A representative of China Film Group today called Keanu Reeves’ upcoming Man Of Tai Chi “the most important co-production” for the company this year. Reeves makes his directorial debut with the kung-fu film that is a co-production from CFG, Wanda Media, Village Roadshow Pictures Asia and Universal Pictures. At a gathering to introduce clips from the film, Reeves said he shot for more than 105 days in Beijing and Hong Kong, where the crew was at one point locked on a set because of a severe typhoon. He chose this movie to make his helming debut because it was “the story I felt I could tell and wanted to tell and didn’t want anybody else to tell.”

Man Of Tai Chi focuses on a young, innocent martial artist who struggles to maintain his values amid the pressures of contemporary society. Tiger Chen plays the man who is lured into the underground boxing world where Reeves plays the man out to manipulate him. Reeves and Chen worked together on the Matrix movies where Chen taught Reeves about “wires and kicks and punches.” The pair became friends and over five years developed the story. Reeves says it was just about “four or five years ago that I started to think about directing. But I always said I would only direct if I had a story to tell.”

Giving himself an extra challenge, the story is told in Mandarin, Cantonese and English. Reeves says, “I had to listen. The process was very collaborative. I had great support in terms of translators, casting or working on a scene… As an actor, you’re part of telling a story and as a director you’re responsible for it, but you can’t do it yourself so the collaboration was the gift.”

Lemore Syvan, who worked with Reeves on The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee and Henry’s Crime, said the task of making the movie happen was “daunting.” Despite Reeves’ status, “it was a first-time director and a Chinese movie. We got turned down a lot.” But CFG embraced the filmmakers, Syvan says.

CFG VP Zhang Qiang cancelled his attendance at the press conference today after cutting short his trip in the wake of a robbery that emptied his hotel room last week. Instead, a statement was read off for him. Noting the increase in the market share for local pics, and the decrease in Hollywood’s dominance, he said via proxy, “Audiences are tired of seeing movies that rely only on effects but do not appeal to them on a content level.” He added that CFG “will put everything we have into distributing” Man Of Tai Chi in China. It releases there July 5 and rolls out internationally in the fall with VRPA taking Australia, New Zealand and Singapore and Universal the rest of the world including the U.S.