Tai Chi Master
by Kwok Kar Peng
HONG KONG - He may be a handsome Hollywood star with legions of fans and a string of hits like Speed, The Matrix trilogy and the Bill & Ted movies.
But when it came to talking about his directorial debut, Keanu Reeves showed that he's still got some Ted left in him.
The 47-year-old Canadian actor had a most excellent dude moment on Sunday when this reporter asked if he was filming his directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, on film or digital format.
The movie is now in production in Beijing, but Reeves was at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center for a panel discussion on a documentary he recently produced, called Side By Side.
The discussion was on the evolution of movie-making technology from film to digital format, which prompted the question.
Reeves smiled and answered: "Digital."
Then tried to explain.
"It's complicated (why I had to film in digital format). I like this question," he told The New Paper, laughing sheepishly.
"It all comes down to resources. I really wanted to shoot (the movie) on film, but I couldn't afford it. It's so weird. The production couldn't afford to shoot on film." Wait, what?
However, Reeves immediately contradicted himself.
It wasn't about the money, it was because he wanted to make a movie with a modern feel, and thus filmed Man Of Tai Chi in digital format, he said.
Then he contradicted himself. Again.
Just as quickly, he continued: "That's not true either. I could (make the movie on film and) get it digitalised."
Then, as if realising the confusion he had caused, he gave up trying to explain and just gave an embarrassed grin: "Ai yai yai..."
Looks like Reeves is already in character to reprise his role as the ditzy slacker Ted in the soon-to-be-filmed third movie of the Bill & Ted series.
Director and villain
According to an article by Film Business Asia, the Chinese-language Man Of Tai Chi has a production budget of 200 million yuan (S$40 million).
The contemporary gongfu and tai chi action film is in the midst of its six-month shoot in China and Hong Kong.
In Man Of Tai Chi, Reeves plays the villain while Chinese martial arts instructor Tiger Chen, who was part of the gongfu team in The Matrix movies, plays the protagonist.
Acclaimed action choreographer Yuen Woo Ping oversees the martial arts.
The only thing we know about the plot now is that it is about the "spiritual journey of a young martial artist (Chen), whose fighting skills bring him to a realm of opportunities and painful choices".
Reeves will be seen later this year in the movie 47 Ronin, an 18th-century story about a band of Japanese samurai who set out to avenge the death of their master.
The New Paper briefly spoke with Reeves again on Sunday night at the inaugural Power of Film Gala at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong.
Reeves was being honoured for his achievements in film, along with Hong Kong-based documentary filmmaker Duncan Jepson.
The media was told Reeves would not be giving interviews, but he spared us a few words - literally.
Why does he choose to play the villain in Man Of Tai Chi when he's often remembered as the hero? "I sometimes play the villain," he said.
Why, we pushed.
"It's fun," he said.
How fun is it being the bad guy in Man Of Tai Chi then?
"Very fun," he replied with a slight smile.
Reeves looked almost like he was enjoying giving us such teasing answers. Hong Kong singer-actress Karen Mok, 41, who plays a police officer in Man Of Tai Chi, also attended the gala event.
She told The New Paper she will not have any martial arts scenes but will be involved in some chases. The filming of her part will begin next month.
On Reeves, Mok said: "He's a very cool guy, very down-to-earth and really nice.
"We chatted about the script. He's very passionate and I look forward to working with him."
Hong Kong martial arts superstar Donnie Yen was one of the co-hosts for the gala and told The New Paper he chatted with Reeves about movies.
Said Yen: "He hopes I will continue shooting (gongfu) movies. Keanu is very nice. When he talks, he moves his body (like in a gongfu stance)."
When we asked Yen, 48, what he thought about a Caucasian (Reeves does have some Chinese ancestry on his father's side) doing a gongfu film, he said: "It's wonderful. It shows gongfu has reached every corner of the world."
Shooting on film is pricier
At the panel discussion for Side By Side last Sunday, the charming Reeves was dressed in blue jeans, a grey T-shirt and a brown jacket.
The panel discussion was this year's Jockey Club Cine Academy's annual Master Class and was moderated by Hong Kong director Yonfan.
The New Paper was part of the 600-strong audience.
In Side By Side, Reeves interviewed cinematographers and directors like George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron on what they thought of the evolution of film formats.
One of the main differences between film and digital formats is that making a movie on film costs a lot.
The cost of film stock and processing is pricey, not to mention that one reel of film runs for only around 10 minutes.
In comparison, a lot more footage can be stored on hard drives or flash memory in digital cinematography.
During the discussion, Reeves was asked if he has a mission as an actor.
He replied: "Many of the characters I play have some kind of redemptive aspect.
"This will sound really corny. I want to make being alive and living better."
Reeves said the most valuable lesson he learnt from producing Side By Side which he applied to Man Of Tai Chi was focusing on what's important in the story.
He said: "Sometimes, I think to myself, what's the story here? What am I trying to say and capture, and what do I want people to feel?
"I (think) back to this and I'll (know) where to put the camera."