"So when you hear that Keanu Reeves made friends with a Chinese stuntman while making the Matrix movies and decided that his new pal was so cool that he was going to dedicate several years and a bunch of his own money to make a philosophical action movie loosely based on the guy's background... yeah, that sounds like something Keanu Reeves would do. And in fact did."
Man of Tai Chi is a 2013 Martial Arts Movie notable for being the feature directorial debut of Keanu Reeves.Stuntman Tiger Chen stars as a Chinese delivery boy and student of Tai Chi who enters into an underground fighting tournament against his master's orders in order to win the money necessary to keep the temple where he trains afloat. The criminal mastermind behind the tournament, Donaka Mark (Reeves), is impressed by Tiger's fighting abilities, and pushes him to fight more and more, to the point where Tiger begins to risk losing his soul to violence. In the meantime, Detective Sun Jing Shi of the Hong Kong police investigates Donaka Mark, over the objections of her superiors, ultimately trying to recruit Tiger into her efforts to bring Donaka down.The film received mostly positive reviews, praising Reeves' direction and the fight scenes choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping. Both Tiger Chen and Yuen Woo Ping had previously worked with Reeves on The Matrix.Not to be confused with Tai Chi Master or Tai Chi Zero.
Provides Examples Of:
Action Girl: She's no martial artist, but Sun Jing Shi earns major points when she blows away the assassins that Donaka Mark sends to kill her.
Action Prologue: The film kicks off with Sun Jing attempting to track down Donaka's latest fight, intercut with the actual fight occurring.
Aerith and Bob: Most of the characters in this film have fairly typical Chinese names, and the various foreigners (Uri Romanoff, for instance) have names that fit their culture. This makes Tiger's name stand out, and puts Donaka Mark's first name in a strange class all its own.
Affably Evil: The cameraguy. While chuckling at his antics it's easy to forget that he's tasked with keeping tabs on underground fighters 24/7. He even nonchalantly raps in the car just before enacting the plan to kill the detective tailing him.
A Real Man Is a Killer: To quote Donaka, "you're not a warrior... you're a rat" to a fighter who failed to finish his defeated opponent.
Ambition Is Evil: Tiger's desire to prove his school's fighting style's merit is looked down upon by his master.
Subverted and deconstructed. Tiger shows up to his "interview" in what is presumably his best suit. Subverted because it is not a nice suit by any means. Deconstructed because the beginning of the fight is almost exclusively his opponent controlling the fight by holding onto his necktie.
Donaka always dresses well, but sheds his suit by the time of his and Tiger's fight.
The Bad Guy Wins: Downplayed. Donaka manages to get Tiger to kill. Even though he's the one killed, he doesn't seem to mind, as his goal was the corruption of an innocent. The fact his last line was seemingly gloating about being killed supports this. Though given that Tiger recovers from this act, and is moving on with his life by the end, means that Donaka ultimately failed to scar him forever.
Balls of Steel: One of Tiger's opponents (implied by his mannerisms and fighting style to be a monk) tanks a kick to the nuts without even skipping a beat.
Bash Brothers: Zi-an and Zi-hou. Their exact relationship isn't clear, but their elaborate handshake and the fact they wordlessly coordinate their attacks indicate they fight together often.
Beware the Nice Ones: At least part of Tiger's motivation for entering the tournament is to remind people that Tai Chi is a serious form of martial arts, and not simply an exercise technique.
The Big Bad: Donaka Mark who is behind almost all the film's unpleasantness.
Big Brother Is Watching: Donaka and his men have infiltrated every level of Tiger's life, recording everything he does and broadcasting it to their audience.
Bilingual Dialogue: Donaka Mark speaks only English (as do many of his employees), while Tiger Chen and most of the other Chinese characters speak only Chinese.
Bits of Me Keep Passing Out: During the fight with the monk-ish challenger, Tiger's left shoulder is dislocated and the arm is rendered useless until he pops it back into place.
Blood from the Mouth: The secret move that Tiger's master uses against him, and that Tiger later uses against Donaka, causes this, a few moments after it hits.
Blood Knight: Donaka Mark seems to love violence for its own sake, and wants to force others to see the world through the same lens that he does. Tiger Chen also veers dangerously close to this as he becomes more and more eager to fight opponents.
Color Motif: When Tiger is using the serene style of Tai-Chi, he wears a gentle shade of blue, but when he gets increasingly more violent and brutal, he switches to black. He switches back to blue by the film's end. Fittingly, Donaka Mark is frequently wearing black.
Cool Mask: Donaka Mark wears a black mask whenever he enters the ring. Tiger rips it off in the first moments of their bout.
The Corrupter: Donaka Mark's single motivation in life seems to be corrupting the soul of the innocent until they become killers.
Damn You, Muscle Memory: Tiger is alternating between no-holds-barred underground fights and a strictly regulated national tournament. As he becomes more used to fighting for his life, he begins to bring Unnecessary Roughness into the tournament, which leads to his disqualification.
Determinator: Sun Jing Shi is one when assigned a case, doing everything she can to bring in Donaka Mark, even going behind her superior's back to do it. Tiger is also an example, specially noticing how many hits he takes in the final fight.
Dirty Cop: Wong, Sun Jing Shi's boss is in Donaka Mark's employ and uses his influence to stymie investigation of his activities.
Dual Boss: Much to Tiger's surprise, his fight against Zi-an and Zi-hou.
Dull Surprise: Donaka Mark, courtesy of Keanu Reeves. In this case, however, it's used quite effectively, as it makes Mark come off as emotionally shallow and sociopathic.
Emotionless Girl: The announcer for the fights speaks in a monotone without ever changing her facial expression and shows no concern backing away from the engaging fighters. Even as she's arrested, she simply stares onto the officer and crosses her legs.
Even Evil Has Standards: The Indonesian that Tiger faces in his penultimate fight had no problems with trying to kill Tiger. However, once he realizes that Tiger does not want to be there, he backs off, forcing Donaka to enter the ring himself.
Evil Costume Switch: Tiger wears white at the start of the film like his master, only to begin wearing darker colors as he continues to compete. Before one of his final matches (where he's expected to kill) there's a black and red outfit hanging up for him to wear. Justified by the fact that Donaka Mark is selecting Tiger's clothes for him, and is using it to symbolise his descent into darkness.
Final Boss: Donaka Mark intended the Indonesian fighter to be one for Tiger, but ultimately takes the role himself.
Fragile Speedster: Downplayed. Tiger would be a Lightning Bruiser compared to most people, but when stacked against the variety of musclebound adversaries he faces in this film, his short stature and slim physique make him one of these, though of a fairly durable variety.
Implacable Man: Donaka Mark becomes one of these during his battle with Tiger at the end. He's not as fast as Tiger, and his movements are stiffer, but nothing that Tiger does will make Donaka stay down, or even seem to inflict any lasting damage. As the fight progresses, Tiger is visibly getting tired, while Donaka is unaffected and keeps right on coming.
Tiger starts out wanting to prove the strength of Tai Chi, only to later rely on blending in other styles to win. Then, despite Tiger besting fighters around the world with his new style, his old master still defeats him in a spar using pure Tai Chi (thus proving its strength to Tiger).
Also there's Tiger raising money in tournaments to save the Tai Chi tradition while simultaneously abandoning its fundamentals. Both his master and love interest call him out on it.
Heel Realization: Tiger Chen after the fight with Uri, and he sets to make amends.
Knife Nut: Donaka kills Chi-Tak with a knife, and later pulls one on Tiger during their climactic battle.
Lack of Empathy: Donaka Mark displays a severely limited affect and emotional range, empathising with no one, and always trying to drive his fighters to kill. The other people in his employ display a similar callousness.
Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Right before the final fournament fight, we see a small video retelling Tiger Chen's story in a dramatic manner, greatly resembling a movie trailer. The video even ends with a Title Drop ("Tiger Chen. Man of Tai Chi"), and Donaka Mark, played by Keanu Reeves (the movie's director), enters the room and asks if Tiger liked the video.
Let's Get Dangerous: Tiger Chen fights more calm and restrained in the movie's early fights, but when he squares off against the Bash Brothers (and is subsequently losing), he decides to go all out, and massacres both of them .
Made of Iron: One of Tiger's adversaries is able to tighten his muscles and deflect most attacks. Tiger Chen and Donaka Mark themselves are milder examples, tanking a remarkable amount of damage without slowing down.
The Man Behind the Man: Donaka Mark, who is revealed to have been the one who had Tiger's temple scheduled for demolition.
Manipulative Bastard: Donaka Mark, who plays on Tiger's desire for respect and his need to save his temple in order to lead him down the path to self-destruction.
Mighty Glacier: Donaka, compared to Tiger. He tanks Tiger's hits, his attacks seem to do much more damage, but he's noticeably slower.
Moral Event Horizon: In-Universe, Donaka is trying to drive Tiger past the MEH by getting him to kill in the ring. See the YMMV page for more on that.
Motive Decay: Tiger joins up with Donaka in order to earn enough money to save the temple, but discovers he likes the fighting and stays in because of that. Eventually it is revealed that Donaka was explicitly invoking this, and wanted it to culminate with Tiger becoming a killer.
My God, What Have I Done?: When Tiger is about to kill the mercenary Uri, he stays his hand and acquires a look that says this trope, realizing just the monster he was becoming.
Neck Snap: How Donaka finishes off challengers that his fighters refuse to kill.
Offscreen Teleportation: Tiger's first opponent set up by Donaka manages to appear behind Tiger despite him being in an open room, facing a mirror, because the camera is zoomed on his face. Later in the same scene, Donaka's elderly minion appears in the room as soon as Tiger wins.
Old Master: Tiger's Tai Chi master is a fairly archetypal one.
Only in It for the Money: Why Tiger initially joined Donaka's underground tournament. Eventually he starts to like the fights.
Pet the Dog: The Indonesian fighter Tiger faces was perfectly okay with the idea of a Duel to the Death, but refuses to press the attack (despite Donaka's orders) once he realises Tiger has no interest in fighting him.
Police Are Useless: Averted by Sun Jing Shi who helps Tiger Chen bring Donaka Mark's operation down, despite the objections of her crooked superior officer.
Protagonist Journey to Villain: Invoked and ultimately avoided. Donaka Mark is trying to turn Tiger's life into one of these, and nearly succeeds, leaving him severely emotionally damaged. However, in the end Tiger reclaims the moral high ground, helps the police bring Donaka's operation down and only kills when there is literally no other choice.
Title Drop: In the trailer-esque video Donaka made "Tiger Chen. Man of Tai Chi", and soon after by Donaka himself, who comments "I want to see a pure, good-hearted Man of Tai Chi become a killer."
Truman Show Plot: What Donaka does with promising fighters. He follows them exhaustively and makes them into a pay-per-view show so that people can watch as they delve into darkness.
Unnecessary Roughness: Tiger gets thrown out of the national tournament he was competing in after he snaps and breaks an opponent's arm. It's the single biggest sign that his fights for Donaka are affecting his mind.
Unstoppable Rage: Tiger enters one of these during his battle with Uri Romanoff, swiftly defeating him.
Villainous Breakdown: You can visibly see Donaka becoming more unhinged as Tiger refuses to kill, and by the movie's climax, he's pretty much on a rampage.
You Are Already Dead: The technique The Master doesn't necessairly kill its opponents, but it damages them severely. In the spirit of the trope, it takes several seconds for the damage to register in the opponent. Tiger uses a lethal variation to kill Donaka in the climax.
You Have Failed Me: Donaka Mark kills Chi-Tak for refusing to commit murder in the ring. "Chi-Tak, what happened? You let me down."
You Will Not Evade Me: During the final battle, Donaka lands a devastating blow that knocked Tiger back and off his feet. Rather than allowing Tiger the breathing room, Donaka quickly catches Tiger's foot and pulls him back.