Heroes Do Not Rely on Superpowers Alone
by Cai Fang Qian
(Translated from Chinese by Anakin McFly)
From actor to director
Receiving reporter Cai Fang Qian, Keanu Reeves, who just finished a conference, sought out a place where he could smoke and relieve some of the tension of the day's work. This big name Hollywood star - who in The Matrix series made Chinese kungfu cool - forged a fifteen year friendship with The Matrix stuntman Chen Hu. In eight years, he completed his directorial debut, with strong perseverance that is the envy of all.
Q: As a world-renowned celebrity, what made you decide to become a director?
Keanu: Initially, I wasn't going to direct this film. It was Chen Hu who first got the script, and wanted me to do a cameo in it, but I wanted to have a look at the script first. He gave me the first draft, I didn't like it, they did a rewrite and said they'd find a lot of writers, I still wasn't satisfied. After that, there was a time when I was in New York and I got a bit fed up and said I'd write it. They were really happy and said sure. But then when they came to Los Angeles to get hold of me, I was embarrassed to have to say that I'd been too busy and hadn't done any writing, I'd forgotten about it, and I said let's write it together. So in the end, there were four of us discussing this story together, and we identified a young screenwriter (?). A few years later, we had a thick book full of notes. In the fifth year of this when the script was more developed, they started looking for a suitable director. They came back and told me that no one else was as familiar with the script as I was, and I might as well be the director. I had never directed before, so I was a bit hesitant, but I thought about it for a while, figured that the script now met my requirements, and agreed.
Q: So you decided to direct because of Chen Hu?
Keanu: Yes, to some extent that was the reason. From another angle, I've been acting since I was 15 years old, you know, there are a lot of things I want to create. I've always wanted to be a director, so it was just as well that Man of Tai Chi appeared.
Q: Acting and directing: which is harder?
Keanu: Directing. You need to be in charge of everything going on in the studio; as an actor, you just need to give a good performance. Directing is very fun, there's nothing painful about it (laughs). I like the feeling of strategizing, I like maintaining balance.
Q: Will you continue to direct in future?
Keanu: If I can, I'd like to direct another film, but I still need to find that one story I want to tell. I'm still searching for that story.
From blockbusters to Tai Chi
After The Matrix, Keanu's name skyrocketed to fame (well actually the Chinese version goes something like: "the sound of Keanu's name was as the sun in the middle of the sky", but that's the general idea. - Ani), but he turned down a few extremely high paying blockbusters in favour of much lower-paying small independent films. Along the way, he fell in love with the Asian theme. First-time director Keanu travelled all the way to China to film, overcoming language and other barriers, to complete this action movie about the traditional Chinese art of kung fu; the difficulty of doing this can only be imagined. Karen Mok described Keanu as 100% Virgo when he's working. Tiger Chen said, until he started filming Man of Tai Chi, he'd never heard Keanu talk that much.
Q: Why do you like choosing to do independent films?
Keanu: Man of Tai Chi isn't a film from a big Hollywood production company, it's an independent film. Our ambition was to produce a very solid film, making use of our equipment, scenes, costumes and so on to give this story a strong foundation. I think we managed to do that.
Q: Why did you choose to focus on the Eastern theme of taichi?
Keanu: To talk about that I need to start with Chen Hu. He studied martial arts, knows taichi, has a master's degree, received a lot of traditional, former training. At the same time he's also very contemporary: he moved from Chengdu to Beijing, and accompanied his stunt team to Hollywood, and then came back to China. His strength, in my experience, is that combination of tradition and modernity. It let me develop my fascination with Chinese martial arts. I really like the concept of yin and yang balance within taichi. When you focus on one thing for a long time, your appreciation of it deepens, and that's how it was for me and Chinese kungfu. Man of Tai Chi isn't just about showing fight scenes, but my wish is that everyone enters the theatre and doesn't just see the exciting action scenes, but can also see the heart of martial arts, and realise the understanding I came to of the spirit of 'subduing demons' that lies inherent within the desire and control in taichi.
Q: In English, this film's title is Man of Tai Chi. What's the difference between this 'Man' and Hollywood's Batman, Superman and so on?
Keanu: In the movie, Chen Hu's character is a bit like Spiderman - he's a delivery boy, but at the same time he's educated, and has high attainments in practice (?); not just in the physical sense, but also the spiritual. He faces his difficult life with enthusiasm. I hope that this Man of Tai Chi can become a credible hero, who manages more than we currently can at the moment. The Man of Tai Chi's journey is what this movie wants to tell everyone: heroes don't always need to have flashy costumes and superpowers.
Q: Superhero movies these days are all in 3D; are you thinking of filming taichi in 3D?
Keanu: We originally considered that, but to me, it would have just been a distraction. This story isn't entirely suited to 3D.
From Hollywood to China
From Hollywood to China, Keanu has, through many means, entered the minds of Chinese civilians: be it through watching him on the big screen, encountering him on a crowded subway; the 'fat Keanu' photos also sparked concern among his fans. But Keanu obviously did not like questions about his body. When asked during the conference, his only response was silence.
Chen Hu told this author that in China, Keanu has no personal life. Apart from his work, his only interest is his dinner: "The moment he wakes up he asks, 'What are we eating tonight?' He once squeezed onto a subway. Once we couldn't get a car, and he asked if we could take the subway. I said only if you want to see the crowds. He said he wanted to see them."
Q: How did you arrange your days in Beijing?
Keanu: About six or seven in the morning, I'd drive to work; some days I'd work 12 or 13 hours, and after that we'd discuss the next day's work, then I'd go back, have a meal, and go to bed.
Q: You were once named among the world's 50 most beautiful people. How do you view male beauty?
Keanu: Beauty has never had a standard. To list me among the 50 most beautiful people was very generous of them. Sometimes I go jogging, dieting; for Man of Tai Chi, I did a lot of exercise. In terms of maintenance, I've never put on a facial mask or anything like that, but maybe one day in the future I will.
Q: What constitutes a man's greatest charm?
Keanu: Stay firm in what you believe in, understand what has happened; learn how to keep moving forward, but not blindly; your momentum must be guided by emotion, because your emotions will protect you, and you must give them their due.