The Sino-American martial arts film, Man of Tai Chi <太極俠>, which stars Karen Mok (莫文蔚), Tiger Chen (陳虎), and Keanu Reeves, opened in theaters on July 5. Although many viewers praised its spectacular action scenes, others lamented the lack of an engaging storyline and criticized Tiger for his poor acting abilities.
Man of Tai Chi stars Tiger as Chen Linhu, a young and innocent martial arts practitioner who unwittingly finds himself caught in an underground fight club in Hong Kong. The matches are arranged by Donaka (Keanu Reeves), who is being investigated by police officer Juanxiu (Karen Mok). As Linhu spirals deeper into the violent, massacre-like boxing matches, he must find a way to free himself from Donaka’s grip and rediscover who he really is.
The most intriguing parts of the film are undoubtedly Tiger’s displays of martial arts. As a real-life martial arts practitioner who began learning kung fu at a young age, Tiger tackles the action scenes with ease and showcases the top-notch work of stunt coordinator Yuen Woo Ping (袁和平). Although the film is titled Man of Tai Chi, there are actually various forms of martial arts featured throughout, such as karate, taekwondo, sambo, wrestling, and jujutsu. The ending result is a refreshing change from other Chinese action films, many of which have no choice but to cast idols with no martial arts background or continue using older martial arts stars who must rely on close-up shots and high-speed editing to make up for their age.
The eye-catching action, however, is not enough to mask the film’s weak storyline, as well as Tiger’s shortcomings as an actor. The simplistic plot features no plot twists, nor is there any feeling of suspense. Moreover, even though Tiger excels at the action scenes, he has neither the acting chops nor a memorable enough face to stand alongside other thespians. Man of Tai Chi is supposed to be about his struggle between good and evil, but his expressionless face makes it difficult for viewers to sympathize.
Where Man of Tai Chi struggles the most is perhaps in its attempt to navigate and blend Eastern and Western culture. The mix of languages – from English to Cantonese to the Beijing dialect to Chinglish to Hong Kong-style Mandarin – may hint at a multicultural flavor, but the dialogue, characters, and actions are all undeniably Western. This may be attributed to the fact that Keanu Reeves, who serves as the film’s director as well as the main villain, is a foreigner and might possess a slightly mythologized view of Chinese culture, but the culture clash nevertheless remains awkward and unfitting. Although the film takes place in China, has a Chinese name, and presents Chinese leads, Man of Tai Chi is simply an American film.
This article is written by Joanna for JayneStars.com.