Keanu Reeves is directing for the first time and the fruits of his labours have produced a Kung Fu film! He’s been around for a long time, even longer than folks know, if you take into account the internet rumours about his almost “vampiric” longevity, but he’s only now decided it is time to get behind the camera.
Perhaps he’s never found the right project until now, but he is making his directorial debut with a martial arts film that is loosely based on the life of a stuntman. One that he became friends with on the set of The Matrix, Tiger Chen.
The film is a “trilingual” film that is aimed at both western and eastern markets and the title is Man of Tai Chi.
Tai Chi is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. It is also typically practiced for a variety of other personal reasons: its hard and soft martial art technique, demonstration competitions, and longevity.
Reeves has been at the Cannes film festival to promote his new movie which is due out later this year. He said he knew that he had always wanted to try directing and spent five years developing the script.
Keanu said that, “It was also tied to getting older.” Reeves at 48, has been one of Hollywoods more active action stars and he talked to Reuters in an interview at a hotel on Cannes palm-lined waterfront.
Reeves spoke of his love for kung fu movies that was sparked by seeing Bruce Lee classics as a child. Later this love grew as he developed a new appreciation for martial arts while working on The Matrix with his trainer, Tiger Chen. He said. “Kung fu movies are beautiful, exotic, wonderful, [and] empowering.”
“It’s like play,” Keanu said as he explained his feelings about martial arts in the cinema. “There’s something childlike about it. They are fake fights – and that’s fun.” He told about how he and Chen bonded during their eight-hours-a-day training sessions for The Matrix.
“He was helping me with the kicks and punches, and then we started telling each other stories,” he said. Chen would describe his own martial arts master, who would tempt birds to his hand with seed and then, according to Reeves’ recollection of the story, “take their chi” (or life-force).
Keanu then said, “We became friends and stayed in touch. He started acting, and we decided to do something together. Over five years, we developed a story.”
Of course his friend Chen, plays the main character of the film and in the film he is a stuntman and martial arts expert who is struggling to maintain his traditional values and beliefs against the pressures of modern society. This character is played by Chen.
Not to do anything by halves, Reeves is also acting in the film. He plays the villain who lures Chen’s character into the world of underground fighting with the promise of money, glamour and power.
The film was made in English, Cantonese and Mandarin. It was filmed in China and Hong Kong and it is expected to appeal to both the huge martial arts audience in China, where Reeves won fans with his appearances in the Matrix trilogy and for having a Chinese great-grandparent, and to Western audiences.
“Man of Tai Chi” was co-produced by the China Film Group, Wanda Media, Village Roadshow Pictures Asia and Universal Pictures and will be distributed internationally by Universal, owned by Comcast through its subsidiary NBC Universal.
Reeves finished by saying, “I loved the responsibility of telling a story. I hope I get the chance to do it again.”
By Michael Smith