Jet Li has explained why he rejected a role in The Matrix movies. In a recent interview, Li spoke on his decision to turn down a major role in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolution, two films in Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s Matrix series that, despite their infamous reputations of being seriously flawed, were still part of one of the largest film franchises of the early 2000s.
Though the first film was released back in 1999, talk around The Matrix has started up again this year after screenwriter Zak Penn talked in March about his current work in further expanding the Matrix universe. Jet Li, meanwhile, is one of the most iconic Chinese martial arts stars working today, having starred in a wealth of both Chinese and American productions. In the United States he is best known for his roles in films such as Lethal Weapon 4 and Romeo Must Die. He was recently cast in the role of the Emperor in the upcoming live-action remake of Mulan. But back when he was still doing action roles, it looks like he was being considered for a big part in the Matrix sequels.
In an interview with Abascus, Jet Li was asked about why he turned down the role of Seraph in the last two Matrix films, a role that ultimately went to Taiwanese actor Collin Chou. He said:
“It was a commercial struggle for me. 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.”
Li further detailed how, even back in the early 2000s, when he was approached for the role in The Matrix Reloaded, he had serious concerns that American filmmakers might be able to use CGI technology to superimpose other actors’ faces onto his own moves to make it appear as though they were doing his fighting. The actor said, “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.”
To some, Li’s concerns might come across as a bit bizarre, but after considering the path that modern CGI technology has gone down, Li’s thoughts back in the early 2000s were exactly right. It was only two years ago that Industrial Light & Magic used CGI to digitally doctor actors’ faces to bring back Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin and a young Princess Leia in Rogue One, which caused a new debate within the industry over the ethics of using visual effects to bring actors who have passed away back to the screen. While it would have been a treat to see Li turn up in the Wachowskis' films and take on the role of Seraph, it certainly appears as though the actor’s concerns over studios taking his moves for other actors were justified. In light of the recent technology that has appeared in the industry, Li’s worries just might have come true if he had agreed to the role, so perhaps it was best that the actor turned down The Matrix movies after all.