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TIFF 2013: Keanu Reeves on Man of Tai Chi

Directing his first action movie, playing with the fourth wall and the future of Rufus in Bill & Ted 3.

Man of Tai Chi Keanu Reeves Donaka

Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut Man of Tai Chi premiered for North America at the Toronto International Film Festival, but you will get to see it on VOD later this month and theaters in November. While in Toronto, we got to speak with Reeves. Man of Tai Chi introduces the world to Tiger Chen, a fighter Reeves worked with on The Matrix Reloaded. Reeves himself plays Donaka Mark, the mogul of an underground fighting tournament who recruits Chen. We also got some excellent news about the new Bill and Ted sequel.
 

CraveOnline: When was it while working with Tiger that you decided he needs his own movie?

Keanu Reeves: Probably when we were doing the second Matrix. He had a small role in that and he was doing a piece there. He was talking even then, this is like 2001/2002, about doing some acting. Then he had a small role in Laurence Fishburne’s film. Just as a backstory, he worked with Yuen Woo-ping on the action team there for The Matrix so I met Tiger during training. Then through the course of the film, you spend so much time together, you talk about your lives, we became friends and seeing what he was doing and wanted to do, we started to talk about doing something.

Then over the course of time as we were developing the story, we eventually came to a place where that movie that was playing in my head while we were talking about the story became a story I wanted to tell as a director. To answer your question, way back in the day. He’s got a wonderful presence and obviously on the action side of it, he’s a very highly regarded stuntman. I thought he has that thing, that charisma, I’m kind of interested in what he’s thinking.
 

He does, he’s magnetic.

Yeah, he’s easy to go along with. You kind of follow him. I got lucky as a director. I had a really wonderful leading man.
 

Did you learn how to shoot fight scenes from doing the Matrix movies?

Certainly a part of it. We did some of the profile shots but this is a little different than that. Certainly for me, that’s my experience. That’s the only experience I’ve had with Kung Fu fights is the Matrix series so it was definitely a part of it.
 

You’re good, but you’re a movie fighter. How did you make it look like in the climax, you could really be tougher than Tiger?

Because he tries everything he can, but he can’t beat me. He can’t beat the dark force. I mean, symbolically, metaphorically in the movie, he throws everything at the dark force, all of his intention, even his Tai Chi but that’s not the answer. To make that convincing, I don’t know. I’m pretty good at movie Kung Fu.
 

It’s a very classic theme of Kung Fu movies that the battle is as much within himself as it is against Donaka. I mean this as a compliment, I think you achieved what Bruce Lee imagined for Game of Death with the tower of martial artists.

Right, different styles, yeah.
 

Did you think about Bruce Lee’s ideas and classic Kung Fu structure in adapting it to a modern day story?

I’d say yes to that but I wouldn’t go to the specifically Bruce Lee perspective of it. Certainly the work that I’ve seen him do in it, and I’ve read a couple of interviews with him, seen a few interviews so definitely that’s part of my experience, but when I was working on the storytelling part of the movie, I didn’t have that “how would Bruce do it moment?”
 

I know, it’s as loaded a question as it is complimentary.

Yeah, but certainly I’ve seen a few Kung Fu films in my day. I’m certainly not an aficionado but in preparing for the film was looking at editing styles and where are they putting the camera and all of those kinds of things. That was a part of the work to go into how we were going to shoot.
 

In coming up with the script and working on it with your screenwriter, what was your idea for keeping the dialogue minimal?

I don’t know if I set out with an ambition to do that. I guess it became those were the words that we needed for the story we were telling. It’s not Woody Allen. But there is a minimalistic aspect to it. I would just say that. Those were the words that we needed to tell the story.
 

And the shot where you just scream directly into camera.

Yeaaaaah.
 

What was your idea with that?

Well, I’m playing a lot with the fourth wall so that’s one of the moments where for me, the dark character starts to let us into the transition of the idea of Donaka as a Mephistophelean dark, devilish kind of entity. His mask gets pulled away for a moment as he’s watching Tiger’s state where it’s quite a high point of Tiger’s descent where he’s lost compassion for another person, where Donaka is quite excited by that idea. His darkness has a demonic element to it. I hope you enjoyed it.