Man of Tai Chi Blu-ray Review
There is a certain confidence in the film MAN OF TAI CHI that is just so enjoyable to watch. This is Keanu Reeves first time in the director’s chair and he has done well for himself. It isn’t just another martial arts flick, but a meditation on life and what we cherish. Strong filmmaking like this makes me hope Reeves attempts directing again in the future.
Tiger Chen plays the title character named after himself since some of the story is in fact based on Chen’s life. He practices tai chi and lives a simple life as a courier. Tiger trains under the tutelage of Master Yang (Yu Hai) in a temple that is 600 years old. Tiger has a yearning though to prove himself in some way. He has disagreements with his Master about his inner strength and how to fully tap into it. He enters a Wulin contest to prove the worth of tai chi and of himself.
Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves) is watching the contest for new fighters for his underground fighting operation. One of his previous fighters was murdered by Donaka because he didn’t kill his opponent as instructed. It didn’t help the fighter that he was also an informant. Hong Kong detective Sun Jing Shi (Karen Mok) is on Donaka’s trail. Faulty entail prevented her from stopping her informant from getting killed. Her superintendent has closed her operation after this failure. So Sun is working the case without the authority of her boss.
Reeves and Screenwriter Michael G. Cooney make it clear from the beginning who the good guys and bad guys are. Donaka is mainly dressed in black throughout and he wears a black mask when he dispatches people after matches. On the other hand Master Yang dresses in all white and represents the purity that we all strive for. It is a great contrast and is a bit refreshing when so many movies now paint the good and bad guys with grey tones.
Donaka runs a successful security company, but it is mainly a front for his fighting operation. Donaka offers a fighting job to Tiger, but he turns him down. He believes it is dishonorable to fight for money. He changes his tune though when his temple is facing safety violations with a new developer ready to pounce if these violations are not rectified.
Reeves presents an interesting dilemma here. How far will you go to save something that you love? Will you sacrifice your integrity and all that you hold dear? Tiger fights various people and gets paid handsomely. Something changes inside of him though. He becomes more aggressive and angrier. This is reflected in his fighting in the tournament. His aggressiveness may result in dire consequences for the temple.
The fight sequences are choreographed by the legendary Woo-Ping Yuen. He previously worked with Reeves and Chen on The Matrix films. There is a beauty and style that is evident in these scenes. You can watch with the sound turned down and just marvel at the grace on the screen. I also loved the music in this movie. Composer Chan Kwong-wing is well known in Hong Kong and rightfully so. He creates a rich atmosphere with his at times pulsating music.
The movie of course ends with a confrontation between Tiger and Donaka at the temple. It is a satisfying bout that puts everything in perspective. Donaka craves a death that Tiger didn’t give him. Tiger is looking to regain his soul.
MAN OF TAI CHI is a nice little gem that was forgotten at the box office. Action aficionados will enjoy the martial arts scenes, while the story will satisfy those looking for more substance.
MAN OF TAI CHI BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: I love the transfer of this film. The beautiful colors of China are fully realized.
Audio: This is a great sounding film with a wonderful score and all the dialogue easy to hear.
Feature Commentary with Director/Actor Keanu Reeves and Tiger Chen: This is a low key commentary that shouldn’t come as a surprise with Reeves involved. It is a bit too sleepy for my tastes.
The Making of Man of Tai Chi (7:52): Reeves, Chen and Cinematographer Elliot Davis discuss the film and its origins. There are some interesting tidbits that come from this piece.