Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter breaks down the commentary for Man of Tai Chi featuring Keanu Reeves.
As of today, we’re just over one week away from Fantastic Fest 2015, and my excitement has me looking back at some of the fest’s past highlights. One such example from two years ago would have to be Keanu Reeves in attendance not only introducing his directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, but also taking part in the Fantastic Debates against Tim League as to the legitimacy of Tai Chi as a martial art. The two men debated, and then Reeves let the film’s star, “Tiger” Hu Chen, take on League in the ring. It was, as you might imagine, immensely entertaining.
There’s no doubt that Man of Tai Chi is a goofy flick, but it’s also a tremendously exciting and fun martial arts movie. There are a ton of fights here, and they’re all beautifully choreographed and highly energetic. Reeves and Chen recorded a commentary for the film, and while it’s not good in the traditional sense it is great in its own right.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the Man of Tai Chi commentary.
Man of Tai Chi (2013)
Commentators: Keanu Reeves (director/actor), Tiger Hu Chen (actor)
1. Reeves met with the head of China Film Group in 2007 “when Tiger and I were first coming together to make Man of Tai Chi.”
2. It was the editor’s idea to feature the monochrome title in both English and Chinese.
3. It took a while for Reeves to find a mask he liked, but when Costume Designer Joseph Porro presented this one he was very happy with it.
4. Chen felt the car was very difficult to drive. “Why?” asks Reeves. “Because it was old,” replies Chen.
5. Tiger’s first opponent in the legitimate competition is played by a stunt fighter who previously doubled for Jet Li. “I kinda had to beg him to do this,” says Reeves.”He didn’t want to play this dude.” Chen suggests he just didn’t want to have to lose weight for the role.
6. The shot of heavy traffic (and even heavier smog) at the beginning of Tiger’s work day was filmed on Beijing’s Third Ring Road. “That was a crazy shot to get,” says Reeves.
7. Reeves likes how Tiger knows his way around a fight but gets lost in a hutong – the narrow streets and alleys connecting residences. Chen doesn’t think hutongs like this still exist, but Reeves disagrees. “What do you mean? It’s there! Some of them have expensive homes.”
8. The small statue that Tiger receives is Guan Gong, a famous figure from Chinese culture representing loyalty and warriors. “You’ll see this figure in new businesses, at the police station, I’ve heard with gangsters as well.” Chen still has it in his home and uses it to burn incense.
9. Tiger’s audition fight is essentially his Tai Chi versus MMA-style, and it was filmed over five days.
10. They created their own form of Tai Chi – Ling Kong – for the film as Reeves didn’t want to specify that it was any of the other traditional forms only to have experts call them out for mixing styles.
11. The fight montage early on features a brief look at Tiger taking on a large man in a vest, and Reeves regrets having to cut so much of that particular brawl. He’s a Mongolian wrestler, and the finishing move that brings him to the ground almost broke the fighter’s neck.
12. Tiger dislocates his shoulder during one fight which prompts Chen to say “In real life I’ve dislocated my right side, not my left side.”
13. Reeves asks if Chen has a favorite of the tournament fights, and he replies that the first is the best as it’s the purest Tai Chi. He also adds that his favorite shot in the film is the one of Donaka Mark (Reeves) meditating in front of his personal office zen garden.
14. The end of the twin fight sees Tiger pummeling one of the men repeatedly in the face, and Chen points out that it originally showed him punching the guy eleven times. “I had to cut it down to five for censorship in China,” says Reeves. “Intensity.”
15. The “mercenary” that Tiger fights and almost kills is a man who Chen fought nearly a decade before in an actual tournament. “Did you really?” asks Reeves.
16. The scene where Gong (Brian Siswojo) drives Tiger to the tournament features a song from Siswojo’s own band. Reeves liked the idea of an actor playing a character who’s singing along to a song by the actor. “And he doesn’t know how to drive,” says Chen. “What do you mean he doesn’t know how to drive?” asks an incredulous Reeves. Chen remains adamant. “That’s funny,” says Reeves.
17. The video footage showing Tiger as a child is actual video of Chen and his parents.
18. “Iko is a cool cat,” says Reeves with the arrival of Iko Uwais. Chen says he’s very popular in Indonesia, and Reeves corrects him saying “I think he’s popular in the world now Tiger.”
19. Reeves has the end credits play over a continuous shot of Beijing for a very specific and succinct reason. “I was hoping to have it look contemplative. Show the Earth. Show the city. And the sky. The sun. For the fable. A cautionary tale. With hope.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
- Reeves: “Control your chi.”
- Reeves: “The dark master leans forward.”
- Reeves: “Oh wait, there’s a lady on the screen.”
- Reeves: “It’s kind of a – well I won’t say it. Censored.”
- Reeves: “And here you are on your way. To try and make your way. In the trap. Of your own volition.”
- Reeves: “Look at that. That’s cinema!”
- Reeves: “You must have a master. Parents. Fight for them. We all have something to fight for. Just don’t lose your soul. If you can.”
- Reeves: “Night and sun. The washing machine.”
- Reeves: “The demon is out.”
- Reeves: “You won, you got him. Or did you. You are free to walk this path. but think about it. Walking out.”
- Reeves: “It’s pretty Tai Chi of you to run away.”
- Reeves: “A beginning. With nature.”
The movie remains a fun, kick-ass fight flick, but the commentary is very much a mixed bag. Reeves and Chen leave a lot of dead air as they settle in and just watch instead of chatting, and when they do talk a lot of it is Reeves saying something and Chen simply repeating it. The director acknowledges the various contributors – performers, choreographers, production designers, etc – but neither of them offer much in the way of anecdotes from the filming. All of that said though, Reeves is a quietly funny guy. He shares brief, almost poetic whispers related in some way (probably?) to the action onscreen, and they’re entertaining in their own right as he’s essentially narrating his own zen-filled thoughts.
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