Review: MAN OF TAI CHI (2013)
Show of hands, how many of you have felt compelled in one-way or another to “take a walk on the dark side?” Yes, I know that’s a very sanitized way of asking if anyone has ever felt compelled to chuck their morals aside for a little while, but haven’t we all at some point in time felt the pull to do something wrong, or at the very least had a dream or a nightmare or two of being “morally fucked up?”
Sure, we have.
Some of us have dipped our toes into that dark pool while others have dove right in and seen themselves on the eleven o’clock news for some kind of heinous act they have just committed.
I feel some people are more genetically predisposed to feel some kind of attraction to the “darkside” than others; more aptly put there are some who have a spiritual weakness that makes them unable to resist the urge to do bad or in the extreme Evil.
On one level Man Of Tai Chi is the tale of a good person (Tiger Chen) who has a moment of spiritual weakness, while simultaneously it’s also a tale of how a “morally corrupted” individual (Keanu Reeves) goes about satisfying his yen for power (without control) in an absolutely insidious way, a way that sheds some scary light on how nihilistic our society is becoming.
In the opening we get a glimpse of this movie’s darkside as two combatants square off in a room. One combatant beats the other within an inch of his life, but refuses to take the whole nine yards and kill him. A man dressed in black and wearing a black mask comes in and breaks the unconscious combatants neck killing him on the spot. Next we are introduced to Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves) who calmly saunters into the locker room of the surviving combatant and knifes him to death.
Now he needs a new fighter.
Mark has the innate ability to pick the right person for this underground fight club he runs.
Tiger Chen plays Tiger Chen, a Tai Chi student who has developed his own style of Tai Chi and who learns from his Master Yang in a 600-year old Temple. He also competes in tournaments, which is unusual since the general conception of Tai Chi is that it’s an art used for mediation. He’s very good at using the art for combat purposes too, which is how he initially grabs Mark’s attention.
On the surface the plot is similar to Bloodsport (1988) and Fight Club (1999), but below the surface, as I hinted at earlier, it’s something insidious, one component of that involves setting up hidden cameras in Chen’s home, at his work, in the temple he trains, etc. He is watched 24/7 after he’s lured into Mark’s employ, and it becomes obvious upon their first meeting that he was “hired” for his fighting skills. Skills that get better the more he is offered the opportunity to test them in situations that don’t involve any kind of rules (or control).
Mark has done his job almost to well, and Chen becomes a formidable Frankenstein creation that he must contend with at the end of the movie.
“I knew you had it in you.”
For Chen it’s time to look into the mirror of his new face and what he sees he instantly despises.
“I am nothing.”
Chen vs. Reeves.
Good vs. Evil
Power vs. Control
Place your bets.
Reeves directed this movie and he made the fight scenes into how martial art fight scenes used to be back in the 70s and 80s. Simply watching two realistically trained martial artists fight each other. There is some wirework, but that’s only 1% of the fight scenes.
If there’s a weak link in this movie, it’s not Reeves directorial skills, those are impressive, it’s his participation as an actor. I know he can act, relatively, I’ve seen evidence of it in his other movies but his performance here is a truly robotic one punctuated by a couple of “emotional outbursts,” (i.e. a random smile and a random scream as he looks deep into the camera lens). If there was some weird, bizarre, out of left field twist that reveals Reeves to be an android or something then this performance would makes perfect sense, but there isn’t. However, this in no way detracts enough to pull you out of the movie. I mean he is the bad guy, so an odd performance like this does kind of makes sense.
You also have to suspend your disbelief somewhat when Chen and Reeves face off in the end, especially when Reeves actually manages to kick his ass for a little while. It’s obvious his fighting skill is no match for Chen’s from what we’ve seen from him in the rest of the movie. But, again, it’s not to the point where it’ll make you scoff and want to turn the movie off. By this point in the film you will be so immersed into what’s happening to Chen you’ll want to see Reeves get his comeuppance and Chen get his morality back on track.
The movie is multilingual with English only coming in whenever Reeves enters the story.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p anamorphic 2.40:1 high definition—English, Cantonese, Mandarin with English subtitles (DTS-HD 5.1)—Spanish subtitles
As for extras there are only two: a commentary and a featurette. Concerning the commentary, which is with director/co-star, Keanu Reeves and star Tiger Chen, it’s one of the worst I’ve had to sit through. If you agree to do one of these the object here is to talk about the movie, about how you made it, about why you made it, about the story, the actors, the shots, anything. Reeves and Chen barely say a thing. If I didn’t know any better I’d say they didn’t want to do a commentary but were forced into it.
With ‘The Making Of Man Of Tai Chi’ (7:52) you learn more about the movie than in the entire commentary and wonder of wonders Reeves actually speaks with passion about the movie he directed.