By Mike Davidson
CANNES (Reuters) - He's played a science-fiction hero, policeman and even Hamlet. But now actor Keanu Reeves is taking on a new role - as director of a contemporary martial arts movie aimed at both Chinese and Western audiences.
Reeves has stepped behind the camera to make his directorial debut with "Man of Tai Chi", a trilingual film loosely based on the life of a stuntman, Tiger Chen, whom he befriended while working on the sci-fi "The Matrix" trilogy.
At the Cannes film festival to promote his new movie, due out later this year, Reeves said he knew he had always wanted to try directing and spent five years developing the script.
"It was also tied to getting older," Reeves, 48, who was long one of Hollywood's most glamorous action stars, told Reuters Television in an interview at a hotel on Cannes palm-lined waterfront.
He said the main character of the film, in which he also acts, is a stuntman and martial arts expert, struggling to maintain his traditional values and beliefs against the pressures of modern society. This character is played by Chen.
Reeves plays the villain who lures him into underground fighting and the promises of money, glamour and power.
The film, made in English, Cantonese and Mandarin and filmed in China and Hong Kong, is meant to appeal to both the huge market in China, where Reeves won fans with "Matrix" and for having a Chinese great-grandparent, and in Western countries.
"Man of Tai Chi" was co-produced by the China Film Group, Wanda Media, Village Roadshow Pictures Asia and Universal Pictures and will be distributed internationally by Universal, owned by Comcast through its subsidiary NBCUniversal.
Clips from the movie suggested there would be big fight sequences and high-speed car chases along Chinese highways, as could be expected from the star of the 1994 thriller "Speed".
"I loved the responsibility of telling a story," said the Canadian-born Reeves. "I hope I get the chance to do it again."
(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Mark Heinrich)