Man of Tai Chi Review

Keanu Reeves' directing debut adds to giant screen story in China

HONG KONG — July 4th may be a holiday for Americans, but in China it is the eve of nationwide release of “Man Of Tai Chi,” the feature directing debut of Keanu Reeves.

That’s a big deal for the Canadian star and part of a giant screen success story for China.

In addition to the film’s July 5 release in an initial 1,600 conventional digital theaters, “Man Of Tai Chi” has also been re-mastered to a large screen format with IMAX DMR technology.

IMAX insiders report that the picture has no edits or narrative differences from the conventional version, other than by now standard reworked image and sound enhancements.

The film is one of the first Chinese-language movies (it is actually in Mandarin, Cantonese and English) to be made in China by a North American and is a genuine made-in-China co-venture involving China Film Group, Wanda Media, Village Roadshow Pictures Asia, and Universal Pictures.

The contemporary action-drama was shot in Beijing and Hong Kong and is described as “the spiritual journey of a young martial artist,” who is lured into the dark world of underground combat with promises of money, glamour and power. It has also been getting a lot of heat as the star has put in thousands of air miles touring the major cities of the Middle Kingdom and doing promo work at the recent Beijing, Shanghai and Cannes festivals.

The giant screen brand has been popular with China’s status-obsessed new middle classes. Chinese audiences are willing to pay hefty premium prices for the giant screen and amped up sound systems.

So popular that more movies are being made or converted for the format and that earlier this year IMAX quietly dropped its previous policy of just showing a single title on each screen. “Man of Tai Chi” will have to compete for screen space with “Man of Steel,” and by Variety’s count it appears to be getting play at some 116 venues in its opening frame.

Chinese, and to a lesser extent Korean, producers have been the keenest non-Hollywood film-makers to embrace IMAX presentation and in Sept 2012 leading local studio Huayi Brothers pacted with IMAX to deliver a minimum of seven future movies in IMAX format.

More than half a dozen Chinese films have been made or converted into IMAX, four flowing from Huayi; the Feng Xiaogang-directed “Aftershock” and “1942,” and the Stephen Fung comedy action pair “Tai Chi Zero” and “Tai Chi Hero.” Other studios have also jumped in: CFG with “The Great Revival;” Bona Film Group with Tsui Hark’s “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate;” and the Jackie Chan production-starring vehicle “CZ12,” which Huayi released.

IMAX is a huge commercial success story in China. As of March this year, the company had 110 screens in operation in China, compared with just 10 in 2010. That makes China IMAX’s second biggest territory behind the US and its top international location.

China has witnessed some of the most gargantuan orders for new screens. While cinema chains in other territories have ordered IMAX screens in ones and twos, Dalian Wanda in March 2011 put in an order for 75 screens. In Nov 2012 South Korea’s CGV booked 15 IMAX screens for its expanding Chinese theater circuit. With some 120-plus giant screens committed or under construction in China, IMAX has branch offices in both Beijing and Shanghai and last year launched a dedicated Chinese-language website.

(Clifford Coonan in Beijing also contributed to this story.)

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