Keanu Reeves is directing a kung fu film. Believe it or not, it’s actually not bad. This trilingual film (Cantonese, Mandarin, and English) is about a young taichi practitioneer named Tiger Chen (played by a real-life tai chi practitioneer named Tiger Chen). Chen is a hardworking Beijing delivery boy who is fighting his way up in the national kung fu championship, despite his master’s chagrin as he believes that tai chi should not be used for fighting. His talent catches the eyes of a Hong Kong based psycho billionaire, Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves). Donaka offers Chen a chance to fight in exchange of a large sum of money; more than enough to restore Chen’s beloved temple, help his parents, so on and so forth. Unbeknownst to him, Donaka does not just arrange for underground fightings, he deliberately chooses pure-hearted Chen and slowly changes him into a killing machine. The core of Donaka’s twisted entertainment is about changing men of martial arts into feral killers and records every single step of the process.
This is a good of action film with plenty of fight scenes that can satisfy your thirst for real fightings, not just some CGI and suntmen. Despite his bad haircut Tiger Chen truly delivers a beautifully choreographed tai chi, a discipline that is seldom considered as martial art. There is also a cameo by Indonesian actor and silat champion Iko Uwais (The Raid). Pity that he comes very late in the film, right when Chen finds his consciense and refuses to fight. Iko Uwais only throws some kicks and punches before he stops fighting and steps back from the arena. The most beatiful fight scene is between Chen and his master; a fight that shows force against gentleness. It doesn’t need philosophy-filled dialogues to explain the mindset, as we can see from the scenes that brute force without any control will only lead to the destructions of mind and soul. Karen Mok is also in the film as Detective Jing Si, a police officer who has been suspicious with Donaka’s activity for years. Too bad Reeves as the director does not elaborate anything about Jing Si’s character. She is basically just standing at the side, watching, without doing anything significant. The most “eeehhh…what the..?” moment would be the final fight scene between Reeves and Chen. Reeves’ movements are terribly stiff and clumsy. He should’ve casted Steven Segall of Jean-Claude van Damme to play Donaka. There is no way in real life someone who moves like Reeves could do any damage to a trained fighter like Chen! But since this is his film and he plays the bad guy, so he gets to kick the hero around for a while.