When did Keanu Reeves decide he wanted to direct martial arts movies?! I wonder what gave him the idea... but whatever it was, I'm glad the idea was given! He doesn't feature in most fights, but he does make an appearance in the final one, and compared to Tiger Chen he is a giant! The battle isn't as realistically fluent as some of the other ones (where both contenders are professional martial artists) but it's not bad either. He puts up a good final fight, plays the villain accordingly, and Tiger Chen makes the trip from light to dark to light again just like he's supposed to. I liked that subtle yin/yang transition after he bows down to his opponent at the end, and the 'I am nothing' is spot on to the teachings of Tai Chi! Such profound wisdom in a simple sentence, and to think that the enemy bestows upon him the wisdom that ultimately lets him control his chi properly, to let it out; free himself... and beat his opponent. Ironic.
I love movies that make good modern use of martial arts without making them seeing unnecessarily flashy on the verge of supernatural, movies that humbly bridge the gap between Eastern and Western cultures without making either one seem superior, and movies that keep the tradition of real stunts and fighting choreography performed by pros still going strong! And of course I'm saying this because this movie did all three. And the fights look real, even when there are strings attached.
Overall it was a great action movie, with some great martial arts; plenty of opponents Chen has to fight. Reeves has done a nice job of gathering together talented people that aren't necessarily well-known in most of the world. Simon Yam and Karen Mok are the two exceptions, and Tiger Chen gets to (I think) debut as main character, something he does with flying colors! I guess his working with stunts on The Matrix movies might have something to do with it. Iko Uwais gets a very brief appearance at the end too. You know, that guy from The Raid? I was looking forward to a real fight but... maybe some other time. :)
Plotwise, I think I can reveal without spoiling anything that this is a bit like the Truman Show of underground fight clubs, the story of one individuals life, and the lessons and obstacles he faces along the way. Which seems all the realer considering he plays who he is, at least by name, both Tiger Chen in and outside the movie. Great watch.
rated 4/5: fo shizzle