The Matrix Revolutions

It's a funny thing about fame and fortune in Hollywood. In the beginning when you have nothing, you beg, grovel, scrape and do just about anything to get money, publicity or a gig; then when you've "made" it (accomplishing something that becomes almost bigger than life), you become evasive, avoiding the public, refusing comment, wrapping your new project in a shroud of secrecy and mystery (actually, it's not so much mysterious as just plain annoying). When the mighty Wizard of Oz (or, for the MATRIX films, producer Joel "Oz" Silver) said, "Ignore that man behind the curtain," he wasn't joking, because as Morpheus once said, "Things never really are what they seem to be."

THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS, the final part of a three-arc story revolving around the blockbuster THE MATRIX, is not really directed by the Wachowski Brothers but by two people who used to be the Wachowski brothers. Keanu Reeves doesn't do his own fights, but looks like he does his own fights. Carrie-Ann Moss looks cool and sleek in her tight, body-hugging leather outfit, but it's not really all of her. And Yuen Woo-ping did all the fights for the MATRIX films, but he didn't want to do them. And after he did them, he inadvertently started a whole new time- and money-wasting trend in Hollywood film. So, as you can read, things have gotten funky since those innocent July days back in 1998 when THE MATRIX first started production in Sydney, Australia. A wise old sage once wrote, "I don't seek to know all the answers, but to understand the questions." Sounds taoist, right? Something some old Chinese philosopher wrote down in some ancient text. Maybe Lao Tse in "The Tao Te Ching." Not. It's a line cited by David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine in an episode of KUNG FU (1973), the words derived from ancient Jewish texts. Things never really are what they seem to be.

Seeing the Matrix It was over four years ago when Joel Silver asked if I'd like to go to Australia to cover one of his films, THE MATRIX. I initially wasn't interested. I mean, it's a 16-hour flight there, 2 days on set, and 16 hours back. And when he insisted they really wanted the martial arts aspects covered, I thought, "Is this just another big-budgeted film ($70 million) that will have a few martial art-like fights but will be advertized as 'Full of kung fu action?'" Well, weeks later, I was on that plane. Why? Three words. Yuen Woo-ping.

Let's face it. Hollywood's fascination with Hong Kong's frenetic-paced action style stems from the exhilarating fights choreographed by Woo-ping in the first MATRIX film, further solidified with his action direction in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. And now, with the advent of the wild and wooly action in KILL BILL, it seems that -- for Yuen -- the sky is the limit.

YUEN WOO-PINGBorn in Guang Zhou, Canton in 1945 and the eldest of 12 children, Woo-ping learned Beijing opera and kung fu from his father Yuen Siu-tin and could be seen in small parts as a martial artist in some of the classic Wong Fei Hong films of the 1960s. In 1978, Woo-ping changed the direction of kung fu films in Hong Kong when he directed SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW and DRUNKEN MASTER, films which not only featured his father as the old, gray-haired teacher but were also the films which ultimately made Jackie Chan famous. However, it was some of his later efforts like IRON MONKEY (1993), TAI CHI MASTER (1993) and WING CHUN (1994) that captured the imagination of the Wachowski "family," causing them to want Woo-ping to do THE MATRIX.

Woo-ping initially refused to do MATRIX, asking for an exorbitant fee that he thought would turn off the Wachowskis. It didn't. He next formulated what he considered an impossible request, again hoping to deter the Wachowskis. "I said that I'd agree only if I had complete control of the fights and that I train the actors for four months before we shoot," Woo-ping says. "I figured they'd never go for that. They said okay, so I did it. So we ended up spending about eight hours a day for four months training Keanu (Reeves) and Lawrence (Fishburne). Which took great dedication because, when you think about it, they could have spent that time doing a whole other film."

Neo & Trinity in RelovutionsThough Yuen had never heard of Keanu before the film, he admits that the actor learned his kung fu fast. "I designed the fights and told the directors what I wanted. They've always taken my advice, but they also have their own vision for fights, and that's good, but they'll always listen to my suggestions. But we have done things slower here compared to Hong Kong film because in Hong Kong the actors are used to the action and the pace, but the Americans aren't used to it. Plus, in Hong Kong, we're always rehearsing on set before shooting or outside preparing and training during off times. So the challenge has been to make the actors look good on such a short amount of training time. I thought 2 months would've been long enough, but it took 4 months, plus the time used during the filming to make them look real enough for the films, in terms of posing and fighting, for the nature of what the film was about."

At its core, the MATRIX films tell a story about Neo (Reeves), a computer hacker in the 22nd century who joins a band of freedom fighters, led by his mentor Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), who are struggling against evil computers that control the Earth. The machines keep their human slaves passive by plugging into their bodies and creating the illusion that they're living in a virtual-reality 20th-Century world while sucking out their heat to generate power. Neo is trapped in that virtual universe, a prisoner of the "Power Plant." Illegal sign-ons onto the Matrix are quickly attacked by viruses in the form of kung fu-fighting agents led by the pugilistic power of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Morpheus and his gang, which includes Trinity (Moss), are essentially 22nd-Century computer hackers, except they use themselves as living online services.

In MATRIX: RELOADED, Reeves's Neo has transformed from reluctant messiah into The One (a metaphysical superhero who, it was prophesied, would save humanity from its 100-year enslavement by the machines) and begins where the original left off. The machines have made a terrifying breakthrough: they've learned the location of Zion, the last human city, hidden near the Earth's core. Their plan is to tunnel down to the city and use thousands of sentinels -- the squidlike kamikaze from part one -- to obliterate it. Tracking down the Keymaker is the humans' only hope. Along the way, we meet Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), a former love of Morpheus, and Persephone, a shady temptress who tries to seduce Neo. And of course there's Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who's learned to replicate himself like a virus.

NEO Verses smithS

THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS is actually a very intelligent film title because -- as the Wachowski's are known for -- there is always an esoteric and endoteric way of presenting subliminal messages in everything they do. Matrix is something -- as a substance -- within which something else originates, develops, or is contained. Or a matrix can be a die or a mold. Revolution, on the other hand, is an orbital motion about a point, or it can be described as an abrupt overthrow of a group of rulers or a radical change in a system or state of affairs. No matter how you look at these definitions or which one you choose, they all seem to fit what THE MATRIX is about.

Similar to RELOADED, REVOLUTIONS is also a film so shrouded in secrecy that everyone and their pet cat are refusing to talk about it. Suffice it to say, the only thing for certain is that it's the final chapter of the MATRIX trilogy, and the rebels' long quest for freedom culminates in a final 14-minute $40 million explosive battle scene. As the Machine Army wages devastation on Zion, its citizens mount an aggressive defense -- but can they stave off the relentless swarm of Sentinels long enough for Neo to harness the full extent of his powers and end the war?

Matrix RevolutionsThough everyone is mum on the film, prior to filming one of the directors, Ms. A. Wachowski (not a misprint, people), told me this by phone: "We began with the premise that every single thing and physical item we believe in today is actually a total fabrication created by an electronic universe. Once you deal with an electronic reality, you can push boundaries of human impossibilities. So if a MATRIX character can have instantaneous information downloaded into their head, they should, for example, be able to fight as good as, say, Jackie Chan."

As it turns out, I was only one of five people allowed to visit the set of the first MATRIX film, interview the stars and the Wachowskis, talk with Yuen and get a first hand look at the fantastic sets and how they were put together as well as observe the bullet-time effect in action.

Since that occasion (helped by the fact that the first film did so well), no one -- but no one -- has been allowed to visit any MATRIX set, speak with the Wachowskis or have any star tell anything about the film -- period. Why? Hollywood. They now don't need publicity, because the franchise is selling itself.

Grossing $460 million worldwide, $171 million domestic, THE MATRIX accelerated into a phenomena thanks to DVD, becoming the format's first title to sell a million copies, grossing $398 million. RELOADED grossed $742 million worldwide, $289 million domestic, $37 million on it's soundtrack, and -- although fairly new -- the DVD has already grossed over $200 million. You might say, "Wow!" about RELOADED, especially since it was a pretty bad film filled with Kwai Chang Caine talking to blind Master Poh dialogue (Neo asking "How will I know?" and the Oracle replying, "You will know at the right time" sort of banter). But consider that RELOADED was ranked the number one grossing film in America for only one week, as well as suffering the indignity of ranking second this summer at the U.S. box office behind FINDING NEMO. Further, RELOADED was released in more theaters than MATRIX, with higher ticket prices and a larger national population. So, in reality, it had better earn more than its predecessor.

Neo vs. SmithEssentially, the first two films have generated about $1.9 billion in gross revenue, and producer Joel Silver (remember, the mighty Oz) is personally receiving 7% of all merchandize royalties as well as what's left after exhibitors get their half of the box office sales. Who says avarice doesn't exist? Not bad for an initial $70 million investment for MATRIX and a combined investment of $300 million to shoot RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS at the same time, all of which came from Warner Brothers and not Oz.

REVOLUTIONS will also be released simultaneously in nearly 70 countries, the film officially hitting theaters on November 5th at what Silver calls "zero hour," the exact same moment across the globe. That means 6 a.m. in L.A., 9. a.m. in N.Y., 2 p.m. in London, 11 p.m. in Tokyo. The closest thing Hollywood has done with this is X-MEN 2, which opened on the same day in 80 countries, but not at the same hour.

The films are truly bizarre combinations of art, religion, philosophy, tons of production dollars, Hong Kong martial arts stylized action and that bizarre touch of filmmaking that only the Wachowskis can do.

And bizarre is perhaps the right word. Although in the first film Reeves did most of his own fights, in RELOADED his stunt double did the fights, with Keanu's face digitally placed onto the double's body. When you watch the film closely, it's pretty obvious. Moss apparently put on quite a bit of weight around the butt, perhaps due to her broken leg injury. Since she looked a bit too full around the arse when she was in tight leather, all those shots were digitally altered to make things a wee bit smaller. It also seems that the Wachowskis have added bizarre to their lives. Last year Larry left his wife of nine years for professional dominatrix Karin Winslow, whose ex-husband -- according to TV Guide -- says, "Larry is a Marilyn Monroe obsessive who likes to dress in drag: in a blond wig, pink frocks and stiletto heels." And this year sister Andy has completed his sex-change operation and filed for divorce from his wife and two children. So the film is no longer by the Wachowski Brothers, but the Wachowski family. I don't know about you, but it seems to me that these are more interesting stories than the film itself. It's no wonder no one is talking about anything and there's no publicity.

Matrix Reloaded RAVE

As a final note worth bringing up, Gloria Foster (a.k.a. The Oracle) died September 29th, 2001 of diabetes, before starting any work on REVOLUTION. Reports circulated that Hong Kong silver screen legend Cheng Pei-pei was in talks to replace her (remember, in the Matrix people can change form), but the filmmakers didn't want things to be too Asian. Maybe it's just me (and at the risk of sounding politically incorrect), but there didn't seem to be too many Asians or Caucasians at that rave dance party from RELOADED. I guess one Asian actor, Collin Chou, fulfilled the quota.

About Dr. Craig Reid :
Find us on facebook Written by Dr. Craig Reid for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM

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