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Movie review: ‘Man of Tai Chi’

Man of Tai Chi

Director: Keanu Reeves

Cast: Tiger Hu Chen, Keanu Reeves

Rated: R (violence)

Running time: 105 min.

Posted 10:20pm on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013

In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves uttered the immortal line, “I know kung fu.” Who knew that would be so prophetic?

For his directorial debut, martial-arts film fan Reeves -- working from a script by Michael G. Cooney -- makes an entertaining, if hardly groundbreaking, traditional kung-fu movie. It’s set in authentic locations (shot in Beijing, Hong Kong and Macau), uses three languages (Cantonese, Mandarin and English), and sports the kind of young-man-against-evil storyline that could have been cribbed from 100 other such movies.

Tiger Hu Chen is Tiger Chen, a tai chi student who, instead of utilizing his talents for meditation and exercise, uses them for combat, much to the chagrin of his teacher (Yu Hai). His fighting skills attract the attention of Donaka Mark (Reeves), a well-heeled security expert by day, a villainous organizer of illegal underground fight clubs patronized by the rich and powerful by night. Mark’s activities have attracted the attention of the cops, especially the determined Suen Jing-Si (Karen Mok), though they’ve been able to nail him yet.

Chen can make some quick money -- to help his struggling family and his teacher’s impoverished temple -- by entering Mark’s deadly kung-fu thunderdome. But it could be at the cost of his soul, or even his life if he loses a bout. It’s hardly a spoiler to know that Chen and Mark end up squaring off.

The fight scenes are well staged, though star-worthy Indonesian martial-arts champ Iko Uwais ( The Raid: Redemption), as one of Chen’s opponents, is criminally underutilized.

Man of Tai Chi’s problems arise when the fighting stops. Reeves may indeed know kung fu and even a bit about directing. It’s the acting that still gives him trouble.

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