Starring Keanu Reeves, Tiger Chen, Karen Mok, Simon Yam, Silvio Simac, Iko Uwais, Yu Hai
Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping
Directed by Keanu Reeves
Keanu Reeves is a polarizing figure. With his eternal surfer-dude voice and his connection to Bill and Ted that will haunt him until the end of time, he’s been a success in Hollywood even though his acting is somewhat monotone in nature (Kevin Costner’s been accused of this as well). The Matrix films featured Keanu doing complex martial arts fighting akin to what was current in Hong Kong kung-fu cinema (thanks to Yuen Woo Ping and his stunt team) and now Woo Ping returns, along with Tiger Chen, a stunt man in the Matrix films that Reeves befriended, and a bevy of martial arts stars to tell the tale of what happens when a good man falls from grace.
The results are…hmm.
The story begins as we meek Donaka Mark (Reeves) a wealthy owner of a securities firm that is a front for underground fighting. His latest fighter refuses to kill his opponent, and is himself killed by Mark. Always on Mark’s tail is Hong Kong detective Jing Shi (Mok) who always seems a few steps behind Mark. Mark begins a search for a new fighter, which brings him to Tiger Chen (Chen), a Tai Chi fighter who has entered tournaments to prove that Tai Chi is a fighting art as well, to the dismay of his master Yang (Yu Hai). Mark becomes facinated with Tiger, and has him followed, with cameras placed around his apartment and at his parents home. Tiger is a good man who works as a delivery driver, and tries to provide for himself and his mother and father. Mark uses what he finds out to entice Tiger to become his new fighter. Tiger does this, as he has a violent tendency that Mark is able to feed, despite Tiger’s training. Tiger soon enters Mark’s world, and as the fights and stakes pile up, Tiger finds that the good man he is has disappeared, replaced by someone he barely knows. In essence, Tiger goes over to the Dark Side of the Force…
The film is fairly straightforward and doesn’t offer any real surprises, and the script here really fails Reeves the Director. The main characters aren’t that interesting except for Simon Yam, and that’s just because he’s Simon Yam. Tiger is decent, but doesn’t really have the intense charisma I was looking for, even though his martial arts was excellent. Karen Mok plays the HK detective plainly, and Reeves acts pretty much as if he were still Neo from The Matrix, except for a few moments when he yells or screams or smiles/laughs maniacally, and those moments have given me nightmares, ‘cause it looks scary as hell–unintentionally. A face that has no emotion and then suddenly shows an extreme outburst of it is…disconcerting to say the least. I was extremely disappointed by the use of Iko Uwais here, and anyone who has seen The Raid, and by now The Raid 2 will agree. This could have been the fight of the film, and instead is a dud of a fight as the story intrudes at the wrong time.
The fighting here is done well, with one large exception. Yuen Woo Ping does a good job, but I can see there are issues with fusing his style with the harder styles of films choreographed by the likes of Panna Rittikrai and Yayan Ruhian. All of the matches Tiger gets into are good to great, the weakest being the fight versus Silvio Simac, a performer I know could have given a far better fight than they gave him. The film was supposed to be using a new motion camera to track the fights, but it wasn’t the game changer it was touted to be. The problem here is that no matter how long the fight is, it has to be edited, so that takes away from the moving 360- degree camera movements.
The end fight of this film was the real disappointment. Reeves needed to remember that no matter how good he looked in The Matrix, he is NOT a martial artist, and has not been learning long enough to look good when put up against true martial artists. Here, he fights Tiger Chen in a fight that has none of the complexity of the other fights that came earlier in the film, ones that featured real fighters. His kicks were the weakest I’ve ever seen, but his fist work was passable (barely) and this reminded me of Man With The Iron Fists, and my anger at the hubris of the RZA for playing the main character even though he knew no martial arts. That same anger returned here. Reeves the Director could have cast Donaka Mark with Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White (if he has to be from America/Canada) or any number of other Asian actors, someone who would have made the final fight memorable.
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 6
I expected so much more, but there is a hint that Reeves could be a good director, but he has to know when to leave Keanu Reeves the actor at home.