Wednesday, May 28, 2003

The Matrix Trilogy's Chinese Connection

The Matrix Trilogy's Chinese Connection

The Matrix Trilogy's Chinese Connection

Keanu Reeves ("Neo") is one of Hollywood's most sought after and busiest leading men. He will next be seen in the highly anticipated The Matrix Revolutions, directed by the Wachowski Brothers. Reeves recently began production on the romantic comedy The Untitled Nancy Meyers Project starring opposite Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. His long list of credits include Hardball; his critically acclaimed performance in The Gift, opposite Cate Blanchett; Sweet November; The Replacements; A Walk in the Clouds; the hit thriller The Devil's Advocate, opposite Al Pacino and Charlize Theron; Little Buddha; and Much Ado About Nothing, in which Reeves starred with Denzel Washington, Emma Thompson and Michael Keaton. Reeves was also seen in Bram Stoker's Dracula; My Own Private Idaho; the action-adventure film Point Break; the very popular Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and its sequel Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. Raised in Toronto, Reeves performed in various local theatre productions and on television before relocating to Los Angeles. His first widely acclaimed role was in Tim Hunter's River's Edge. He then starred in Marisa Silver's Permanent Record and with Amy Madigan and Fred Ward in The Prince of Pennsylvania. Yet another turn came when the actor was cast as the innocent Danceny in Stephen Frears' highly praised Dangerous Liaisons alongside Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer. He joined other outstanding casts that year in Ron Howard's comedy Parenthood and in Lawrence Kasdan's I Love You to Death. Audiences saw Reeves for the first time as the romantic lead opposite Barbara Hershey in Jon Amiel's Tune in Tomorrow, also starring Peter Falk. His additional credits include Tri-Star's sci-fi thriller Johnny Mnemonic, Andrew Davis' action film Chain Reaction and the dark comedy Feeling Minnesota, directed by Steve Baigelman for New Line Cinema.

[Ed: Reeves' is one of Hollywood's highest paid stars. Reeves reportedly received US$30 million plus 15% of the profits for his role in Matrix Reloaded. But how many of Reeves' fans know that Reeves is part Chinese? Reeves' estranged father is half Chinese, half Hawaiian. You can easily miss Reeves' Chinese heritage if you don't know about it in advance, but take a closer look and I'm sure you'll say "Oh yeah, I see what you mean."]

Collin Chou ("Seraph") Born in Taiwan to a large family of eight brothers and four sisters, Collin Chou (aka "Seraph") began his training in martial arts at the age of five. When he was 12, Chou started his film career as a stunt man before landing his first leading role at the age of 18. After spending two years in service for the Republic of China Army, Chou moved to Hong Kong to pursue acting. Chou, who performs the majority of his own stunts, has exploded on the action scene and appeared in more than 30 feature films for top action directors such as Sammo Hung, Corey Yuen, Tsui Hark, Tony Ching and Yuen Wo Ping. Fluent in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, Chou is also a former member of Sammo Hung's Stuntman Team. Highlights of Chou's action work include the garage fight from License to Steal and his two fights with Jet Li in Bodyguard from Beijing and My Father is a Hero. The Matrix Reloaded marks Chou's first American film, and he will reprise his role for the final chapter in the Matrix film trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions. Currently living in Los Angeles, Chou and his wife Wanda recently welcomed twin sons into their family.

Randall Duk Kim ("The Keymaker") was born and raised in Hawaii, Mr. Kim made his stage debut at the age of eighteen playing Malcolm in Macbeth. His love of classics, especially Shakespeare, led him to the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis where he played Hamlet in Hamlet, Bishop Nicolas in Ibsen's The Pretenders and Zhevakin in Gogol's The Marriage. At the ACT in San Francisco, he played Richard III in Richard III and performed in The Taming of the Shrew, Three Penny Opera, O'Neill's Marco Millions and J. B. Priestley's When We Are Married. Mr. Kim has also... toured in one-man shows of Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman and a potpourri of classics, What Should Such Fellows as I Do? In 1994 he began accepting movie and television offers and co-starred with John Hurt in the BBC Special Prisoners in Time. Subsequently, he has played Alan Chan in The Replacement Killers and General Alak in Anna and the King, in addition to his key role in The Matrix Reloaded.

[Ed: Kim is Korean on his father's side, Chinese on his mother's.]

Marcus Chong ("Tank") was born Marcus Scott Wyatt, in Seattle, Washington on July 8, 1967. He started acting at the age of 9, appearing in Roots: the Next Generations. His early work also includes appeareances on Little House on the Prairie and Facts of Life. His acting coach was Betty Bridges, mother of Diff'rent Strokes star Todd Bridges. Marcus Chong is also an accomplished stage actor, who has appeared in the plays Standup Tragedy and Widows, as well as receiving both a Drama Desk Award and a Theater World Award for his performance in the latter. His film credits include his critically aclaimed role in Panther and the blockbuster The Matrix. His television appearances include regular roles on Street Justice and Vanishing Son. He has also appeared in several music videos. Marcus Chong is currently residing in New York and is working on a biographical novel and a screenplay.

[Ed: Chong's father is Tommy Chong, of "Cheech and Chong" 60's era comedy singing and acting duo fame. Tommy Chong is Chinese on his father's side, Scots-Irish on his mother's side. Marcus Chong and Matrix producer Joel Silver and writers/directors Larry and Andy Wachowski are currently mired in a bitter contractual dispute over the Matrix sequels. One can only hope that the matter can be settled amicably.]

Yuen Wo Ping (martial arts choreographer, director, actor) was born in Guangzhan in 1945, one of 12 children. He studied Peking Opera and kung fu under the tutelage of his illustrious father, Yuen Siu Tin, who was also a father figure to the young Jackie Chan... Yuen Wo Ping choreographed most of Ng's early kung fu hits, including Bloody Fists and Secret Rivals 2. For Shaw Brothers, Yuen arranged the fights for Chu Yuan's films The Lizard and The Bastard. He made his directorial debut for Ng See Yuen's newly formed Seasonal Films in 1978 with the hugely successful and influential Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, followed by Drunken Master, also starring Jackie Chan, and Dance of the Drunk Mantis, starring his brother, Sunny Yuen. Yuen also worked for Golden Harvest, directing the Wong Fei Hung films Magnificent Butcher. and Dreadnought. He formed his own company in 1979 and produced and choreographed Tsai Siu Ming's Buddhist Fist the following year. He directed his protege, Donnie Yen, in Drunken Tai Chi, followed by Tiger Cage, In the Line of Duty 4. and Tiger Cage 2. The revival of traditional kung-fu movies saw Yuen Wo Ping work on the fight sequences of Tsui Hark's Once Upon A Time In China films with Jet Li, and on Wong Ching's Last Hero In China. His other credits include the kung fu epics Tai Chi Master and Wing Chun. In 1993, Yuen directed one of his finest films, Iron Monkey, again starring Donnie Yen, and in 1994 he was fight choreographer on the film Fist of Legend. It was his work on this film that caught the attention of the Wachowski brothers.

Zhuang Zi (philosopher, posthumous screenwriter)

[Ed: See "The Matrix: Success due to Ancient Chinese Philosophy"]

Editor's Comments:

Chinese moviegoers from "liang an san di," (兩岸三地) have been jaded by long familiarity with "wu xia pian" (武俠片) conventions. Many of them remained resolutely underwhelmed by the fight scenes in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (臥虎藏龍). Be that as it may, the martial arts choregraphy in landmark films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix have forever altered Hollywood. Chinese martial arts film professionals, including neglected pioneers such as director King Hu (胡金銓) have raised the bar on action sequences in the international film industry to new heights, revolutionizing the way they are written and directed.

The Matrix Trilogy's Chinese Connection extends far beyond the incorporation of wu xia pian genre conventions, as revolutionary as that might be. Despite what much of the American or even Chinese moviegoing public assumes, the instantly recognizable, distinctively Chinese martial arts choreography in The Matrix Trilogy is merely the tip of the iceberg.

The visionary, eccentric Wachowski brothers saw fit to toss all sorts of Chinese ingredients into their recipe for the Matrix, from the Buddhist/Daoist philosophical premises of their startlingly original screenplay, to the unexpected but highly welcome casting of actors of Chinese or part Chinese descent in supporting and even starring roles.

Whether the Wachowski brothers did all of the above deliberately or unconsciously is anybody's guess. Perhaps even they aren't sure. The fact remains these elements are rife within the two installments released so far. They are present in such abundance, one is tempted to characterize The Matrix as a Chinese movie, and wonder if the Wachowski brothers weren't Chinese in a previous incarnation!

The point of all this is not to wallow in narrow "identity politics." That would be exactly the wrong thing to do. Quite the contrary. It is to welcome a new color-blindness in Hollywood. It is to rejoice in the fact that a formerly disenfranchised part of humanity is finally being acknowledged for its valuable contributions to world civilization.

The world today contains hundreds of nations, but the world today no longer contains hundreds of economies. The world today contains only one economy, the single, unified Global Economy. One virtue of this single, unified Global Economy is inclusiveness, enforced not by political fiat, but by economic incentives. Information Age "cultural creative industries" such as film and television are under constant, unrelenting market pressure to be ever more inclusive. The global marketplace may be immense, but it contains little room for bigotry.

A half century ago Hollywood did little more than export undiluted US cultural values to the rest of the world. Critics denounced this phenomenon as "cultural imperialism." Today the situation is not quite so simple. In order to win over consumers in the single, unified Global Economy, purveyors of popular entertainment must appeal to global audiences, not just US audiences. They can no longer pander to narrow political or cultural constituencies, but must champion universal values shared by all mankind.

Hollywood is still the "Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla," the dominant exporter of popular entertainment to the world. But as the recent wave of films created by Chinese film professionals working in Hollywood, or containing Chinese cultural content reveals, the intellectual property Hollywood exports often originates in Beijing (Zhang Yimou), Hong Kong (John Woo) and Taipei (Ang Lee).

The Matrix depicts an unrelievedly oppressive dystopian future that makes Orwell's "1984" and Huxley's "Brave New World" seem like Shangri-la in comparison. And yet the hellish world of the Wachowskis contains a multi-ethnic silver lining -- mankind has finally transcended narrow ethnic prejudice and been united, perhaps I should say reunited, as one family.

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Various Online Sources
Illustration(s): Keanu Reeves, Collin Chou, Randall Duk Kim, Marcus Chong, Yuen Wo Ping, Zhuang Zi
Author(s): Bevin Chu
Affiliation: Editor, CETRA Design Promotion Center, Design Information Section
Publication Date: 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

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