Keanu Reeves loves kung fu films and he has real passion for the genre. Now the actor has decided to direct his own feature for the first time.

The film is called Man of Tai Chi and it stars Reeves himself as a bad guy which is interesting. The actor is not known for playing villains and it will be fun to see if he can pull it off. He plays the cruel host of a martial arts tournament that takes place inside a high rise building.
He enjoys watching the fights and motivates the contenders to battle to the death. The film also stars newcomer and talented martial artist Tiger Chen as the protagonist. Chen was a member of the stunt team that worked on the Matrix trilogy with the great fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping. He also worked as a stunt man on some other movies including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Charlie’s Angels.

Chen is lured into the tournament and then immediately attacked as soon as he enters via the front door. The other combatants seem to have no scruples about killing an opponent but Chen is different. He follows the true philosophy and ethics of the martial arts. A bona fide martial artist uses his or her skills as a last resort and tries to avoid killing. He chooses to take out his opponents without killing them which angers the boss running the show. The hero has to fight his way through all the opponents and then face a showdown with the tournament host at the end of the film. This simple plot will be familiar to fans of the genre and it is often used in other martial arts films and video games. The hero or challenger has to defeat a bunch of different fighters and then face a final battle with what is often referred to as the “final boss.” The plot became popular when Bruce Lee decided to use it for a movie which was meant to be his magnum opus, Game of Death. Sadly Lee died young like a lot of influential people and he never had a chance to finish the film.

Hollywood directors often have trouble with martial arts action scenes and they don’t always know how to direct them. Some try to throw in fancy camera tricks and movements which obscure the action. Thankfully Reeves understands how to direct a fight scene and he has no doubt learned a trick or two from Yuen Woo-Ping. The fight scenes in the trailer for Man of Tai Chi look interesting and if the director is up to the task then the film will certainly please genre fans. The fighting doesn’t look quite as visceral or thrilling as the stuff on display in films like The Raid or Ong Bak however. Those films and others like Ip Man have raised the bar and Man of Tai Chi will need outstanding fight scenes to match them. The camera direction and editing in the trailer work well enough to show off the talents of the fighters so the trailer is a success in that regard. The viewer is able to get a good idea of what the choreography will be like and also see some of the other fighters in action.

The only real flaw in the trailer is the acting as Keanu Reeves can be hit or miss with his performances. Sometimes he gives a good performance and sometimes he doesn’t. His acting in the trailer for Man of Tai Chi seems over the top but not quite hammy enough to be funny or entertaining. It’s like Reeves is trying to be a pantomime villain but his innate woodenness makes it hard for him. Tiger Chen’s acting is difficult to judge as the trailer focuses on his fighting skills. Viewers will have to watch the movie and decide for themselves how good or bad the acting is. Fans of the genre may be willing to overlook some shoddy acting if the fighting is top notch. Cinema goers who are not savvy with the genre however may find the whole thing a bit silly. Martial arts films are generally not known for Oscar worthy acting as the fighting is usually the priority. That is understandable but it’s a shame as solid acting performances would add some drama to the films. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did well because the acting was good and therefore the movie had more to offer than just fighting.
Other films like Ip Man, Kung Fu Hustle and Dragon: The Bruce Lee story were also complemented by decent acting which made them stand out. Man of Tai Chi also stars Karen Mok who appeared in a martial arts film known as Black Mask with Jet Li. Simon Yam who appeared in Ip Man and Iko Uwais who was the star of The Raid also appear which is cool.

Good kung fu flicks are fun to watch and Keanu Reeves gets props for trying to direct one himself. His appreciation for the genre and the fact that good fighters are appearing in the film will make fight fans optimistic. If the fight scenes are thrilling and fun to watch then the film could be worth a look despite some lamentable acting.

The film is out on July 5th in China and will no doubt get a European release soon after. Have a look at the trailer and share your thoughts.