Man Of Tai Chi (Blu-ray Review)

Man-Of-Tai-ChiMy generation and that before have seen Keanu Reeves come up through his career as a one-trick stoner comedy pony, to really bad surfer actor, to action to star, to blockbuster superstardom to serviceable ensemble actor.  In 2013, we take another step.  Keanu Reeves: the director.   In his directorial debut The Man Of Tai Chi, Keanu showers us with his love for martial arts in this modern take on the 70s Kung Fu genre.  The story, tone, performances and plot feel like they walked right out of Bruce Lee or Sonny Chiba’s wheelhouse, but take place in a modern setting and melding modern techniques.  It’s an incredible fun film that should have you fully engaged right from the offset.  Anchor Bay delivers the first of what will 2 of this year’s Keanu martial arts outputs (the other, 47 Ronin).

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Tiger Chen practices is a package runner while also practicing to become a master at the art of Tai Chi.  He displays his reserve and prowess in local Wulin contests.  A mysterious man, Donaka Mark offers Tiger a proposition in the form of a security position within his company.  What it turns out to be is a series of free for all, no rules fights for high amounts of cash.  At first Tiger is reluctant, but when he discovers his master’s temple is set to be bulldozed, he changes his tune.  Tiger’s morals and practices are challenges the more he involves himself in Donaka Mark’s deadly and brutal game.

Keanu Reeve’s first outing as a director proves shows us that he is a pretty tried and true fan of martial arts, be it the fighting style and practice itself or classic films about the genre.  This simplistic story gives a rich dedication to the fighting style, with the art of it and the morality behind certain styles coming getting some spotlight as well.  Reeves doesn’t allow modern filmmaking technique and crutches get in his way of providing a classic narrative and choreographing fight scenes.  The camera doesn’t rattle and make one want to vomit for the sake of doing it.  It captures the moves, allows you to clearly see the back and forth and gives you a great sense of geography.  He’s been taught well coming up through his Matrix days, as he also carries over some people from those films to this.  I can’t applaud him more as a director for staying true to everything that these films set out to do.  The movie is a lot of fun, and his fun behind the scenes seeps out through the movie as well.

Keanu himself is in the movie too, and yeah…he steals the show.  He’s the villain of the film, but damn if I didn’t love this guy.  He’s got a bad ass look, but he’s also just a badass with his demeanor and delivery.  If this movie had a bigger distribution and was a hit, you’d see his masked version of Donaka Mark out for Halloween all over the place next year.  Every time the camera was on him, he took ownership and commanded the scene.  And not in a scene stealing way.  He has this way of never trying to become bigger than the material, and in turn his presence becomes greater as it melds in with everything.  Man Of Tai Chi is easily one of his best performances.  I think a lot of credit must go to the director for getting this out of him. J

One of the things that makes this a very strong Kung Fu movie is that I left the film feeling I learned something about the techniques and fighting style of the movie.  It just goes to show the care that was put to it in the script.  Che Hu and Keanu said they were working on this movie for many years based on the Tai Chi style alone, and I can’t help but say that their hard work on telling a story that shares the history, influence and essence of what this style is paid off.  I’m not martial arts expert, all I like to do is dabble in some Kung Fu films time to time, so I can’t tell you if they got it right or whatnot, but as a spectator I feel I took something home with me after watching it.  And I think that can speak of some volumes as a lot of martial arts movies leave me with “cool fight, yo!”

I’ve now seen this movie twice.  I really liked it the first time, and enjoyed it a little more the second.  I’m sure a third viewing is definitely coming in the future.  It’s a very simple film.  It knows what it is, doesn’t try to be anything bigger and excels in its execution.  The fights are well choreographed and filmed.  Reeves rocks as both director and villain.  This is definitely one of those movies people are going to “miss” in 2013, which is a shame.

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Like usual, Anchor Bay provides a stellar 1080p MPEG-4 encoding presentation.  Every little detail is accounted for, from fabric, to surfaces to facial pores and the like.  There were some scenes with rain that looked pretty outstanding in the 2:40.1 frame.  Sometimes the when it was dark it was a little too black.  But, I’d rather have that than a lot of crushing.  What I liked about the image is that it looked very much like a Hong Kong film aesthetic than an American one.   It brought a great sense of authenticity and blended the modern look with a classic style story/fight.

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Fists punch and walls smash in this DTS-HD MA 5.1 track.  It’s a loud, boisterous track.  It has some fun playing right to left and knows how to get the oompf going.  Dialogue is very clear and crisp.  The score never overtakes anything happening on screen but manages to sound nice and full.  The ambient sounds on this were also a winner as it added to the film feeling rather detailed in its presentation.  Accompanying a great video transfer, this audio is the perfect match.

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There are not a whole lot of extras provided.  They could have honestly got away with just doing a commentary, but here they provide you with some behind the scenes footage and fighting practice.

Feature Commentary With Director/Actor Keanu Reeves & Tiger Hu Chen – This is pretty much your average commentary track.  They cover what goes on onscreen and give some anecdotes to some coordinating behind the scenes stuff.

Making Of Man Of Tai Chi (HD, 7:52) – This is a short, but fun look back at the film primarily by Keanu Reeves.  Keanu is surprisingly very light hearted and pretty funny during this look back.  The guy likes to have him some fun, and I like that.

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Fans of classic Kung Fu and those who like well-done action sequences should definitely check this film out.  Hell, if you’re curious to see what a Keanu Reeves-directed film looks like, here you go.  This is a terrific throwback to an older era of film in a modern setting.  It’s very possibly going to be an overlooked film this year, but it’s something that really should be seen.  Anchor Bay provides a great presentation with a couple extras that won’t take up too much of your time to boot.  It’s also currently available at a rather reasonable price for a new release.  I imagine this could see a price drop in the near future that’ll make it quite the steal and worth your gamble.



Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

7 Responses to “Man Of Tai Chi (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    “You owe me a life”

    This movie kicked ass!

  2. Gerard Iribe

    I enjoyed this one a lot!

  3. ARYA

    This review is so well researched and thought out! So unlike the crap that usually passes for reviews of a DVD. Thanks!

  4. Brandon Peters

    Thank you for reading and for the kind praise, “Arya”!

  5. Brian White

    I tried to resist saying this, but after almost two days of restlessness and struggle I cannot. I must be allowed to flex my tongue muscles. When Reeves said after a THIRD time “you owe me a life” I shouted back at the TV screen “you owe me two hours of my life back,” There I said my piece. Rock on!

  6. Aaron Neuwirth

    They can’t all be Getaway…

  7. Brian White

    @Aaron…you got that right!