Making The Matrix films, aging plastic-man Keanu Reeves apparently fell into a bromance with his trainer-stuntman, Taiwanese-born Tiger Chen, and has now, a decade later, shepherded a starring vehicle for the martial-arts whirligig, tossing himself into the cast as a box office anchor.
Would that such brotherly good intentions were all that’s required; this hackneyed misfit resuscitates every cliché of the grade-B ’80s Hong Kong martial arts programmer, even the plot parts that were already imitating bad American TV.
Chen plays a lowly delivery boy/tai chi godling picked from a televised match by Reeves’s evil blood sport mastermind to fight to the death for big money, which he initially agrees to do once the ancient tai chi temple he trains at receives an eviction notice. Written by an Irishman whose previous credits were video games, the film is stale Chinese popcorn from the get-go, with only Chen’s wiry guilelessness and wicked athletic skills to keep it remotely edible.
Reeves knows how to shoot and cut the fight scenes, or hire people who can, a task requiring some acumen once the frozen-faced 49-year-old Reeves himself joins in the mano a mano. No other creative energy seems to have been expended.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 30, 2013