It’s been 10 years since the conclusion of “The Matrix” trilogy, and in the intervening decade, movie fans have been repeatedly asking themselves one question: “When is Keanu going to kick people again?”
The good news is, martial arts fanatics are getting a big, shiny present this Christmas when Keanu Reeves returns in “47 Ronin.” It’s inspired by the legendary true story of a band of masterless samurai in early 18th century Japan, but the old tale has been given a fantastical new overhaul. Reeves plays Kai, an outcast who is recruited by the ronin to battle witches, giants, and dragons.
Reeves is surrounded by a predominantly Japanese cast, including Hiroyuki Sanada (most recently in “The Wolverine”), Rinko Kikuchi (“Pacific Rim”) and Tadanobu Asano (“Thor”). They’re also joined by Dutch actor Yorik van Wageningen (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”), and Canadian artist/model Rick Genest (the guy with the skull tattoo on his face… yes, that ink is real).
It makes sense to have Reeves at the center of an wide-ranging group of actors because he has a very strong international fan base. Reeves’s two big-budget films since “The Matrix,” — 2005’s “Constantine” and 2008’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” — were both moderately successful in the US but more than doubled their box-office take in foreign markets. And “47 Ronin” brings back the blend of martial arts and eye-grabbing CGI that made him a worldwide star to begin with.
For his part, the 49-year-old Reeves told The New York Times that the gaps between his big Hollywood movies was a choice: “Some things came up, but they weren’t intriguing. I wasn’t going to sit around and wait for an amazing studio project to appear.” And that included going behind the camera for the first time to direct — what else — a kung-fu movie.
Reeves also appears and makes his directorial debut in “Man of Tai Chi,” which he filmed in China. It stars Tiger Chen, who trained Reeves in kung-fu for all of “The Matrix” films. Reeves told STV Entertainment that he stayed friends with Chen and spent about six years developing the movie together. Naturally, the two do face off in a fight scene for the film. Reeves admitted that he casually studied some martial arts when he was younger, but he’s not the master the movies make him out to be. “I don’t have any belts,” Reeves admitted. “I know movie kung-fu.”