Tiger Hu Chen
Keanu Reeves does, in fact, know kung fu. Since working on the first MATRIX film and spending months training with masters of the art form, the actor has immersed himself in the culture and cinema of Asia—even recently signing a production deal to make movies specifically for the Chinese marketplace. If they’re all like MAN OF TAI CHI, that may not be a bad thing.
As a film it's really nothing special. The script is about as cliché and predictable as it comes. Subplots featuring a female cop and love interest are pointless at best. And the dialogue is clunky, especially Reeve's overly evil banter. (Take a shot every time he says "You owe me a life!") However, as a martial arts showcase—arguably the reason it exists—MAN OF TAI CHI is well above average.
Not only is this Reeves' directorial debut, it's also something of a launching pad for his friend and talented fighter Tiger Hu Chen. Chen, a member of the original MATRIX fight team, is definitely worthy of his own film—showing impressive range and exciting skills as a martial artist. Tai Chi is more of a spiritual martial art—all about guiding and controlling your inner "qi" (energy) and not so much fighting. It's a very different, much more graceful style than your typical Jet Li wushu, which help makes Chen stand out his first time anchoring a film like this.
The film boasts fight choreography by master Yuen Woo Ping, also of MATRIX fame, and they are as awesome as you'd expect—featuring a lot of different styles and long, non-repetitive sequences. Reeves proves to be confident as a filmmaker, clearly having picked up some style from the Wachowskis. He gets what makes kung fu exciting and believable for an audience and takes full advantage of his talented team. He also thankfully shoots the fights in long takes from a respectable distance so you can actually see what's going on. It's a shame Reeves wasn't able to use his revolutionary "Cam-Fu" rig to shoot it. Maybe next time.
The actor also makes for a surprisingly good bad guy, relishing in all the evil fun. The only downside to making him the ultimate villain is that after an hour and a half of seeing Chen fight a dozen insanely talented martial artists, watching him struggle against the 50 year old Reeves (who still packs a punch, just noticeably slower from his Neo days) is a bit of a stretch.
Commentary by Keanu Reeves and Tiger Chen: An informative, story-filled track. Not the most exciting one I've ever heard, but both men share a palpable love for kung fu.
Making Of (7:52): Reeves sounds very excited and inspired when speaking about this movie, making jokes and not acting at all sad. He talks about his history with Chen (who told stories about Tai Chi while training him for THE MATRIX, many of which made it in to this film) and Yuen Woo Ping, as well as the experience of directing for the first time.
I would rewatch MAN OF TAI CHI again just for the fighting. At the end of the day, that's what's really important.
Extra Tidbit: The film also boasts a short appearance by Iko Uwais, star of THE RAID.