Review: Keanu Reeves, as director, gives ‘Man of Tai Chi’ zip

The “Bill & Ted’s"-style flop-mop that martial artist Tiger Chen sports in “Man of Tai Chi” isn’t the only reminder of Keanu Reeves in this directorial debut from the “Matrix” star. There’s Reeves himself, using his lower surfer-register for the forces of evil as a Hong Kong businessman who corrupts Chen’s idealistic, working class tai chi disciple by turning him into an underground fight club star.

But what’s most cosmically appropriate about this no-nonsense yet all-nonsense action flick is how Reeves’ greatest strength as a star — his fluid, imposing physicality — is also his best asset as a director. The brutally efficient shooting style Reeves employs to film master choreographer Yuen Woo Ping’s breathtaking fights — mostly one-on-one showdowns in tight quarters featuring Chen against a series of deadly intent opponents — is refreshingly grounded and old-school kinetic, reminiscent of Jackie Chan’s athletic roundelays over the increasingly fantastical Hong Kong action movies of late.

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There’s even a welcome exuberance to the philosophical debate at hand: Should tai chi be an inner strength or an outward force, or both? Chen, who helped train Reeves on the “Matrix” films, proves a better actor fighting than when left alone with the camera. But that’s a quibble for a movie streamlined to evoke the timeless zip of martial arts movies past.


‘Man of Tai Chi’

MPAA rating: R for violence.

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Playing: At AMC Burbank 8.