Jet Li is the perfect fit for The Matrix franchise. Li nailed all the elements of the mind-bending sci-fi series by The Wachowskis, which debuted in 1999 and featured brooding heroes with insane martial arts prowess. But did you know that Li turned down a role in The Matrix Reloaded?
Hollywood producers wanted to record and copy Jet Li’s martial arts moves into a digital library with all rights going to them, so he declined a part in The Matrix Reloaded.
Preserving Jet Li’s Work
The Chinese action star turned down a role as Seraph in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions after being offered it. He has a valid reason for declining a role in the iconic sci-fi series of the 1990s and the early 2000s.
In a recent interview with Abacus News, Jet Li disclosed that the technology cautionary tale the Matrix franchise warned against was why he declined Seraph’s role in 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded. Li didn’t want the Hollywood producers of the movie to “own” his martial arts techniques as their intellectual property and potentially digitally recreate them using someone else’s face:
I realized the Americans wanted me to film for three months but be with the crew for nine. And for six months, they wanted to record and copy all my moves into a digital library. By the end of the recording, the right to these moves would go to them. I was thinking: I’ve been training my entire life. And we martial artists could only grow older. Yet they could own my moves as an intellectual property forever. So I said I couldn’t do that.Jet Li, Actor
(Source: Cheat Sheet)
What Project Did Jet Li Take After Turning Down the Matrix?
Fans of The Matrix probably didn’t even think of that, but that’s Jet Li for you, always planning. Early 2000s digital effects couldn’t have accurately produced a digital twin that could imitate Li’s fighting technique, but modern technology probably could. And let’s remember that the ability to download kung fu moves into one’s brain is a major plot point in The Matrix.
Li went on to star in Hero in 2005 after he decided to leave The Matrix. In both sequels, actor and fellow martial artist Collin Chou replaced Li in the role of Seraph, The Oracle’s guard.
Interestingly, Chou and Li eventually collaborated on the movie Fearless in 2006. Li retired from the spotlight, making sporadic appearances in series like The Expendables. The actor’s most recent role was the Emperor of China in the Disney remake of Mulan. (Source: Cheat Sheet)
Was Jet Li’s Character Planned?
Fans couldn’t contain their excitement when it was revealed that there would be two sequels to the first Matrix movie due to its commercial success. In the sequels, Seraph and other more recent characters were introduced. The Oracle’s expert bodyguard in The Matrix sequels, Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions, was Seraph.
Although the Seraph character in The Matrix movies is mostly recognized as male, the Wachowski siblings intended it to be female. According to Indie Wire, the actor Michelle Yeoh was in mind when the character was created as a woman. Yeoh, however, was forced to decline due to scheduling issues. (Source: Cheat Sheet)
Image from MartialArtsAction