So once again we have survived.

Man of Tai Chi

tn_manoftaichibtislMAN OF TAI CHI is a finely tuned new take on my beloved underground fighting subgenre. It’s the directational debut of POINT BREAK’s Keanu Reeves, who gets extra cool-points for starting his directing career just to make a vehicle for a stuntman he met on the MATRIX sequels, Tiger Hu Chen. Reeves brings along MATRIX fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping and, even better, plays the villain. It’s a Chinese production, set and filmed in Beijing, only partly in English. I guess that’s why I’ve never seen an ad for it and almost missed the fact that it was playing in theaters (it’s been available on VOD and iTunes for about a month).

Tiger Chen plays a  character named Tiger Chen, because this is a 110% true story. You’re telling me it’s not? Don’t be naive. Tiger is the last student of the Ling Kong Tai Chi school. His master (Yu Hai, who I think I heard is Chen’s actual teacher, but maybe I made that up) doesn’t believe in fighting, but allows Tiger to go on his own path as he develops a Tai Chi fighting style that is about power, not just harmony, and uses it in a local fighting competition.

mp_manoftaichiThat’s a legit competition with referees and points and everything, but his success draws the attention of Donaka Mark (Reeves), owner of a security company which may or may not be real. He spends all his time curating brutal no rules fights that we know from the opening scene are sometimes to the death.

In the tradition of Tony Jaa or Marko Zaror, Tiger minus the skills would not look like a badass. He seems meek and has dorky long hair (almost like he’s trying to imitate a young Keanu) and works a shitty job as a deliveryman, where he’s always late and gets shit from his boss and keeps apologizing and avoiding eye contact. So he’s interested when a mysterious package arrives about possibly working for Donaka Mark.

The first fights take place in a room with no windows and one mirror. Tiger is so naive that he thinks it’s about pure fighting, and is upset when he learns it’s being broadcast pay-per-view to the overseas super-rich. There are different layers of surveillance: hidden cameras film his fights, a guy working for Donaka (Brian Siswojo might be the actor?) follows him and films him in the real world, and Hong Kong police detective Sun Jing Shi (Karen Mok) follows all of them and takes pictures in her attempt to bust open the fighting circuit. One great moment is when Donaka calls Tiger during a family dinner to tell him he has to fight the next day. He makes a point of watching Tiger on a hidden camera as he takes the call so that he can see the reaction on his face. And he seems to get off on it.

I love Reeves in this role. I know he’s played a couple of villains before, but it’s still a novelty, and he’s perfect casting for the decadent gwilo corruptor. The movie opens on a long, static shot of a fight, and the first voice we hear is Reeves, over an intercom, saying “Finish him.” When the fighter refuses, in walks a man wearing a creepy black mask and black leather gloves, who breaks the fighter’s neck. Of course it’s Reeves behind the mask, and you can tell by his lanky shape and by the way he walks that it’s not a double.

The mask is for special occasions though. Usually he’s just the rich guy in the nice suits, talking on his Bluetooth while shopping for more Lamborghinis and Bugattis. Reeves’ performance is mostly through posture and poses. Like a Wesley Snipes performance!

still_manoftaichi2

He’s not mega-acting, but he has several moments that made the (small) audience I saw it with laugh, like when he suddenly roars at the camera, or when he watches Tiger on a TV and says “Innocent!” I love those parts because they feel knowing without being ironic. Like “yeah, I know people are gonna laugh at this but fuck it, I’m doing it anyway.” It’s a movie that understands the genre completely but not in order to comment on it – in order to participate in it. I saw a review that called it “ambitious but generic,” which is kinda like saying a production of a Shakespeare play is well executed but we’ve seen this type of story before.

We’ve seen this type of story before and we keep watching because we like this type of story. We appreciate the execution and the little variations, we don’t want it to reinvent the wheel and call it a SmartWheel or something. We know that Tiger is gonna get more and more brutal in his fights and lose touch of his master’s teachings. But that doesn’t mean we’re not excited to see how exactly it plays out.

I love when Tiger disgraces his school by being too cruel in the legit competition. He doesn’t protest about being disqualified. He just picks up his gym bag and walks out, doesn’t say a word to the woman trying to ask him why he did it, goes straight to the temple, walks in and duels his master. Nothing has to be said, they both know this is what’s up. And I like that as he gets more out of line he looks more cool, now wearing all black like Donaka. The only way we know he hasn’t gone all the way to the dark side is that when he gets a bunch of money he doesn’t splurge by buying a flashy Lamborghini or something, just a sensible Volkswagen.

Of course, Tiger’s master wears a white robe. Donaka is the other side of the yin-yang, the evil anti-Sifu who tries to teach his students lessons about being more violent, stands over him and gives him bad pieces of wisdom. I love the philosophy of martial arts movies, and to me the most personally meaningful idea is that Tiger is betraying these ancient teachings while also working on legal maneuvers to protect the temple from foreclosure on the basis of its 600 year history and importance to Chinese heritage. He pays lip service to this great tradition while clearly not practicing it in his daily life and not (at this point in the movie) recognizing his failure.

There’s a nice sincerity to the movie, matching the innocence of the star. I think this is the only movie I’ve seen where the hero’s downfall comes from not meditating enough. His master leaves his destiny up to him but encourages him to meditate on his decisions. He doesn’t and he falls right into Donaka’s traps.

The fights are excellent and varied in style, with his personal style of Tai Chi pitted against a variety of styles – grappling, crane style, iron body, etc. Of course it’s best when it becomes personal, so the duel with his master is a highlight. I’m rooting for Tiger in the overall movie but wanting him to get whooped in that fight to learn his lesson. I was worried that all the fights might be in that window-less, racquet ball court sized room (one sin of underground fighting movies is to keep re-using the same fight location) but they go to larger and more opulent venues.

It builds to an amazing climax with all the different conflicts crashing into each other: we want to see Tiger refuse to fight for Donaka, but also we want to see him win, but more than that we want to see him kick Donaka’s ass, but also we know that the detective is racing to the scene and we want her to succeed. And then we see who they want Tiger to fight, and somehow I managed to not know about this cameo by the best possible “oh shit, I didn’t know he was in this!” of modern martial arts movies. So that was cool.

still_manoftaichiAnd I was not prepared for how exciting it was gonna be to know that maybe this guy we’ve been watching is about to fight fucking Neo. Or the evil version of Neo. There are so many movies where it’s a cheat and a let down to have the real martial artist fighting against an actor. But Reeves has this history from THE MATRIX, we know he and Wo Ping can pull off some good screen fighting, and now he has this great hatable character. He’s also so much taller than Chen that he seems more physically imposing than he did as Neo, and he gets to fight with a scowl on his face the whole time.

Who knew what a gift it would be to have a movie that builds to this fight? I guess Reeves did, because right when the shit is gonna go down the lights come on and the roaches scurry and it plays with the idea that maybe everything can be resolved without the fight. They even show Donaka swimming away, like maybe he’s gonna go down like Bodhi in POINT BREAK. For me it was torturous man, I was worried after all this he was gonna fuck up the landing. But actually he was just saving the fight for a more thematically appropriate location.

It looks more like a good Hong Kong movie than an actor vanity project. It looks real nice, has an effective electronical/orchestral hybrid soundtrack, has an intense car crash sequence, and a couple dashes of ONLY GOD FORGIVES type creepiness (something about the emotionless model who introduces some of the fights gave me the willies). More importantly to me, it turns out Neo’s got action chops.

I know alot of people think Reeves is a dummy, but during his time with the Wachowskis and Yuen Wo Ping he was smart enough to pick up on filmatistic lessons that most of current Hollywood flunked out of years ago. The editing (by Derek Hui, BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS) is A+, always holding long enough to show many consecutive moves. The camera (cinematographied by Elliot Davis of OUT OF SIGHT and SHAKES THE CLOWN fame) usually stays back far enough to show the whole bodies of the fighters, except when intentionally using closeups to focus on the movements of the hands or feet. Occasionally there are long, completely static shots for emphasis. I’m giving it a maybe too cautious ACR of 4.75 in recognition that the spinning and flying around of the camera (they used a new rig designed to move the camera deftly in and around fighters) will make some people dizzy, although I was fine with it. It’s fast, but it’s precise, it’s not the same as the shaky handheld stuff we see so often.

Oh shit, we should team up Reeves and RZA as a directing team. The Reeves technique combined with the RZA imagination would be unstoppable. Sometimes to relax on set RZA could freestyle and Keanu would be his hype man. I think this is a pretty good plan, it could happen. But it’s probly more likely that he just never directs again. Whatever happens my respect for Reeves has gone way up, ’cause I love MAN OF TAI CHI.

acr_manoftaichi

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, November 4th, 2013 at 3:15 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

49 Responses to “Man of Tai Chi”

  1. I’m absolutely going to watch this. Just saw the trailer for 47 RONIN, and that is also on the list now. Looks like Keanu’s getting a second life on film.

  2. I had a great time seeing this in an actual theater, it’s well worth seeking out as soon as possible. Reeves was smart to line up a talented group to back up his directorial debut. I take it that Yuen actually directed the fight sequences since he’s credited as “action director” separately from his brothers who are listed as the fight choreographers. This isn’t meant to take anything away from Reeves, the EPK material(for what it’s worth) shows him deeply involved in the production and the cohesiveness of the picture reflects this.

  3. Without spoiling anything, on a scale of 1 to 10, how good is the fight vs Iko Uwais?

  4. Oh man, this wasn’t on my radar at all and now it is. THANKS VERN! You’re the best buddy.

  5. Okay guys. For serious now. Is this worth driving an hour each way to Southcenter to see on a regular filmatistic screen? Or should I wait and buy the BluRay to watch at home. And I do have a decent sound system at home. I would appreciate the input everyone. TIA!

  6. Wait, Iko’s in this? Goddamn, I wanted to see it before, but now it is not optional.

  7. Sternshein – well, I tried not to spoil that in the review. It’s more of an exciting surprise cameo than a real fight. He gets to do some moves but it’s at a point in the story when Tiger’s goal is not to get in the ring and win the competition, kind of like the tournament in REDBELT.

  8. This movie was like Keanu Reeves showing up and giving you a great BLT. It’s a simple as simple gets but the ingredients are really fresh and there isn’t too much mayo so it’s just a damn good sandwich and that can be as satisfying as anything. The timing of this sandwich is perfect because lately there have been a lot of sandwich makers trying to reinvent the wheel by using lettuce as bread and shit like that. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but a well made classic is still a classic.

    Spoiler type thoughts to follow:

    Ok, so even though I said spoiler up there I kind of wish I had known that the Iko Uwais fight would never really happen going in because it was a bit of a letdown to have an “Oh shit Iko Uwais is in this movie and they’re gonna fight!” moment and then no pay off. The fact that they never throw down is supported by the script and worked as an emotional payoff and I can’t hate on the movie for that, but it’s Iko Uwais…

  9. Thanks for the heads up Vern.

    “I know he’s played a couple of villains before”

    Vern – He has?

  10. He also played lots of Johns and Johnnys.

  11. RRA – I don’t think he’s played a traditional bad-guy-that-the-hero-has-to-defeat like this before, but if I said he’d never played a villain somebody would’ve pointed out that he was an abusive boyfriend in THE GIFT and a serial killer in THE WATCHER.

  12. “Oh shit, we should team up Reeves and RZA as a directing team. The Reeves technique combined with the RZA imagination would be unstoppable. Sometimes to relax on set RZA could freestyle and Keanu would be his hype man. I think this is a pretty good plan.”

    Wrong.

    This is a GREAT plan.

    Someone make this happen!

  13. Don’t forget Keanu was the scheming Don John in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING! Kinda passive-aggressive but still a villain.

  14. The Original... Paul

    November 4th, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    I was going to bring up “The Watcher”. Damn you Vern, for managing to “ninja” me on your own website!

    Seriously though, this movie sounds great. I’ll definitely keep a look out for it.

    In non-“Man of Tai Chi”-related news, I just wrote something on “Thor 2” in the forums. The short version: it’s the best Marvel movie by a clear mile, with easily the best final act of any superhero movie I’ve ever seen. If anybody wants to discuss / debate those or any other points, here’s a link: http://www.outlawvern.com/forum/the-films-of-cinema/thor-2-is-the-best-live-action-power-rangers-movie-of-the-year/#p1858 .

  15. Loved the fights, hated Keanu. He’s stiff as a board in this movie. Anyone else would have been better. Good fight scenes though, and he may have a future as a director. If it keeps him from being in front of the camera I’m all for it.

  16. I used to make fun of Keanu’s acting, but then I realized that the movies I didn’t like him in were all period pieces. So long as the movie takes place in the present day or a sci-fi/fantasy setting, then he’s good to great. I’m happy to see Keanu using his power of influence for good, not evil.

  17. And my eyes would bleed if RZA and Keanu Reeves ever acted in the same movie

  18. He’s best in movies that do not require any real emotion other then posing and looking cool

  19. Karen Mok? I’m there.

  20. Man, the BLT metaphor is so accurate. Keanu didn’t reinvent the wheel, he just slapped some high-end tires on the car and drove the shit out of that motherfucker. It’s so above and beyond what I expected from a movie directed by Keanu that I had to watch it twice just to confirm it really was that good. And his woodenness, his Keanu-ness, really worked for me in this. Like all he lives for is corrupting motherfuckers, to the point that he really doesn’t have any other emotions. I’m really loving this renaissance of action/martial arts flicks.

  21. Sorry Vern, didn’t mean to let that cat out of the bag.

  22. I thought this was Bruce Lee’s vision for GAME OF DEATH, an ascending tower of battles (confined to that room in this case, they just rotated new fighters in) and the spirit of martial arts.

    Keanu was way better than RZA, sorry. And I love the Keanuisms. I’ve always defended him but the way he embraces them makes me love him even more. It’s a missed opportunity that he didn’t throw in a whoa.

    Tiger is magnetic. I hope we see a lot more of him.

    Vern, I had the same worry as you about the end but it ended up being the second best fight (the best was against his master.)

  23. If only he could make that Cowboy Bebop movie..

  24. Not only did Reeves hire the best talent he could for the crew, he gave some roles to great, unheralded Hong Kong actors. I wish, so very wish, that Karen Mok had more to do in this, but hey, Keanu was smart enough to cast the frigging great Karen Mok in this, and the perpetually underused Sam Lee gets kinda underused here too (the tech guy).

    and Simon Yam should be on some country’s currency, and he’s barely in this, but wow, its Simon Yam, that guy’s awesome.

    That was actually my biggest complaint about the film, was that the side roles were too well cast. Maybe it was Keanu throwing a bone to Karen Mok (she’s over 40, which means her film career is basically over in China), maybe it was him taking note of people who were great and he would want to put in his movie (and why the hell wouldn’t you want Simon Yam in your film, even if he’s just there to stand in line), but the parts they had to play didn’t give them much of anything to do with, and what’s the point of hiring a dynamite talent like Karen Mok for your film if you’re not going to let her do anything of interest?

    It would be like hiring Crispin Glover for a part in The Matrix, and oh shit, could he rock some bits in that, right? And he play’s Neo’s office drone boss, the most (purposely) boring role available.

    Come on, man.

    Anyways, good movie Keanu. He’s got to really be one heckava good guy, like an actual sworn brother to Tiger Chen, this is actually the second movie he’s worked on to get a career going for Chen.

    http://www.filmbiz.asia/reviews/kung-fu-man

    proving that Keanu Reeves is undoubtedly the best friend that any guy named Tiger has ever had.

  25. I really enjoyed this one. It is an impressive directorial debut for Johnny Utah, and even if he didn’t direct the action scenes himself I applaud him for partnering with the right people to help him execute his vision and deliver a very good martial arts film. The RZA had the same resources at his disposal on THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS but that films presentation of its fight scenes and how they were shot and edited was disappointing. I am excited to see where Reeves goes from here as a director. I would be interested to see him tackle other genres but I hope he keeps making martial arts films because there are not enough film makers shooting fight scenes with the skill demonstrated in THE MAN OF TAI CHI.

    I really enjoyed Keanu’s performance. I agree with Vern that it is not mega or over the top but it is a little campy in a good way. Reeve’s seems to be having a blast playing the black hat villain.

    I also always like when a martial arts film deals with the spiritual side of martial arts and not just fighting.

    SPOILERS: Any fan of Hong Kong cinema had to know that Simon Yam was going to be a bad guy.

  26. My favorite film of 2013 by a huge margin, probably the best film of 2013 by a fair margin,
    MAN OF TAI CHI is being underrated because its brilliance lies in its understatement, its seemingly unassuming adherence to formula (“It’s a movie that understands the genre completely but not in order to comment on it – in order to participate in it.”), and its lack of build-n-destroy-n-be-epic narrative.

    That is, it’s not quite showy or slick or artsy enough to overcome its supposedly “low brow” genre appeal to the arthouse critics, and it’s not quite explodetacular-pewpewpew enough to appeal to the, uh, EXPENDABLES crowd or to satisfy those seeking a new THE MATRIX, but for me it hits the precise sweet spot like nothing else in a long time. Okay, not that long, just since UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING.

    marlow has it right with the BLT metaphor, but I still think MAN OF TAI CHI is even better than that.

    If, say, David Lynch did a movie that had 2 surprise, out of the blue shots where the protagonist performs a direct address (looking into the camera, breaking the 4th wall)
    (and this doesn’t happen when the camera guy is watching him, so it’s not like it’s diegetic surveillance footage),
    critics would be creaming themselves for weeks breaking down why this aesthetic choice was so brilliant, so representative of groundbreaking cinema that furthers the artform, such an intriguingly sharp philosophical exploration on the nature of perspective in cinema as audience as cinema etc..

    When Keanu Reeves does it with Tiger Chen, no one fuckin’ notices, or at least they don’t give credit to this brilliant visual-artistical-filmatistical flourish. The rest of the movie fools you into thinking it is too conventional or too reverentially similar to old school kung fu classics to be considered a masterpiece, but I’m trying to tell people that there is lot more “there” here.

    Although the nature of Tai Chi is fungible here, the yin-yang & complementary energies theme is legit (not just a hokey bit of scriptorial bullshit), and the conflict within Tiger as student and as budding badass dabbling in The Dark Side, en route to faux-resolution en route to real resolution, is a story that arrested my attention and spurred my mind (both as a simple viewer of this simple (great) narrative and as an analyst/critic/meta-critic of the whole genre & of Keanu’s career) like no other film in a long time.

    MAN OF TAI CHI is serious filmmaking from a serious filmmaker. And also a filmmaker who knows all the buttons to push to ensure I have a great fuckin’ time at the movies. I’ve always liked Keanu. Now I might love him.

  27. The Original... Paul

    November 9th, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Ok, I now want to see this.

    And there’s no way in hell it’ll come anywhere close to me in the cinemas. That seems to be a theme right now. I just posted something similar in the “Green Street 3” thread.

  28. I fucking love this movie! I was prepared for the excellent camerawork and choreography, but I wasn’t prepared for how tense the movie was, how thick with dread and atmosphere. It’s a cliche for action movies to have their heroes try not to resort to violence, so it was a welcome change to see a main character who embraces his violent side, and then have that be fucking horrifying. An action hero unchained in a dangerous thing. I was actually afraid for his opponents in the legitimate fights, because there was just no telling what this crazy motherfucker was gonna do to them. Yet I was still rooting for him to pull out of his downward spiral all the same. That’s some good storytelling.

    I really liked the tone, as well. For most of it, Keanu utilizes the restraint you’d expect from him. As an actor, understatement is a way of life. But what was awesome were the parts where the restraint fell away to reveal moments of pure over-the-top craziness, like Keanu screaming at the camera for no reason or the strobelight battle with all the crazy neon patterns or the master breaking out of the fucking five-finger death palm out of nowhere. These moments might seem laughable to some but I totally buy them. They’re more powerful because the movie isn’t wall-to-wall craziness. You just get these little gems of mega that throw you off guard and make you excited about what the movie is capable of.

    I also love how the movie functions as a meta commentary on Keanu’s filmography. For nearly 30 years, he’s made a career of playing the naive innocent ushered into a larger, scarier world. His blank face and emotionless acting style allowed audiences to project their own identities onto his, while his older, more experienced co-stars got to give all the interesting performances as wise old mentors and/or seductive villains. Now Keanu’s in charge, though, so he’s the villain and the mentor. He’s Satan, tempting the seemingly incorruptible young lawyer with promises of wealth and fame. He’s Dracula, welcoming Jonathan Harker into his castle of dark delights. He’s Agent Smith, wearing slick suits and sitting cooly in a sterile office, letting Neo know how the world really works. He’s the evil wizard, not the white knight, and you can tell that he loves it. He feels unleashed. Keanu is a scary motherfucker in this. When he strides out in slow-mo for the final battle, he seems 10 feet tall and made entirely of rage. He’s so good that his sorta clunky fighting style still seems like a match for Tiger’s technical perfection. It’s like a lifetime of repressed rage hidden by an entire IMDB page worth of blandly benevolent cyphers came out all at once. It’s beautiful.

    This might be the movie of the year for me, with only FURIOUS 6 offering any real competition.

  29. I am starting to get seriously excited about this movie.

  30. Great minds, etc..

    The single best scene of the year is MAN OF TAI CHI’s iso-trance-mirror-“Now fight!”
    Reeves and his set & sound designers accomplish more to startle my heart and freak me out in that few seconds of sparse grayed-out post-art-deco-entrancement-cum-jump-scare than anything I’ve seen in a long while. I’ve seen people flinch at this moment, and I literally almost jumped from my seat the first 2 times I saw it. Talk about being lost in a film.

    And yet, while the sense of escapism & suspension of disbelief continues, the film continues to challenge me, scare me, and cause me to meta-ponder Keanu’s career; I’m deep in the narrative but I’m thinking about a thousand other things the movie represents. It’s a beautiful nightmare that satisfies because it doesn’t give way to conventional means of action film satisfaction, and there’s very little superfluous chit-chat (Somehow the tai chi master just knows his protege is coming to fight him — no need for words or a labored build-up to the confrontation, just get up in your stance and eye the front door til he arrives).
    The rough edges (the camera guy and silly tournament/gambling plot) ultimately serve as commentary on the nature of genre film & genre film expectations, as well as on Keanu’s evolved place in such endeavors.

    Controversial compare/contrast: I’ve read about people being hypnotized & transported to a weird dream world while watching LORDS OF SALEM; I respect that response and wish I’d reached that immersed feeling myself during Zombie’s freakshow, and I feel like that’s what Reeves has achieved. A real sense of dread, a world that undulates between an unforgiving reality and a depiction of Hell, where only a restoration of one’s code of honor or a return to a balance of energies can prevent you from falling into infinite darkness. Is MAN OF TAI CHI also the best horror film of the year?

  31. The Undefeated Gaul

    December 11th, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Bit too much hyperbole going on in this thread. I liked the movie as well, but I just want to balance the expectations of people who haven’t seen it yet with my own opinion, which is that Man Of Tai Chi is enjoyable, but fails to hit the mark in a couple of important areas. Best thing about it without a doubt is Keanu, loved his performance, the little bits of mega, and indeed I was looking forward to the final fight in a major way… only to be let down when the time came (come on, that finishing move was straight out of fucking street fighter)

    I guess for me the biggest letdown was the tone of the film. It felt too safe, too clean, too PG 13. The fights were choreographed like beautiful dances, with the side effect that no hit felt like there was any impact behind it. Especially because I think there’s not a drop of blood spilled in the whole film (except maybe from Keanu’s mouth at the very end…) In any case, not one fight stuck out for me, there’s no cool shots that linger in the memory. You watch the fight, it’s kind of fun, then it’s over and forgotten instantly. No lingering feeling of, “That was fucking cool!” which the best action scenes should always have.

    I guess you guys also got attached on an emotional level, but I didn’t. For me Tiger Chen was pretty much a charmless dorky dude who had good moves, but still didn’t really register as a badass for me. And that was kind of important, especially when he’s slowly turning to the dark side but he never really felt… dark. He just looked slightly pissed off, like a pouting child. Maybe it was the haircut, I don’t know. He just looked silly most of the time.

    I also think what hurt the film for me was my expectations were pretty fucking high after seeing this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuvYBph4YBg) last year and I was expecting some next level shit. Then it turns out the Bot & Dolly wasn’t even used for shooting and all the fights looked like something I’ve seen many times before. Sure, I still enjoy it, but you can’t tease me with next level shit and then give me current level shit all of a sudden.

    Just to repeat, I still really liked the movie, but the points mentioned above made it just a halfway decent entry in the genre for me instead of “Best of 2013” and all that.

  32. Gaul, the finishing move was chi. I understand it resembles Ryu’s long range attack, but. The STREET FIGHTER was inspired by tai chi. For me it was Tuesday.

  33. * maybe STREET FIGHTER was inspired by tai chi. Wow, autocorrect. The?

    It still was Tuesday tho.

  34. The Undefeated Gaul

    December 11th, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    I understand it was chi, but still it ended things on an extremely silly note. Also I’m not sure it makes sense. He can do the move because he’s finally pure again, right? But then he uses it to kill a guy, which is the ultimate dark side move, something which Keanu points out with his last line. So I guess that was on purpose…

    Wish they’d brought in JCVD for the secret cameo, have him throw out a couple sonic booms and flash kicks. Maybe that would’ve made it easier to swallow.

    Speaking of that cameo, what a waste! You hire THAT guy and then you don’t even use him for a proper fight. All he did was run around and chase the little guy, before deciding to just give up and chill for a bit.

  35. This was suprisingly decent. I thought Reeves was good as a sociopathic character. He’s driven by one thing, his Emperor Palpatine-kicks from corrupting and playing people to whatever ends he envisions.

    Its funny but I think what surprised me the most was that I was actually kinda involved on a storytelling level. I liked how STAR WARS this went as a morality play, the hero turns to the dark side but then turns away from it.

    This is a good cheeseburger indeed.

  36. Also I caught 47 RONIN the other day, which as everybody knows it bombed and slammed by the critics (10% at RT last I checked) and I have to agree with them.

    Obviously greenlighted after 300, we have another historical, legendary event that apparently wasn’t badass enough for the kids and video game players so monsters and magic and other silly shit gets added to get their attention. What’s next, zombies at the O.K. Corral? Like 300, this is also a lackluster actioneer.

    I think honestly the real problem with 47 RONIN as a film is this: The leader of these guys out to get revenge for their betrayed master is the real protagonist since you know he organizes the guys and plans their mission out and all that, but because he’s played a Japanese actor (i.e. not the star), alot of the film’s focus is on Keanu Reeves (i.e. the film’s star) who’s a glorified supporting player…and he’s not all that interesting. I like how Keanu’s character is adament about not using his magic to kill, yet he sure has no qualms with killing bad guys in the sword fighting.

    Plus the studio obviously recut this film and it shows how stupid they think the audience is. We have voice-over narration explaining the character/plot set-up at the opening, we’re 15 minutes into the film and we already get a flashback to a scene that just happened 5 minutes earier. (Because the audience won’t know that Keanu recognizes the witch as that evil fox in the woods because they both have a blue and green eye, even though we saw that damn fox transform into that witch.) Oh my favorite part? At the ending, the narration/text epilogue more or less dedicates the movie in honor of the said title characters.

    I KID YOU NOT!

    Still there is one reason to watch this, only one: One camptastic scene where the witch in heavy lesbian-implied innuendo grinds the lead actress rather…suggestively.

  37. I like how 7 years later, 300 is still inspiring ripoffs, what it really THAT damn big of a hit?

  38. Griff – apparently so for I caught LEGEND OF HERCULES tonight and that’s an even more blatant 300 rip-off. Hell Zack Snyder should sue Renny Harlin for total thievery here.

    From CLIFFHANGER to this. What the hell happened to Harlin? Hell even a rental like 12 ROUNDS that he did is Oscar material compared to this.

    A total loser in every regard.

  39. it’s just weird to me because it seems like 300 was a sleeper hit, at best, not a runaway blockbuster and yet it’s still an influential movie 7 years later

    of course, maybe I’m wrong, I never actually saw it, all I remember about it is the “THIS IS SPARTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!” meme

  40. Griff – Umm no? 300 was a hit film, it had like a bigass opening weekend for a spring release, which reportedly was what got WATCHMEN greenlighted. Jesus it even got a parody movie (an unfunny one from what I’ve heard) in MEET THE SPARTANS.

    BTW, Scott Adkins is the baddie in LEGEND OF HERCULES. When will Vern review it?!?

  41. BTW speaking of ripping off, LEGEND OF HERCULES not just ripped off 300 and GLADIATOR, it also ripped off THOR. I’m impressed.

  42. well, I guess I’m wrong then

  43. I have to chime in and sing this movie’s praises. It’s the best Kung Fu flick since The Raid. I think my favorite moment, which I think no one has mentioned is Tiger’s fight with his master. Nothing is said. He just runs into the master’s room and they start fighting. It’s great. There isn’t any dialogue exchange between the two and there doesn’t need to be. Tiger knows he’s perverting his master’s teachings and the master knows he has to knock him down a peg. It’s a great moment, made greater because the emotion is in the fighting, not the dialogue.

  44. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DSQ7xQzvhU

    I’m liking this genre of films designed as launch vehicles for people named Tiger.

  45. Saw this a couple of weeks ago and genuinely liked it. I agree with the Agent smith and the other Keanu filmography connections, but the film is also martial arts bliss. But the reason I bought the dvd is because it had Iko Uwais on the cover. Man, I did not now about him being involved in this,like Vern, I managed to stay unaware of it. So it sold me there. But the film itself managed to impress me. Unfortunately, when it comes to Yuen Woo-Ping, he can´t resist overusing wirework, but that is my only problem with it. At first, I thought the choreography was surprisingly grounded, but when they open up the environments, there is too much wirework in it. Still a great movie and a strong narrative, which is unusual in this kind of films.

  46. Trailer for Keanu’s new movie JOHN WICK

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=PAvug-z7lqM

    I think it’s great he’s doing all this over a DOG, though now that I think about it, action heroes having dogs is a bit of a recurring thing (Mad Max, Martin Riggs, someone else not played by Mel Gibson), and you’d not see the same thing being done with cats.

    What we see in the trailer and the directors having stunts/martial arts backgrounds (including The Matrixes and MAN OF TAI CHI) give me big hopes for it.

  47. John Wick has gone from “movie I’ve never heard of” to “most anticipated movie of the year”. No joke. That trailer is amazing.

  48. Well, finally got to see this one on DVD. I think there’s a whole aspect to it that you guys haven’t considered – more on that in a bit. It’s good. I enjoyed it for what it was, but it’s lacking in a few key areas that would’ve made it great.

    Let’s begin the “responding to random people” bit!

    It’s the best Kung Fu flick since The Raid. – Jack Burton.
    Nah, “The Raid 2” is the best Kung Fu flick since – and including – “The Raid”.

    I just want to balance the expectations of people who haven’t seen it yet with my own opinion, which is that Man Of Tai Chi is enjoyable, but fails to hit the mark in a couple of important areas. For me Tiger Chen was pretty much a charmless dorky dude who had good moves, but still didn’t really register as a badass for me. And that was kind of important, especially when he’s slowly turning to the dark side but he never really felt… dark. He just looked slightly pissed off, like a pouting child. Maybe it was the haircut, I don’t know. He just looked silly most of the time. – Undisputed Gaul.
    Agree with all of this.

    It felt too safe, too clean, too PG 13. The fights were choreographed like beautiful dances, with the side effect that no hit felt like there was any impact behind it. – Undisputed Gaul.
    Now this I actually disagree with. I appreciated the mix of styles, especially as an MMA-fan. One thing I thought this film did really well was making ground combat and submissions exciting. I never thought it came off as “too clean”, although that might be my comparative lack of experience of this type of movie talking – generally the “hardest” martial-arts action we get in mainstream cinemas here is the likes of “Safe”, which was 12A and looked as though it only missed being a straight PG because of that scene where the gangsters invade Statham’s house.

    “MoTC is better than “Safe” by a very wide margin, by the way. Moving on…

    We don’t want it to reinvent the wheel and call it a SmartWheel or something. – Vern.
    Maybe not, but you can throw on a few spikes or some alloy rims or something – keep the basic function, but add a few little unexpected parts. “MoTC” works well enough as a wheel. But wheels can be kinda boring at times, y’know? By nature they’re not meant to change direction or even tempo that much, they just kinda go round. And… ok, I completely forgot where I was going with that, so you guys can figure it out.

    So here’s the deal. “Man of Tai Chi” is to “The Raid 2” as “Lucy” was to “Edge of Tomorrow”. (Ok, it’s better than “Lucy” too.) It’s definitely entertaining and there’s a lot to like about it in terms of action.

    The trouble is that “The Raid 2” introduced us to Rama and Uco, the latter especially being quite possibly the single best and most-fitting-to-their-movie “main villain” I’ve EVER seen in a kung-fu movie of any sort, straight up. (Mr Han might be as great, but it’d be pretty damn close.) And Rama is awesome from beginning to end, for so many reasons. The character arcs these two go through, the performances given by the actors (again, Uco in particular is just amazing), the way the characters are written, the way their character slowly develop over the course of the film and how “natural” this feels… What I’m saying here is that “The Raid 2” has set the bar impossibly high.

    And “Man of Tai Chi” doesn’t reach those heights. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that while Keanu the director has done a sterling job here, Keanu the actor might be the worst thing about the movie. When he bellows “Innocent!” directly into the camera, I’m afraid it got a giggle out of me. Yes, a giggle. So much of his performance doesn’t fit the “tone” of the rest of the film. He’s not convincing, either as a threat or as the master-manipulator he’s playing. It doesn’t help either that we know next to nothing about him except that he’s a villain. This is not the Joker. It’s not even Mad Dog from “The Raid”. For Keanu’s character to work, he needs context. We need to know what drives him, and for that we need to know how he got to where he is. We never get that, and IMO it hurts the film.

    And last quote:

    I wasn’t prepared for how tense the movie was, how thick with dread and atmosphere. – Majestyk.
    See this was the most interesting part of the movie for me. Arguably the single best scene (apart from that awesome jump-scare with the mirror that Mouth pointed out) is when Tiger watches what’s essentially a fictionalised “trailer” of his own life. He’s essentially watching the same movie that the audience has been watching, and it horrifies him. The bits involving voyeurism and spying work so well that I kinda wish the movie had gone all-out and made the movie more about the watchers than the watched. The stand-in for the voyeurs, of course, is Keanu himself, and for the reasons I’ve given above I don’t feel that this quite works. It would also take some pressure off Tiger in terms of carrying the film – because make no mistake here, he’s no Rama. (Actually, come to think of it, including Iko Uwais might have been the worst decision made in the movie. MoTC does not want to be inviting that comparison – it’s not gonna end well.)

    MoTC also had a few pointed moments that were fairly blatant commentary about how we’re willing to give up our privacy in order to gain “stuff” – generally shallow, meaningless stuff. It’s telling that when Tiger first steps into his sports car, the moment is shown from the point of view of a hidden camera, watched by Reeves – again representing the “voyeur”. It’s also pretty telling that Tiger is naively complicit in all of this – he doesn’t, at that point, have a clue just how much of his life he’s sacrificed, and accepts the rewards as though they’re his “due”. This works really well – well enough that, again, I wish they’d have done more with it.

    Two more bugbears:

    1) Iko Uwais doesn’t actually get to fight Tiger. This is a waste of your Rama.

    2) Let’s please have a moratorium on the “character we never had any reason to trust actually turns out to be untrustworthy” stock twist please. It didn’t work in “The Dark Knight Rises”, it didn’t work in “Mission: Impossible 3”, it didn’t work in “Fast / Furious 6”, and it absolutely doesn’t work here. Either make it the basis of your film – in other words, have the film be a whodunnit mole-hunt – or have the treacherous character revealed early so that they can be used as a source of tension and drama throughout the film. Don’t just flip a character’s entire motivation for the sake of a plot device. It’s predictable, it’s lame, and it’s so common nowadays that it’s gotten obnoxious.

    But I definitely enjoyed MoTC. Honestly I’d be even more enthusiastic about it if it hadn’t followed so soon on the heels of “The Raid 2”. I do appreciate the points made about societal voyeurism and people’s naivety around this topic though. My main problem is that the script and acting of both Tiger and Donaka (Keanu’s character) are limited enough that the movie left me a bit cold. As a straight kung-fu movie, though, I thought it worked well. In MMA terms, this isn’t a knockout, but it definitely get a win-by-decision.

  49. I liked the part when Tiger defeats the two guys at once (in the secret, opulent boat), and the crowd is just like, “feh, let’s go get another round of vodka martinis.” Some good little touches in this movie.

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