Karen Mok on Keanu Reeves’ ‘Man of Tai Chi’
by Dean Napolitano
To play a cop in the action thriller “Man of Tai Chi,” the directorial debut of Keanu Reeves, Karen Mok was prepared.
“I’ve done these roles quite a few times,” says the Hong Kong-born singer and actress, who has portrayed a fair share of strong, gutsy characters. “I think I have this cop look about me.”
In “Man of Tai Chi,” which opens in China today, she goes up against Mr. Reeves, who does double duty as the film’s star. He plays the powerful owner of a security company in Hong Kong who forces a humble martial-arts expert (Tiger Chen) to compete in illegal underground fighting.
Mr. Reeves is “the big, bad guy” in the movie, Ms. Mok says. “It’s about corrupting the pure of heart. There’s quite a bit of philosophy within all the action.”
“Man of Tai Chi,” which opens in Southeast Asian markets later this month and in the U.S. in the fall, grabbed Ms. Mok’s attention long before shooting began last year.
“Keanu actually spent a lot of time meeting people” for the role of the detective. After Ms. Mok received an invitation to meet with the star of the “Matrix” trilogy, “everything just fell into place. It just all clicked, and I think we had this right vibe.”
As the movie’s female lead, she had the perfect perch from which to observe the first-time director at work.
“It was a dream to work with him,” she says. “I was very impressed … and he was completely immersed from beginning to end.”
The China-U.S. co-production was shot in Beijing and Hong Kong, and embraces three languages: Mandarin, Cantonese and English. “It was very complicated, and I think Keanu handled everything really well,” she says of the international cast and crew.
“I find it very interesting when different people get together — they have different ideas and they have different ways of working,” she says. “Suddenly through such collaborations, we can create a new, exciting thing.”
Ms. Mok, one of China’s most popular performers, has starred in a number of films in her two-decade career, including “King of Comedy” (1999) with Stephen Chow, Hollywood’s “Around the World in 80 Days” (2004) with Jackie Chan, and the mainland China romantic comedy “Go Lala Go!” (2010). Earlier this year, after more than a dozen Cantonese- and Mandarin-language albums, she released her first collection of English-language songs with “Somewhere I Belong.”
“This year is a big year for me because it’s my 20th year in show biz, so it’s call for celebration,” she says. “I’ve got a big concert tour coming up.”
Ms. Mok, a major presence in the mainland, welcomes China’s rapidly growing movie industry.
“It’s just very exciting. It’s like the ’80s in Hong Kong,” she says, recalling the city’s golden era. “There are a lot of opportunities. It’s a good time to forge ahead and try out new things.”
Over the past 20 years, Ms. Mok has displayed her ability to juggle music, movies and musicals — she toured in a production of the Broadway hit “Rent” a few years ago — but she has her priorities.
“If I really have to choose, my biggest passion — or love — would be to do a musical on stage,” she says. “I really hope that one day I’m going to be able to do a local or original Chinese musical production.”
She adds, “I love performing live, because I can sing and act and dance all at the same time.”