From stuntman to leading man
CANADIAN actor Keanu Reeves might be the big name in his directorial debut, Man Of Tai Chi, but the spotlight this time is on stuntman Tiger Chen.
The veteran martial-arts choreographer, who has coached the three leading ladies of Charlie's Angels - Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu - and Reeves in The Matrix trilogy, is now facing the camera himself.
In Man Of Tai Chi, which opens in cinemas here next Thursday, the 38-year-old Chinese stuntman-turned-actor stars alongside Reeves - who plays a villain this time - and Hong Kong singer-actress Karen Mok, in the film about a young martial artist who uses his taiji abilities in an underground fight club.
The film, which is in both English and Cantonese, is a result of Reeves' close partnership with Chen while filming The Matrix trilogy.
In an interview with The New Paper, Reeves revealed his decision on casting a relatively unknown Chen.
"Of course, he is not a movie star, so we can't judge him by that standard. All I can hope is that the film will be an ambassador for him," said Reeves.
He added: "As a martial artist, he is exceptional, his fighting is great. As an actor, he is charming and very believable. I sympathise with his role. I am a fan of his."
An experienced choreographer, Chen stumbled into film-making in 1997, after being selected in a gongfu contest held in the United States by his master, Yuen Wo Ping, who was looking for assistants to help with The Matrix.
Yuen recalled in the prologue to Chen's book, From Sichuan To Hollywood: "Tiger was a shy boy who spoke little English.
"But I knew he would (become someone great) when I saw him perform in the contest."
Chen, who is originally from China, left for the US after graduating from a gongfu school at 20, working as a coach and performer. Sometimes, he washed dishes in restaurants to make ends meet.
He said: "I wanted to see the world and realise my dream. I told myself the worst thing would be to end up performing on the street."
This rising martial-arts star will be seen not only in Man Of Tai Chi, but also in another movie, Kungfu Man, which will reportedly be released in China this year.
Perhaps, someday, it will be Chen's turn to sit in the director's chair.
In an interview with China Daily in 2009, he said his dream is to direct a film because "I will then really have a film of my own".
AGENCIES, CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Man Of Tai Chi opens in cinemas here next Thursday.