I like to think that I’m knowledgeable when it comes to the underground fighting genre of action movies. While not an expert (if there can be one) I’d like to think that proudly Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor gives me some sort of expertise in a ridiculous subgenre. With all of this said I think I found one of the better and, at times, more ridiculous examples of this trope. As far as plot it if fairly typical. With life going nowhere Tiger Chen (stuntman Chen Hu) makes a name for himself in a local Wujin competition. After seeing this Donaka (Keanu Reeves) recruits him to his underground fights to the death. The violence and money corrupts him and he eventually tries to get out. But at what price (insert dramatic music here)?
Again this is all fairly typical stuff. The acting, decent for the most part, is highlighted by Keanu Reeves. Playing a villain for the first time in lord knows when he is just odd. When it isn’t a typical Keanu performance he delivers some weird line reads and reactions. I want to say it’s bad but honestly it is kind of compelling. It has this weird charisma to it that kind of works. As goofy as it comes off there’s a certain charm to it. I would also like to commend Chen Hu’s performance as our hero. Mostly a stunt man he gives a good performance as our leading man. My only complaint goes to Iko Uwais. Not because of his acting but because he is criminally underused in the movie. He shows up for a glorified cameo to in the most ridiculous fight set yet and he doesn’t fight. This really felt like a missed opportunity. Then again we got some pretty great fights beforehand.
Fight choreography is provided by the legendary Yuen Woo-ping (Kill Bill series, The Matrix, Fist of legend) and it really is the highlight of the film. Using Tai Chi as the base martial art it provides a different style from most martial arts movies. We also get a glimpse at everything when it comes to martial arts. From Tae Kwon Do to MMA quite a few disciplines are given spotlight as Tiger Chen goes through opponents. This mixing of styles really helps make each fight feel unique and new. While I’m not sure if it’s the best I’ve ever seen it is surely some of the best fight choreography of the year.
Of course fight choreography means little without the right director. Luckily Keanu Reeves proves more than capable in his directing debut. While I wouldn’t say he does anything revolutionary Reeves more than holds his behind the scenes. Utilizing a quick pace he gets us from battle to battle without it feeling rushed. He also has a good grasp of filming a fight scene. While handheld cameras are used for the fight scenes every shot is clear for the most part. Without too many close ups or edits each fight has a nice flow that lets you see everything that is going on. It makes for a welcome change to the Statham style of fights that is regularly used.
In the works since 2008 this is clearly a passion project and it shows. From the production values to the talent involved it is clear that Keanu Reeves wanted to make a fun martial arts film and it delivers. What it lacks in originality is more than made up for in fun fights and great production design. Hopefully this isn’t Reeves’ last foray behind the camera.