Keanu Reeves steps behind the camera in ‘Man of Tai Chi’
by Mark Daniell
Keanu Reeves' career has run the gamut from such blockbusters as Speed and The Matrix to smaller, bet-you-missed-them independent projects.
If there's a script, Reeves hasn't stuck to it.
This year finds the 49-year-old stepping behind the camera to direct Man of Tai Chi, which had its North American premiere at TIFF Tuesday night, as well as starring in December's samurai epic 47 Ronin.
"Whether it's a studio picture or an independent film, I just have a desire to tell stories," Reeves tells QMI Agency. "It's not plotted. If you asked me five years ago whether I'd have made a documentary, I would have said, 'I don't know.'"
(For the record, Reeves directed his first doc on the future of film - Side by Side - last year.) (Note: he didn't direct it, just produced and did the interviews. - Ani)
Since 2008's The Day the Earth Stood Still, Reeves has appeared in a string of low-budget films. Lots of talking, not a lot of action, so it's a surprise he decided to helm a martial arts film with highly-choreographed fight scenes.
Maybe not the best idea for a first-timer?
"I didn't pick directing by genre," he says. "The story picked me in a way. I wanted to direct and this became the story I wanted to direct."
Man of Tai Chi features Matrix stuntman Tiger Chen in the lead role as Linhu, a mild-mannered tai chi student who is recruited into the world of no-holds barred underground fights. Reeves plays the mysterious businessman who lures Linhu with his promises of a big payday.
The tai chi element was great for the film, Reeves says, because it allows for a contrast between good and evil elements.
Reeves also liked the idea of playing a bad guy - something he hasn't done since 2000's The Gift. "I love playing villains," he says smiling. "Villains are fun."
Having worked with some of the biggest directors in Hollywood including Kathryn Bigelow, the Wachowskis, Sam Rami and Gus van Sant, Reeves' directorial debut is infused with a lot of different cinematic touches.
"But the film absorbs it all," he says. "To me, when you're watching it, I don't think anyone is going to look at some of the scenes and say, 'That was pretty tricky.'"
And with his first film under his belt, Reeves isn't sure which he likes better now, acting or directing?
"They are different pleasures," he says, his lips curling into a smile. "One is ice cream and the other is a really good steak."
Whoa dude -- Keanu Reeves is joining a long list of actors-turned-directors:
Mel Gibson: Mad Mel made the forgettable The Man Without a Face in 1993 before winning a slew of Oscars with his sophomore effort, Braveheart. Since then, he hauled in a giant bag of cash with The Passion of the Christ and gave us something called Apocalypto, which pretty much no one saw.
Kevin Costner: 1990's Dances With Wolves proved to be a one-hit wonder for Kevin Costner. After winning seven Oscars with his debut, Costner next helmed the abysmal The Postman and Open Range. Wisely, he has stayed out of the director's chair since 2003.
Clint Eastwood: Clint has the sturdiest rep of the bunch. If anything, he should only be allowed to act in his own films. His first acting job in a film he didn't direct in almost 20 years - 2012's Trouble With the Curve - was a giant misstep. Clint, don't take orders from anyone other than yourself.
Ben Affleck: Just remember Batfleck haters, Ben has won not one, but two Oscars. Argo, which Affleck starred in and directed last year, was the toast of the awards season. One of the most successful actor-to-director transitions in years.
Jodie Foster: Um, she passed on doing a sequel to Silence of the Lambs, but attempted to rehabilitate Mel Gibson's career by directing him in The Beaver. Hey, we're all allowed to make mistakes.
Photo caption: Keanu Reeves and Tiger Chen at the Ryerson Theatre for the "Man of Tai Chi" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 10, 2013. (Dave Thomas/QMI Agency)