Editor’s Notes: Man of Tai Chi opens this Friday, November 1st. Adrian’s review of the film is available here.
To get you into the mood for Keanu Reeves’ new film, Man of Tai Chi we thought it was time to share with you the Fantastic Debates that took place at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. The Fantastic Debates pits two men in a boxing ring. The two men debate a topic then fight after the debate. A winner is chosen through audience applause. This year’s Fantastic Debates took place at John’s Gym. The main event featured Tim League (co-founder of Fantastic Fest) vs. Keanu Reeves and actor and martial arts guru Tiger Chen (the eponymous Man of Tai Chi in Reeves’s film). The topic: Tai Chi is a martial art relegated to elderly Chinese women and is inferior in every way to Tae Kwon Do.
League opened the debate, “The average age of a Tai Chi practitioner in the United States is 68. Only 1 in 1000 practitioners of Tai Chi use it as a martial art. The most common location to practice Tai Chi is nursing homes. Second place is hospitals. The most common location to practice Tae Kwon Do is a martial arts fighting academy.” League also mentioned how Tae Kwon Do was developed by the Korean military for hand-to-hand combat in war. League delivered these harsh words, “Tae Kwon Do is an Olympic sport. Tai Chi is shit!” League riled up a drunk belligerent Fantastic Fest mob, gaining some serious points by raising some great points and showing no fear in the face of a man who could tear him apart.
Reeves countered with, “In the spirit of Tai Chi, Tim League, I will accept everything that you have said. There would be no Tae Kwan Do without Tai Chi.” Reeves’ calm demeanor did not exactly win over the mob. Reeves argued that the old Tai Chi people could defeat the younger Tae Kwon Do martial artists. Reeves conceded, “I also want to say that both of us want to speak about martial arts, don’t know anything.” Reeves talked about how Tai Chi is the truth, yin/yang, the nature of the world, thoughtfulness, being alive and being human. “If we only had Tae Kwon Do, that’s all we would have.” An audience member (sounded like Alex Winter who was in Tim League’s corner) shouted, “Wyld Stallions!” Reeves replied with, “Football rules!” I believe his intention was, “San Dimas high school football rules!” This is as close as it gets to re-living a moment from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
After a couple of rounds of debate, the audience was behind League all the way. He knew how to work the crowd and made valid points that Reeves could not counter. Their debate styles reflected the styles they defended. League’s words were blunt, aggressive, and loud. League advised, “Another name for Tai Chi is soft boxing. Tae Kwon Do literally means breaking fists, breaking kick style.”
It was clear that League got under Reeves’ skin. Reeves looked anxious, annoyed and pissed off. As a result there are photos on SD cards and perhaps in flickr accounts that will likely lead to new Keanu Reeves memes. Through it all, Reeves maintained a calm balance, reflecting the Tai Chi style he was defending. Reeves and Chen used this energy to focus on the fight to come.
The two traded wits and when it came down to the battle of fists, Tiger Chen got the edge on Tim League. Before the fight Reeves warned, “Tonight Tim League, I’m sorry but you’re going to have to learn a hard lesson.” At first it was surprising to witness Chen deliver punishing shots, superman punches and spinning back-fists. Full credit to League for holding his ground, getting a few shots in and at one point he took Chen down to the ground. By the end of the fight, the two men were sweaty and League was sporting a bloody nose. Things got nasty in the ring but at the end the two of them capped off the fight with a friendly hug. Sometimes boys just need to be boys. In a unanimous decision, League won the debate vs. Reeves and Chen. The man should be applauded for his bravery in the face of two men who delivered relentless punishment in the ring. Tim League, we salute you.