He won’t be mistaken for Wong Kar Wei very soon, or even Newt Arnold, of “Bloodsport” (1988), but Keanu Reeves’s directorial career gets off to a decent start with this hit-and-miss martial arts allegory about good and evil and kicking butt. He makes one big casting mistake – himself as the bad guy. Also, Tiger Chen is a little uncharismatic as the hero, “Tiger” Chen Lin-Hu; he looks like a cross between Michael Cera and Reeves. Then there is also Reeves’s pretentious stylistic flourishes, and a narrative that ebbs and flows listlessly with a tendency toward mystical hokum. But with his thoughtful exploration of the conflict between desire and responsibility, and his self-reflexive exploration of the themes of voyeurism, ambition, and personal identity, Reeves’s debut shows signs of a talented filmmaker.
Reeves plays Donaka Mark, the head of a Beijing-based security company. On the side he puts on fight-to-the-death martial arts bouts for chichi international clients who look like they just came from the sex-slave auction in “Taken” (2008). After terminating the contract for his reigning champion, Donaka’s looking for new blood. You can tell this guy is evil because he puts on a blank, glowering mask when he commits his most dastardly deeds. And you can tell it’s Keanu Reeves because the mask is more expressive than the actor.