TIFF 2013: Keanu Reeves on Man of Tai Chi

Man of Tai Chi Keanu Reeves Scream

CraveOnline: I loved it and I might have referred to it as Keanuisms. I think most movies shy away from that sort of visceral attitude, and it plays in with the minimal dialogue. Do you feel a lot of movies shy away from a visceral approach?

Keanu Reeves: You know, for me making this film I felt like I didn’t have any rules. I wanted to not, and so there are a couple of things that happened. Even on Tiger’s introduction, it’s really close to looking into camera. There’s a lot of playing with, and I hope the audience becomes kind of complicit in terms of the reality TV show aspect of the film, but also that it’s a communication for the fable aspect of the movie.

There’s also a moment where Tiger hits the camera. He’s walking out from the director who’s turned down his petition for the heritage petition to save his temple. He hits the camera, but it gets absorbed in the moment of that shot. He’s walking out and the music’s coming up an it’s before he says, “Get me a fight” and he hits the camera.

I don’t remember specifically that shot, but I’m on day six of the festival and I saw the film before I got here.

That’s okay, man. That’s fine.

But when it’s on VOD I will be re-watching it many times.

Oh, thank you, but what I mean for that is that was part of that visceral kind of moment where we’re watching but he hits the camera. Yet there’s no commentary on that. That was just one of the rules I felt I could break, for a reason, for storytelling.

And the temple is a great aspect where fighting won’t save the temple. He has to learn that fighting can hurt the temple. It’s not the solution to everything.

Yes, it’s Tai Chi! I was hoping to use, for me, themes of it. The idea of when you’re winning you could be losing, the idea of the yin and the yang, the light and the dark, the idea of taking energy or pushing energy. So Tiger’s winning these fights but he’s losing his soul. He’s getting money to save the temple and he sees his improvement but ultimately this also costs him the temple, so I’m glad that that stayed with you.

It resonated very well. Does the name Donaka have a specific meaning?

We made it up as a name so I didn’t take it from anywhere. It has a Japanese aspect to it. If you see Donaka’s set, there’s a cave-y aspect to it, the stone. His office has a stone [material]. I wanted him to be a darkly, earth element.

You directed a Kung Fu movie as your first film. What kind of movie would you like to direct next?

You know, for me it’s what story would you tell next? That’s how I came to it in the first place. I was thinking about directing but I was like, “What’s the story?” So I’m looking for a story. I want to do it again though. I really enjoyed it.

Was it easier to get your directorial debut made since it’s a Kung Fu movie starring Keanu Reeves?

Probably, yeah. I think so. I know that people were excited by that idea which was great. I was very fortunate and happy to have had the opportunity to tell the story and I hope other people get something positive out of it.

As much as I’m a Kung Fu fan, I also grew up a Bill and Ted fan and I’m very excited you and Alex are working on another one. I know the script is still in the works, not looking for spoilers, but do you have to explain and undo how Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey ended? We saw a montage of them making it and fulfilling the prophecy.

Yes, we do and we did, but did they? That’s all I’ll say.

Right, so you didn’t go into it thinking you could ignore that.

No, there’s logic [Laughs] to the approach.

Is there a new Rufus character?

That’s the question, how do you do that? Obviously with respect and appreciation. There is a Rufus character and there have been different incarnations so we’re figuring that out.

But not someone else playing George Carlin’s character.

No. No, no, no, no, no. It’s not like the Vacation movies where the kids change or the wives in Bill and Ted.

Is 47 Ronin a martial arts movie also?

There’s some swordplay. I get to do some swordplay.

Was that a different aspect of learning martial arts choreography?

A little bit, a little bit because you have a big sharp, pointy object in your hand that you have to be responsible.  

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Shelf Space Weekly. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.