Man of Tai Chi

Man of Tai Chi

  • Two movies in one, one of which is quite good and the second of which is lacking, Man of Tai Chi is a decent directorial debut for Keanu Reeves. But it could have been better.
  • As its first half proves. By admirably showing not telling, Man of Tai Chi’s first fifty minutes develop a deferential but strong willed martial artist, Tiger Chen (Tiger Hu Chen), as he transforms from competitive but kind, to ruthless and aggressive.
  • A character path that is best reflected by carefully calibrated fight sequences. In early fights, Reeves washes his combatants in bright light. He also limits cuts and camera movements, changing our viewpoint only when the fighters’ positioning is substantively different. In so doing, he makes the fights akin to beautifully choreographed dance movements, rife with artistry and patience.
  • But as the first half progresses and Tiger changes, Reeves approaches the fights differently. Here they are darkly lit and shadowy. Plus, the camera moves more frequently, all of which culminates in a brutal two on one battle that takes place underneath wild strobe lighting and in front of a live audience. Because of Reeves’ directorial decisions, later fights are not artistic. They are barbaric and brutal, just like Tiger.
  • Because of these and other merits, including an appealing mystery that promises cathartic pay off, the first half of Man of Tai Chi is almost excellent.
  • But the second half loses focus. It stops carefully developing Tiger, and instead focuses on conflict between a suddenly reluctant protagonist and a cliched villain, Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves).
  • Said villain is Man of Tai Chi’s greatest flaw throughout, but he’s a minor issue early, courtesy of limited screen time. When Mark starts to garner additional attention, the movie cannot escape his underdevelopment.
  • Just as it cannot overcome the aforementioned mystery’s reveal.  In following Sun Jingshi (Karen Mok), Writer Michael G. Cooney builds anticipation. What is Mark’s nefarious plan? It is certain to be riveting.
  • But when Cooney finally reveals the entire truth, it is not nearly as fulfilling as  earlier events promised. Indeed, it is borderline unbelievable.
  • Ditto that for Man of Tai Chi’s final fight, a battle that features a heretofore unbeatable Tiger facing a character whom we have not previously seen exhibit martial prowess. That they fight in a near senseless location doesn’t help either.
  • All of which is to say: this movie’s first half is very good. The second half is not.
  • They combine to produce an average whole.
  • Final Grade: C

10 thoughts on “Man of Tai Chi

  1. I just added this one to my Netflix list. Looking forward to it. I really like how you break down your films when you review them. So refreshing. I’ll prep myself for that second half.

    Thanks!

  2. I actually just watched Man of Tai Chi last weekend. I really enjoyed it, but have to agree with you in that it feels like two separate films. The final fight scene made no sense. And you’re right, because of the underdevelopment of the villain I had no idea why he would pursue Tiger to the temple to fight him. I will say one thing for Reeves though, he’s still got some moves!

  3. Really looking forward to watching this on Netflix at some point. Nice breakdown, and looks like I will be expecting to be amazed only in the first half. One question though, and I did legitimately read through the review, but failed to notice his name, does Iko Uwais do anything notable?

    He is the guy from The Raid, and my interest in this film stemmed from hearing that he was in it.

    • The first half really is terrific.

      I believe Iko Uwais is one of the special guest appearance fighters Tiger faces. I want to say it was one of the tournament fights. Which is to say I don’t think Uwais is really a character.

      You can correct me if I’m wrong on that point, though.

      • Not sure! I was planning to watch a few of Iko’s films in preparation for The Raid 2, and he was listed as being in it. Thought he would have been one of the main guys, but I guess it may just be a cameo!

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