Five Favorite Kung Fu Films with Keanu Reeves

The Man of Tai Chi director reflects on his favorites, filmmaking inspirations and his career; plus, watch an exclusive behind-the-scenes clip from the making of the movie.

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Like a cool breeze blowing through the mountains of modern movies, Keanu Reeves has endured as something of an unlikely cinema icon. Not just the star of summer smashes such as Speed and The Matrix, he's also amassed an impressive resume that includes performances in left-field American classics like River's Edge, A Scanner Darkly and My Own Private Idaho, while continuing to flourish in the popular imagination, of course, as the irrepressibly excellent stoner, Theodore "Ted" Logan.

Having served as the inquisitive anchor on last year's digital-vs-film documentary Side by Side, Reeves recently made his feature directing debut with Man of Tai Chi, a kung fu tournament movie wrapped in a reality-TV-style satire. With the movie releasing on Blu-ray and DVD this week, we talked with Reeves about his filmmaking inspirations, his acting career, and more.

First up, he ran down his five favorite kung fu movies.



Enter the Dragon (Robert Clouse, 1973; 95% Tomatometer)

Alright, so to begin this list I'm going to start with one of my first impressions of kung fu films; my childhood experience. So: Enter the Dragon. As a young child, you must see Bruce Lee, and Enter the Dragon.

It's ground zero for kids getting into kung fu movies.

It is. It is for many people. I grew up in Toronto, and in the late '70s, early '80s, there was an independent channel that would show kung fu movies late at night. And as a young kid I had a little black-and-white TV set, and so I was exposed to these films -- but I couldn't tell you their titles, because I was 11- and 12-years-old. [Laughs] I didn't write them down in my diary. But I remember really enjoying them: the costumes, the fighting, the stories, you know; I mean, just all the different styles, and watching these people do these amazing things. But then there was Enter the Dragon, which I actually saw in a movie theatre. I saw it in Times Square; I was taken there by my stepfather. And that film -- I mean, what a charismatic performance, right? And that story. The drugs, the mystery, the sex; it was very James Bond-ian, wasn't it? I'd been exposed to that kind of storytelling. But again, the drama, the music, the flashbacks, the beginning -- as the tournament fights are starting -- very, very cool. The super fight at the end, the fight in the mirrors, the claw! [Laughs] So that was fun.




5 Fingers of Death (Chang-hwa Jeong, Chung Chang-whu; 1973; 83% Tomatometer)

Then at the time there was also a film called 5 Fingers of Death. That might have been a Shaw brothers film. Oh wait, no, no, no -- who are those other cats?

I think it might be a Shaw brothers one.

Yeah? Well, what struck me as a kid was when the guy jumps up in the air and takes the eyeballs out. I mean, I was a young person; I was just like, "What?!" [Laughs] Yeah! And I saw that on the big screen, so I always remember that making an impression. And I'm sure there were things going on in there -- about the gangs, and the betrayal, and the student and the revenge -- that were a bit above my consciousness at the time. I don't know, but I always felt like there was some kind of political and social agenda in there somewhere.

It does, but when you're a kid, what you remember is the guy getting his eyeballs snatched out.

Yeah... but even there, I mean, the film had a duplicity, right? People were lying and pretending to be things, and he kind of goes on this quest to avenge all of that. He's a truth-seeker and he gets used. [Laughs] And it was moody. I remember it as being moody. It was night-time. And also the composition: people just huddled on one side of the room, talking. And it had some martial arts. I don't remember it having a lot of [camera] under-cranking in it. I'm sure there was. You know, doing 22-frame, 22-23-frame stuff.

Was this sort of thing on your mind when you were shooting Man of Tai Chi? 'Cause there's not a lot of slow-mo. I mean, there are a few shots, but it seems like you were consciously going for a more old-fashioned style.

Yeah, I mean there's a lot of old, and a lot of modern. There's the Steadicam stuff -- there's a lot of Steadicam stuff in the fight scenes.

I feel like a lot of your conversation scenes in this were just as active in terms of camera movement.

Sometimes. [Laughs] Absolutely, sometimes. And sometimes it's just two-shots. I think what I tried to do, especially with out Hong Kong stuff, was to try and have a lot of angles. So also, in the fights, you're seeing the scene, but you're seeing it from different perspectives. You know, when someone gets a phone call, it's like "Whoosh!" Up-top. On-the-side. Down-below. You know? A lot of what the film's about is perspective. I tried to put people there for the moment, whatever that moment may have been. [Laughs]




Fist of Legend (Gordon Chan, 1994; 100% Tomatometer)

Let's go to Fist of Legend. Yuen Woo-ping directing [choreography for] Jet Li. I was shown that film by the Wachowskis before shooting The Matrix, and that was like, "This is amazing." The storytelling and the fights are what I really like. It's just good, hard, Yuen Woo-ping choreography; Jet Li's awesome; there's a lot of fighting... yeah, I'm definitely gonna say that one. A good, clean, awesome fight movie.




Tai Chi Master (Yuen Woo-ping, 1993; 86% Tomatometer)

I kinda wanna go to Jet Li again, which is kinda not right -- we should probably do some Jackie Chan, right? Drunken Master, Drunken Master II, maybe? I don't know, I just wanted to do a costume one, you know -- like Tai Chi Master. There's something really beautiful about that one, the scope. Sometimes the scope doesn't have power to it. This one does. I'm gonna put that one in here as a "highly recommend."




The Matrix* (Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski, 1999; 87% Tomatometer)

You know, I'm gonna throw The Matrix out there, I think.

Whoa.

[Laughs] I think I'm gonna throw The Matrix out there as a seminal, modern kind of "keeping the dream alive" of the kung fu movie. Does it need an asterisk? I don't know. Is it a kung fu movie? I would say there's enough kung fu in there to make it a kung fu movie. I think so.

The kung fu is solid in that movie.

It's solid! I think the subway fight is pretty good. Yeah... I don't know. But I think if we were just going by kung fu fight, then I think you'd have to take Reloaded. If we're just going by fights. Even just that one sequence, with the Smith fight, and the choreography in that -- when all those Smiths come out -- I mean, that's just insane, that fight sequence.

I'll put an asterisk next to it for you.

Okay, yeah.





Next, Keanu Reeves on his unlikely inspiration for Man of Tai Chi, which sequels he would and wouldn't do, and his future plans for directing. Plus, see an exclusive behind-the-scenes clip.

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