Keanu Reeves: "I am a classic!"
by Sorin Etienne
(Translated from French by LucaM, translation edited by Anakin McFly)
The Matrix star plays a samurai in 47 Ronin, already on the screens, and gives his directorial signature to Man of Tai Chi, a kung-fu film shot in China, in theaters on April 30.
The Mad Movie magazine rests on the coffee table. Keanu Reeves admits to not being familiar with this magazine specializing in fantasy films. The journalist who interviewed him before me left him a copy. In a Parisian hotel suite, the star gives a string of interviews. Very pro, very American. Accustomed to being put up on display. A black beard covers his face. The actor, 50 this year, has not aged a bit. The Hollywoodian Dorian Gray has the same sweet and sad expression as Scott, his character in My Own Private Idaho (1991).
In that film by Gus Van Sant, the young actor starred with his friend River Phoenix, a blazing star who died of an overdose in 1993. As for Keanu Reeves, he burst onto the screen with Point Break by Kathryn Bigelow, future director of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Girls put his poster up in their rooms, next to ones of ponies. And he confirmed his star status with Speed before becoming an international icon in 1999, thanks to The Matrix.
Fifteen years later, he's making a stopover in Paris to promote two films: 47 Ronin, an entertaining Japanese fantasy filled with samurai and witchcraft; and Man of Tai Chi (to be released on 30 April), his first feature film as a director, made in China with real kung fu. Double features with a single theme: martial arts. Which results in an interview punctuated by lines that are a little surreal. For example: "47 Ronin allowed me to go horseback riding and train for the first time with a katana, the Japanese sword. I loved it. It's a formidable weapon." Or "47 Ronin is a 'movie with a message' that speaks of sacrifice and sense of honor."
"A movie with a message" is a phrase that Keanu repeats often - his name, of Hawaiian origin, is also the bearer of a message: it means "cool breeze over the mountains". Hence, Man of Tai Chi is rich both in meaning and high kicks, as it follows "the transformation of a man, or how an innocent person becomes a killer."
You would be wrong to mock it. The American (Note: He's Canadian. - Ani) actor, who reserved for himself the role of the villain, has directed a pure, honest kung fu film. And he employed top Chinese artists for it, such as the actor Tiger Chen, who's a successful synthesis of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. "I wanted to work with Tiger Chen, a stunt man whom I met on the set of Matrix. I developed the story for him and around his tai chi training," says the actor-director. While working in the Wachowski's film, Keanu Reeves made another decisive encounter in the person of Yuen Woo-ping, renowned filmmaker (Tai Chi Master, Fist of Legend, Iron Monkey) and a choreographer very popular in Hong Kong and Hollywood. "Ping was worried because there was a lot of one-on-one fighting [in the movie], he says. He was afraid that the choreography would be repetitive and boring. Fortunately, he told me that he loved the film."
With Man of Tai Chi, shot between Beijing and Hong Kong, Reeves turns his back on a dying American action film scene. As proof of that: Hollywood has been reduced to producing the remake of Point Break (1991), without which Brice de Nice with Jean Dujardin wouldn't exist. "I've vaguely heard of it, but I don't know much," the actor says, dodging the question. Still, that doesn't make him feel any younger. "Yes, of course. I feel old and proud. I acted in a film that became a classic. I am a classic!" Keanu Reeves smiles. But Patrick Swayze, his partner and adversary in the film, would not be there to see it. He died in 2009. Classics also die.