Keanu Reeves talks Man Of Tai Chi: Cannes 2013

Adding to the already A-list roster of Cannes 2013, Keanu Reeves was in town today to talk up his directorial debut – martial arts actioner Man Of Tai Chi .

Influenced by his love of kung fu movies, Reeves’ film follows the story of a young man (stuntman-turned-actor Tiger Chen) becoming embroiled in Beijing’s underground fighting circuit after being recruited by a shady businessman (Reeves, appearing in front of the camera as well as behind it).

“About four or five years ago I started to think about directing,” Reeves told Total Film after showing us a sneak peek of one of the (admittedly impressive) action sequences. “My dictum was I would only direct if I had a story to tell and, having developed the script over this length of time, it became a story I wanted to tell and one I didn’t want anybody else to tell.”

Reeves first met Chen while making the Matrix trilogy – Chen was part of legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping’s stunt team – and the two had remained friends ever since…

“We would sit for hours and stretch and hang out and we just used to tell each other stories,” recalled the director. “He would tell me these extraordinary stories about his master, like he would stand outside with birdseed in the palm of his hand and the bird would land there, but when the bird would try to fly away he would take its chi and the bird couldn’t fly… And I’d be like ‘No way! Tell me another master story!” So and through that we found we shared a sense of humour, a sense of perspective on life, and we bonded.”

Chen’s background in stuntwork was to prove essential for Man Of Tai Chi , with Reeves stuffing the film full of ambitious action sequences. And, from the sound of it, his lead more than rose to the challenge…

“My hope was to use the fighting sequences to tell the story. I really thought of them as acting scenes, so you can really experience what this character goes through,” said Reeves. “Tiger has over 11 action sequences in the film and he was pretty heroic. All these [ stunt actors ] would come in strong and by the end of the day they were like, ‘Oh my god, Man Of Tai Chi has broken me!’ And Tiger would be like, ‘Come on!’”

Man Of Tai Chi opens later this year.