Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Man of Tai Chi' on Blogcritics.
Because I review Blu-ray discs, I feel like I have watched way more
martial arts/kung fu movies than usual. I love watching them, but
getting my hands on them was a bigger hassle before Blu-ray as they were
usually relegated to DVD or from overseas online sites. Now that Well
Go USA has been releasing at least a few every month, I can get my fix
for the genre, even with varying degrees of quality.
This month sees the release of Keanu Reeves’ directing debut, Man of Tai Chi,
and while it may be hitting Blu-ray via Starz/Anchor Bay, the itch has
been scratched. It’s just too bad that the enjoyment factor only lasts
through the first hour. Reeves has joined forces with the legendary Yuen
Wo Ping — best known to American audiences for his work on The Matrix films and Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill — to choreograph some visually stunning fight sequences, but unfortunately, the finale falls flat on its face.
Man of Tai Chi refers to Tiger Hu Chen starring essentially as
himself as the character Tiger Chen. He spends his days working as a
courier, making time to train under the guidance of Master Yang (Hai Yu)
at a dilapidating temple. Donaka Mark (Reeves) recruits Tiger for a
“security” job, only to find his interview consisting of beating a man
to a bloody pulp. Tiger learns that Yang’s temple is in threat of being
torn down by developers and joins Donaka’s underground fight club to get
the money to bring the temple up to code and spread some money-love to
his parents. But soon enough, Tiger finds himself in the fight of his
life as Donaka’s motives get darker and darker.
As for the presentation, Man of Tai Chi fights its way onto
Blu-ray on a 25GB disc in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio. With the
film being shot digitally, and slapped onto a disc with limited disc
space, at least there were no anomalies to report. There are lots of
skyline transitions from daylight to nighttime and back again, but even
banding never came through. There was also no noise, crush, nada. Every
strand of hair, pore on actors’ faces, costume stitching, and swirling
dust clouds are all delivered with impeccable detail. There is a huge
amount of depth to the picture, featuring the 3D pop we expect from a
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track delivers every punch, kick, and
breaking limb with a great level of LFE. Surrounds seemed mostly used to
enhance the music, no matter how over-the-top Chan Kwong-wing’s score
gets. Dialogue is always crystal clear, no matter how fractured Tiger’s
American accent gets. The subtitles are where things get tricky. While
there are additional language tracks in Mandarin and Cantonese, make
sure you turn on the English subtitles because Keanu filmed in multiple
languages and if the English subtitles aren’t turned on you’ll miss
dialogue as it’s not translated otherwise. There are also subtitles in
Spanish and English for the deaf and hearing impaired.
The special features are incredibly limited, but considering how
boring the end of the film is, at least the features aren’t dragged out.
“The Making of Man of Tai Chi” runs almost 8 minutes and
basically features Reeves sitting in a director’s chair talking about
the plot, its origins, and the excitement of working with Yuen Wo Ping.
And for anyone who can’t find Reeves boring enough, does he have an
audio commentary for you! Tiger Chen joins him for one of the most
abysmal commentary tracks you’re likely to ever suffer through.
Tiger, and Wo Ping definitely delivered some incredible fight scenes
during the first hour of the film. Unfortunately, once writer Michael G.
Cooney’s screenplay starts to get deeper into plot, the film’s own chi
gets off balance and it never recovers. Working with cinematographer
Elliot Davis, Reeves employs his new filming techniques, but squanders
them with the standard action quick-cut slicing and dicing editing by
Derek Hui. But you would think Reeves would have learned more than this
after starring in the Matrix films.
Towards the end, there’s one of the worst CGI car crashes I’ve seen
in a movie in years. Matt Reeves certainly did way better in the
assuredly smaller budgeted Let Me In. As it stands, the film does
have some cheese factor that carries the proceedings on for a bit, but
anyone who’s ever seen a kung fu movie will find absolutely no
surprises. This is kung fu filmmaking by-the-numbers, and for a while,
it certainly works. But once Donaka becomes a bigger piece of the story
and Reeves gives himself more screen time, his own hamminess is just the
tip of the iceberg that sinks the whole thing.
The back of the Blu-ray case features a blurb from Movies.com’s Jeff
Bayer proclaiming this to be “The best martial arts movie since The Raid.” But Man of Tai Chi
doesn’t even come close to the action heights set by Gareth Evans’
brilliant battle royale. For a debut film, this is definitely one of the
worst freshman outings I’ve seen, but if anyone is thinking of
comparing this to The Raid, then audiences should just pick up a
copy of that instead. The sequel will be premiering at the 2014 Sundance
Film Festival and is at the top of my must see list. Those who love
action movies and haven’t yet seen The Raid should buy it immediately. As for Man of Tai Chi, if you have a passing interest, it’s a fine blind rental at your nearest Redbox.