull presence.
Reeves can’t be called dull, but he hands in a performance so stoic he’s just a step or two removed from statue status. It’s a strange performance, but nonetheless, he’s effectively evil.
“The Man of Tai Chi” is a good martial arts film, probably best seen on a grindhouse theatre screen as a double bill with “Game of Death.”