A New Tai Chi Movie Casts Keanu Reeves as a Villain in his Directorial Debut
It is not easy to make a really good Kung fu movie. Often the action suffers the from the conceit of cinematography and editing like the shaking Bourne Supremacy which had audiences looking away from the screen. Sure, there was great action, but you couldn’t watch. Likewise there can be great cinematography with action that wasn’t worth watching. Those films never get wide distribution simply because few audiences appreciate the value of great lighting and a commanding point of reference when the action is boring. How many popular action films came out of France during the 60’s and 70’s? Of course, we’ve all seen too many action films which are little more than stunt reels. Audiences tell their friends, “Yeah, there was a plot, but fortunately you hardly noticed it.” Those audiences will go to those movies in the same way that Opera fans like Verdi because they can’t understand the lyrics.
It is an extraordinary challenge to have a film which will provide appreciable action that actually furthers the plot, and which has a plot worth furthering.
It is one thing to have cinematography which can draw the audience in and help make incredible action feel credible. It is yet another to do it without needing to invent a Matrix-like universe universe to explain the fantastic skills of combatants.
I sometimes wonder what would happen if Carl Dreyer could team up with Stephen Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and Yuen Woo-ping.
It is not too much to ask for great martial arts films. I’ve been blown away by several great films lately. I, personally like the Matrix movies, Cinderella Man, and Yip Man, Million Dollar Baby, and others. I’m not a big fan of silly wire acts. But they can work if done discretely and in context.
What brings all of this up is word that things are coming together for Keanu Reeves directorial debut. He has apparently been working on financing for a film with a working title “Man of Tai Chi” in which he is to be cast as a villain and which will serve as his directorial debut. It will be interesting to see how tai chi is portrayed in this new project. Will it be a high-flying gymnastics and wire act like Jet Li’s “Taiji Zhang Sanfeng” (aka “Tai Chi Master”) or will it showcase some of the more subtle techniques such as those performed by Sihung Lung( 郎雄) in Ang Lee’s (李安) “Tuishou 推手” (aka “Pushing Hands”).
I am hoping for a deep plot and serious character development, and well as a meaningful portrayal of the subtleties of tai chi.
What we know for sure is that there will be lots of action. In an April 5 interview for MTV, Reeves promises “good story and a good plot, but lets get some good kung fu going!”‘
The film will face a number of challenges.
For one thing, it will be filmed in English and Chinese. This will not be as difficult as it once was, since many stars are now passable actors in both languages. But it will also require getting approval from the notorious chinese censors. This implies some significant yielding to politics and bureaucracy.
Filming won’t start until the end of the year. Reeves is busy promoting “47 Ronin” leading up to that film’s theatrical release in late November, 2011. When it does, it will star Chen Hu 陈虎 (“Tiger” Chen) as the protagonist and may include Chinese superstar Zhang Ziyi (章子怡).
Zhang is best known to western audiences due to her roles in “Rush Hour 2”, “House of Flying Daggers”, “Memoirs of a Geisha”, and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Chen Hu is a Chinese National Wushu champion from Sichuan and one of the main teachers of Keanu Reeves. As a protege of fight choreographer Yuán Hépíng (Yuen Woo-ping) he coached Reeves during the Matrix movies and is partly responsible for convincing Warner Brothers executives accept chinese kungfu in the first place. According to a June, 2004 interview Chen gave for the Chengdu Evening News (成都晚报),
“When The Matrix was auditioning martial arts directors, Warner Brothers’ top executive lacked confidence in Chinese martial arts. So, Yuán Hépíng had Chen perform a wushu routine, which impressed them.”
Let us hope that “Man of Tai Chi” can impress us all.
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