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Originally published Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 3:05 PM

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‘Man of Tai Chi’: a flurry of top-notch martial arts

Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut, “Man of Tai Chi,” is a succession of martial-arts fights embedded in a tissue-thin plot about a high-minded tai-chi master played by Tiger Chen who’s tempted to fight for cash by a Mephistophelean man in black played by Reeves.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 2 stars

‘Man of Tai Chi,’ with Tiger Chen, Keanu Reeves, Karen Mok. Directed by Reeves, from a script by Michael G. Cooney. 105 minutes. Rated R for violence. Several theaters.

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Like fights?

Do you like to see kicks to the face? Forearms to the neck? Mystic phantom power blows that don’t actually have to land to rupture someone’s chest?

Well, Keanu Reeves has a movie for you. It’s “Man of Tai Chi,” and it’s Reeves’ directorial debut. Set in modern-day China and starring Chinese martial-arts expert Tiger Chen, the picture is one fight scene after another, all choreographed by the masterful Yuen Woo Ping of “Matrix” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” fame.

Those scenes are embedded in a tissue-thin plot in which a young fellow named Tiger — a delivery boy by day and a top competitor in formal, officially sanctioned martial-arts matches by night — is recruited by a malevolent and mysterious man in black (Reeves) to pound the stuffing out of all comers in unsanctioned, big-bucks underground bouts.

Tiger is a high-minded innocent who’s been taught that tai chi is a form of mental and physical discipline that should not be used for crass commercial purposes. Reeves’ character is intent on corrupting him and getting him to fight for cash.

Reeves, more inexpressive than usual, plays his Mephistophelean character with a cold glare. He’s Neo, gone over to the Dark Side.

The fighting is first rate. The acting and directing, not so much.

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