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

Monday, May 26, 2003

The Matrix: Success due to Chinese Philosophy

The Matrix: Success due to Chinese Philosophy

"The Matrix Reloaded" Background in Religion Could Have Helped Buoy "Matrix"

No one knows why The Matrix became so popular, but perhaps the reason was a substantive religious subtext. Perhaps a strong connection to ancient Asian philosophical texts wrapped up viewers. Paul Manfredi, a professor at Pacific Lutheran University, makes the case for profundity. So does Thomas Rondinella, a professor of communications at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

With Hollywood insiders and ordinary film fans alike confidently predicting that this year's two Matrix sequels — The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions — will be the top event movies of the year, the two educators looked back at the picture that launched what likely will be one of the most significant film franchises of recent years.

Manfredi's area of expertise is Chinese language, literature and culture. Rondinella teaches film at Seton Hall. Both are fans of The Matrix. Each has seen it three or more times. Manfredi even uses it as a teaching tool in his classes. And both have thought long and hard about its significance. They agree that it's a pivotal picture. Rondinella likens it to Star Wars in terms of its impact on popular culture. "Every once in a while a movie comes out like this that really changes your perception of how you see things," he said.

Manfredi sees that ultramodern special effect as having its roots in age-old Chinese thought. Manfredi believes Reeves' character, Neo, is dematerializing himself on the atomic level when he goes into "bullet time" mode. He then rematerializes when the slugs have whizzed harmlessly past. The principle behind that "is very explicit in Chinese philosophy." Heroes like Neo, Manfredi said, "have a higher understanding of what the matter of our bodies is, and how they can manipulate it." Even down to the atomic level.

While acknowledging the debt those high-flying martial-arts stunt sequences owe to Asian moviemaking, particularly the brand spawned in Hong Kong, Manfredi said the Eastern influence is at least as pronounced in the plot (emphasis added).

At the start of The Matrix, Neo is awakened from a chemically induced and mechanically maintained state of slumber. He's cocooned in a machine-made womb where his senses have been numbed and his mind flooded with computer-generated images of himself living and working in an illusory city. He's shelved among millions of other people in similar states of suspended animation, and what they're suspended in is the Matrix.

In a key scene, Laurence Fishburne's character, Morpheus, a charismatic leader of the rebellion against the Matrix, gives Neo this literally eye-opening insight into his predicament:

"Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?"

Sci-fi mumbo jumbo? Not so, Manfredi said. Rather, it's an almost direct paraphrase of a passage from the Taoist [Daoist] philosopher Zhuang Zi [Chuang Tse, 莊子], who lived in the third century B.C.

"He asked the question: 'I wake up one day and I have no idea if I am who I am. Is my experience the dream of who I am or is my experience the reality? And there is no way to tell.'"

Manfredi said he doesn't know for certain that the Wachowskis were familiar with Zhuang Zi's writings when they penned The Matrix script, but he assumes they were.

Co-existing with the Taoist underpinnings of the plot is what Manfredi sees as a distinctively Christian component to the character of Neo. Morpheus awakens Neo from his endless sleep because he's convinced Reeves' character is The One: the long-sought messiah who will lead humanity out of bondage to the computers that run the Matrix.

Editor's Comments:

Professor Manfredi is correct. As the Wachowski brothers enthusiastically declared in a rare 1999 online chat, "There's something uniquely interesting about Buddhism and mathematics, particularly about quantum physics, and where they meet. That has fascinated us for a long time."

And as scholars of Daoism and Ch'an (aka "Zen") Buddhism know quite well, Dao and Zen are nearly interchangeable.

The Chinese religion of Taoism has greatly affected Buddhism. Early Chinese translations of Buddhist texts explained Buddhist concepts using Taoist terms. In fact, the Chinese Buddhist texts were so similar to Taoist texts that for a long time, Buddhism was thought to be a new form of Taoism ("The Spread of Buddhism Outside of India."). Also, Lao-tzu (the founder of Taoism) and the Buddha were supposed by the Chinese to be the same deity ("Buddhism." Encyclopaedia Britannica Online). During the T'ang dynasty, Buddhism and Taoism competed for followers within the court and the general population. One setback to Buddhism was the popularity of female deities in China. Buddhism was a very patriarchal religion, while Taoism included a goddess. Thus, as a result of the influences of traditional Chinese religions and the rivalry with Taoism, the Buddhist male deity, Kuan Yin, gradually came to be regarded as a female (Palmer and Ramsay with Kwok 6-20). During this period of religious rivalry, many aspects of Buddhism were "borrowed" by Taoism in its effort to gain followers. The many Buddhist sutras (texts that are similar to chapters in the Bible) that came into China at that time were quickly but sloppily copied by Taoists. Most times all that was changed was the name "Buddha" to "Lao-tzu," and sometimes even this was overlooked (Ch'en 474). The remnants of the religious exchanges of the T'ang dynasty still exist today.
-- Mary Kate Walthall, Buddhism: The Journey from India to China

Finally, compare this line of dialogue from The Matrix with a startlingly similar, nearly verbatim passage from "Chuang Chou's Butterfly Dream."

"The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth... that you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.... Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.... Remember, all I'm offering is the truth, nothing more... "
-- Morpheus, in The Matrix

"While they dream, they do not know that they are dreaming. Some will even interpret the very dream they are dreaming; and only when they awake do they know it was a dream. By and by comes the great awakening, and then we find out that this life is really a great dream. Fools think they are awake now, and flatter themselves they know -- this one is a prince, and that one is a shepherd. What narrowness of mind! Confucius and you are both dreams; and I who say you are dreams -- I am but a dream myself. This is a paradox. Tomorrow a Sage may arise to explain it; but that tomorrow will not be until ten thousand generations have gone by. Yet you may meet him around the corner.
-- "Chuang Chou's Butterfly Dream" ( 莊周夢蝶) translated by Lin Yutang (林語堂)

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: "The Matrix Reloaded" Background in Religion Could Have Helped Buoy "Matrix:"
Illustration(s): Larry Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Zhuang Zi, Seraph, Buddha
Author(s): Soren Andersen
Affiliation: Tacoma News Tribune
Source: URL:
Publication Date: May 16, 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Thursday, May 22, 2003

The Matrix: Chat with the Wachowski Brothers

The Matrix: Chat with the Wachowski Brothers

Chat with the Wachowski Brothers

blindrocket: Do you practice Martial Arts?
WachowskiBros: No, we do not, but we watch a lot of Kung Fu movies.

MadMatt: You guys BIG Jackie Chan fans??
WachowskiBros: Yes, we love a lot of Hong Kong cinema. Jackie Chan in Drunken Master II is fantastic..

Stone: Would you like to direct Jackie Chan?
WachowskiBros: Sure!

gdreams: Will you use Yuen Woo Ping again?
WachowskiBros: Hell yes!

Trinity303: Do you like John Woo's movies and style of shooting scenes of action?
WachowskiBros: John Woo was a genius. John Woo IS a genius.

hokeyboy: Were the filmmakers influenced by Alex Proyas's similarly themed "Dark City"?
WachowskiBros: No, but we thought it was very strange that Australia came to have three films associated with it that were all about the nature of reality. Dark City, The Truman Show and The Matrix.

Starr22: Is all the religious symbolism and doctrine throughout this movie intentional, or not?
WachowskiBros: Most of it is intentional.

Freethinker: Just out of curiosity, do you guys hold to any religious beliefs?
WachowskiBros: Non-denominational.

Wesbran: Is the title "The Matrix" related to the mitochondrial matrix located in cells; the site of cell respiration, the creation of energy in humans?
WachowskiBros: Like the movie itself, there is alot of word play, a lot of hidden other meanings, a lot of multiple meanings. Besides that, we also like the definition, the mathematical definition of the use of matrix, or the use of it in terms of a woman's womb.

agunn3: Have you ever been told that the Matrix has Gnostic overtones?
WachowskiBros: Do you consider that to be a good thing? I would.

linusa: Do you believe that our world is in some way similar to "The Matrix", that there is a larger world outside of this existence?
WachowskiBros: That is a larger question than you actually might think. We think the most important sort of fiction attempts to answer some of the big questions. One of the things that we had talked about when we first had the idea of The Matrix was an idea that I believe philosophy and religion and mathematics all try to answer. Which is, a reconciling between a natural world and another world that is perceived by our intellect.

Ronin: Your movie has many and varied connections to myth and philsophy, Judeo-Christian, Egyptian, Arthurian, and Platonic, just to name those I've noticed. How much of that was intentional?
WachowskiBros: All of it.

wrygrass: Did ideas from Buddhism influence you in making the film?
WachowskiBros: Yes. There's something uniquely interesting about Buddhism and mathematics, particularly about quantum physics, and where they meet. That has fascinated us for a long time.

Lincoln: What is your fave line in the movie?
WachowskiBros: Dodge this. And "there is no spoon." We also liked that one.

Enigma: The character Neo: Is Neo his real self and Thomas Anderson who he is 'required' to be?
WachowskiBros: Neo is Thomas Anderson's potential self.

Action: Am I really watching the movie right now, or am I in...The Matrix?
WachowskiBros: Take another blue pill and call me tomorrow.

Editor's Comments:

The above is an edited version of an online chat with the Wachowski brothers, conducted shortly after the release of their 1999 box office hit, The Matrix. The Matrix, as anyone who hasn't been living under a rock knows, was the first part of a trilogy. Part II, entitled The Matrix Reloaded, is currently entering its second week of release.

I have reproduced only those segments which suggest the central role that Chinese martial arts and Chinese metaphysical systems such as Buddhism and by implication, Daoism, play in their revolutionary, mind-bending epic.

The movie's official website notes that "The Wachowski brothers have remained relatively tight-lipped regarding the religious symbolism and philosophical themes that permeate the film, preferring that the movie speak for itself."

Alert readers will notice that although the Wachowski brothers have been bombarded with questions about every religious and spiritual system under the sun, they have shaded their answers in every instance except one. The only time this dynamic writing and directing duo has ever responded without hesitation, without equivocation, without diplomatic circumlocution, was when they were asked about Buddhism.

wrygrass: Did ideas from Buddhism influence you in making the film?

WachowskiBros: Yes. There's something uniquely interesting about Buddhism and mathematics, particularly about quantum physics, and where they meet. That has fascinated us for a long time.

Shades of Fritof Capra's "Tao of Physics." As the film trilogy's box office performance reveals, the Wachowski brothers are obviously not alone in their fascination with Chinese martial arts and Eastern philosophy.

Box Office Summary for The Matrix Reloaded One Week After Release (US Dollars)

Box Office Total: $134,282,716
Box Office Opening: $91,774,413
No. of Weeks at #1: 1
No. of Weeks in Top 10: 1

Who knew ancient Chinese cultural traditions held such enormous profit potential?

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Chat with the Wachowski Brothers
Illustration(s): The Elusive, Camera Shy Wachowski brothers
Author(s): None
Affiliation: Warner Brothers
Publication Date: November 6, 1999
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

The Matrix Reloaded: Interview with Yuen Wo Ping (袁和平)

The Matrix Reloaded: Interview with Yuen Wo Ping (袁和平)

Interview: Yuen Wo Ping on the Matrix Reloaded

In 1999, The Matrix ushered in a new dimension to science fiction movies by introducing Hong Kong style action. It became a landmark in Hollywood action movies. It brought the martial arts choreographer behind this movie, Yuen Wo Ping, to new career peaks. The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon established for Yuen Wo Ping a firm foothold in Hollywood and he became a grandmaster wushu choreographer of this era in the West. Even the old movie, Iron Monkey, did not fare badly at the US box office when it was introduced there in Oct 2001, grossing US$14.7 million.

The Matrix sequels, Reloaded and Revolutions, have become the focus of everyone and the most anticipated movies this year. Yuen Wo Ping continued to choreograph the martial arts for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions as well as training the actors and actresses. With strong finance backing, many unprecedented action sequences were staged.

Recently, Yuen Wo Ping, who the man who is also behind such hits as Fist of Legend, Drunken Master and Master of Taichi, granted Hong Kong Economic Daily an interview, and talked about how he felt working in the two sequels.

Could Have Done Better

On mentioning that The Matrix is of major significance to Yuen Wo Ping, he merely brushed it aside lightly, "I think there should be some significance, but I went through a lot in the process, it is imperative to have someone you could work with. Every time a production is released, I would find it to be lacking in some aspects on viewing it again. For instance, the outmoded shooting method in Hong Kong. With improved technology and use of computer generated images, I always felt that they could have been better, judging by today's standards of digital age."

Larry and Andy Wachowski brothers, directors of The Matrix, are zealous fans of Hong Kong action films. They chose to work with Yuen Wo Ping due to their admiration for him. "Before shooting The Matrix, the Wachowski brothers watched lots of Hong Kong movies, in order to look for someone who suited their style and they found me. This doesn't imply that that the others were not good; it was because my style was more in tune with their ideas."

They Have Clear Ideas What They Want

However, on going to the set, the Wachowski brothers earned Yuen Wo Ping's respect for their directing talents, "They are exceedingly great action directors. I have encountered many Hollywood directors, when they shoot action scenes, they employ multiple cameras at the same time. However, the Wachowski brothers are like the Hong Kong directors, using only one camera. This shows that they know very well what they want, and from which angle would the shot be most convincing. Their judgement are like the Hong Kong directors' and the outcome is also very precise."

Both The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions were shot at the same time, and Yuen Wo Ping and Larry and Andy Wachowski collaborated in the same fashion as they did in the original movie. During the one and a half year shoot, the actions were conceptualised beforehand and no action was changed last minute on the set, and this is what that bowled Yuen Wo Ping over.

"The Wachowski brothers would first relay, very clearly, to me their ideas and instructions for each scene, right down to the nitty-gritty like the number of action scenes, how they wanted the fights to be like, and for how long. After that, I would choreograph the moves, have the moves demonstrated, and after further talks and tailoring, I began to teach the actors and actresses the stunts. Most directors would completely leave everything pertaining to action sequences to the action directors while the Wachowskis would be involved in the planning of each and every move. On the set, I would help the directors on how to best capture the actions."

Contemporary Ways of Fighting

The actions in The Matrix sequels are bounteous and complicated. Every role, from Keanu Reeves' Neo to Hugo Weaving's Agent Smith, needed the aid of a martial arts instructor. Yuen Wo Ping brought along many assistants. The actors and actresses had to undergo five months of basic training, "As a few years had passed since the first movie, it was inevitable for the actors and actresses to be out of touch with the movements. So everyone had to be trained from the beginning. Only after the fundamental training could we design the stunts for them." Yuen Wo Ping added that the moves were choreographed according to the script and the directors' demands, and not based on the abilities and limitations of the actors and actresses. "There was no excuse for not being able to execute anything; They had to carry out the moves on the set."

The world of Matrix is filled with bizarre imaginations and, under the aid of computers, the characters can do anything they wish. However, Yuen Wo Ping does not want the action to be over-exaggerated and lose realism, opting instead to present a realistic choreography.

"Although the movements in science fiction need not belong to any specific sects or styles, they basically need to carry the notions of action. To choreograph The Matrix, I let go of Eastern, Western styles of fighting. What I sought for was realism in the fights, eliminating decorative movements - this is the contemporary fighting style. When two persons fight, it's one punch followed by another continuously, no swerving of the body after every blow." However, the movie ultimately relies mostly on special effects, and Eighth Master, as Yuen Wo Ping is commonly known, also said that the computers helped a lot, "Whenever there was flying, computers were needed. What the humans could do are, undoubtedly, limited."

Yuen Wo Ping Toys around with Chinese Weapons

Yuen Wo Ping came up with new ways of fighting in the Matrix sequels, inter alia, introduced such Chinese weapons as spear and three-pronged fork. It was also very difficult to handle, "Keanu Reaves had high expectations and demands on himself, when he thought that he did not carry out the moves good enough, he would be angry with himself, he sought perfection in his moves."

My Most Satisfactory Action Scene

There are many memorable scenes in the original Matrix movie. Among them was the fight scene on the rooftop, where there was not only exchange of martial arts but also novel CGIs showing Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving dodging bullets. Yuen Wo Ping said that he was most happy with the scene on the rooftop. "We upped the ante in The Matrix Revolutions and The Matrix Reloaded with more complex and sophisticated martial arts scenes." Eight Master, had the most kicks with the rooftop fight scene with pouring rain in Matrix Revolutions, which he described as earth shattering. He especially looks forward to seeing the final cut of this scene on the big screen.

Keanu's Solo Fight against a Hundred

One of the highlights of The Matrix Reloaded is Keanu Reeves being surrounded by 100 Agent Smiths. "What I wanted is not haphazard fight but one with layers after layers of depth. Keanu will deal with 15 first, then 30, snowballing in such a way. But the most tiring was Hugo Weaving who was playing Agent Smith. He had to do hundred different moves, and I had to think of hundred different combat techniques for him."

Editor's Comments:

Rivers of ink have been devoted in recent years to "cultural creative industries," usually accompanied by intense hand-wringing over our place in the Global Village. Due to any number of irrelevant factors meanwhile, the contribution of martial arts choreographers such as Yuen Wo Ping to the "cultural creative industries" of the emerging Global IT Village have consistently been overlooked.

Meanwhile, film makers from the Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland regions of China have forged a spontaneous revolution in Hollywood film-making. Yuen's contributions to the Wachowski brothers' Matrix Trilogy and Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are film Art with a capital A -- just as much as Gene Kelly's joyous choreography for Singing in the Rain or athletic choreography for The Pirate.

Parenthetically, martial arts action/comedy star Jackie Chan once confided to the Hollywood press that his dream as a youth was to become "the Chinese Gene Kelly." Few will dispute that the internationally famed Chan has more than realized his dream.

The "cultural creative industries," if truth be told, are alive and well. They are all around us, like the air we breath. They emerge, unbidden, from our rich 5,000 year old cultural tradition. To experience them we need not search far and wide, rummaging through dusty nooks and crannies. We need merely remove the artificial blinders we have placed over our own eyes.

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Yuen Wo Ping on the Matrix Reloaded
Illustration(s): Yuen Wo Ping, The Battle Continues, Neo Fights, Neo Stops Bullets, Neo Spins, Neo Attacks, Neo, Neo & Agents, The Keymaker
Author(s): Chen Jia Chang
Affiliation: Nangfang City Daily/Hong Kong Economic Daily
Publication Date: April 24, 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Thursday, May 15, 2003

SARS: A Better Breathing Mask

SARS: A Better Breathing Mask
[人因工程 ]

In The Age Of Sars, Make a Better Breathing Mask and the World Will Beat a Path to Your Door

St. Louis, Mo., May/June 2003: In the age of SARS, what the world needs is a better respirator, or breathing mask. As hospitals worldwide face major shortages of masks, Da-Ren Chen, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, has developed material for a breathing mask, creating a polymer recipe of nanofibers so tiny and skinny that the entry of harmful particles as minute as viruses and bacteria is nearly impossible.

The mask is comprised of just less than two percent material, more than 98 percent air. Thus, it is inexpensive to mass-produce, allowing companies a good profit opportunity. Because it is constructed of such tiny nanofibers, it is far more comfortable to wear than commercial masks.

"What we've done is to improve the particle collection ability while reducing the pressure drop that occurs when air molecules hit the mask fiber surface, which is what makes people uncomfortable," said Chen, a member of Washington University's Environmental Engineering Science Program.

Ninety percent of respirators or masks made today are made of glass fibers, which are under fire by some critics as posing health problems. Chen's material is a synthetic polymer. Current masks or respirators are made of fibers as small as 500 nanometers, but Chen's are made in the 20 to 30-nanometer range.

The tiny size of the fiber material is important because bacteria are actually in the micrometer size range. One micrometer is one-millionth of a meter (a meter is approximately one yard); one nanometer is approximately one-billionth of a yard. A nanometer is one-thousandth of a micrometer; in comparison, a strand of human hair is typically 50 to 100 micrometers thick.

Yet, viruses are even smaller creatures, most of them are in the nanometer size range. Thus, Chen is shooting for material in the 20-nanometer range.

Editor's Comments:

Da Ren Chen is a mechanical engineer engaged in research in the field of particle measurement and instrumentation, particle filtration and separation, aerosol dynamics modeling, aerosol science and technology. Chen received his B.S. from the National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu, Taiwan, ROC, and a doctorate from the University of Minnesota.

Chen's innovative, possibly revolutionary, synthetic polymer is remarkable, both for its technical performance and price performance characteristics. Even users who don't "need" face masks made from Chen's new material, might purchase them strictly on the basis of cost savings. Ironically the very same physical characteristics that make Chen's nanofiber so great technically, also reduce material costs to almost nothing. As the report notes:

"The mask is comprised of just less than two percent material, more than 98 percent air. Thus, it is inexpensive to mass-produce, allowing companies a good profit opportunity. Because it is constructed of such tiny nanofibers, it is far more comfortable to wear than commercial masks."

A face mask that filters out harmful matter more thoroughly, yet feels less suffocating than its competitors, precisely because it is over 98% air. Now if that doesn't qualify as intelligent product design, not to mention good business sense, I don't know what does.

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: In The Age Of Sars, Make a Better Breathing Mask and the World Will Beat a Path to Your Door
Illustration(s): Da Ren Chen, Ph.D.
Author(s): Robert Batterson
Affiliation: Washington University in St. Louis
Publication Date: May/June 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

SARS: How to Wear a Face Mask

SARS: How to Wear a Face Mask
[人因工程 ]

How Should a Face Mask be Worn and Disposed Of?

It is important that face masks should be worn properly, according to the manufacturer's directions, based on the particular mask design. If you do not have access to specific instructions, follow these general procedures.

1. Wash your hands before putting on the mask.

2. Gently stretch the mask so that it covers your nose and mouth. The colored surface should face out and the side with the metallic/plastic integral strip should be on top.

3. For elastic ear-loop masks, the elastic loops on both sides should be worn around the ears.

4. For tie-on masks, the upper strings are tied at the back of the head above the ears, and the lower strings are tied at the back of neck below the ears. The strings should not be crossed as this will create a gap around your cheeks.

5. The mask should cover your nose, mouth and chin.

6. Mold the metallic/plastic strip so that if conforms to the bridge of your nose and achieves the best possible air seal.

7. Surgical face masks are intended to be used for a short period of time (several hours), then disposed of afterwards. It is acceptable however to use them for longer periods under normal conditions. Change them when they are dirty, wetted, contaminated or damaged.

8. Dispose of used masks by putting them in plastic or paper bags. Seal or tie the bags and dump them in a trash bin.

Editor's Comments:

The above instructions are admittedly nothing more than common sense. Nevertheless sometimes even an item so simple as a face mask can be be ergonomically confusing.

Those who are not mechanically inclined, i.e., those whose VCRs are still flashing "12:00... 12:00... 12:00... " a year after they purchased them, might not notice that some masks are not symmetrical. They may confuse the top of the mask with the bottom of the mask. (Note: The top of some masks include a form-fitting metallic or plastic nose strip.)

Worse, they may confuse the inside of the mask with the outside of the mask. Consider the possible downside of such confusion. If one wears a mask one way the first time, but the opposite way the next time, one can easily wind up inhaling contaminants deposited on the front of the mask the first time it was worn. For most wearers this will make no difference whatsoever. For the one wearer in a million whose mask actually intercepted some SARS viruses, it could make a big difference.

Murphy's Law states that "If anything can go wrong, it eventually will." The job of the designer, whether architect, urban planner, industrial designer -- even the designer of something as basic as an inexpensive disposable paper face mask, is to help the end user cheat Murphy's Law. This is no easy assignment, requiring designers to anticipate what might go wrong with a product and design around it in advance. If we think of design as a game of chess, then the great designer is the Grand Master who is able to think several moves in advance. But then that's why we get paid the big bucks, right?

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: How Should a Face Mask be Worn and Disposed Of?
Illustration(s): Ear Loop Mask, Tie On Mask
Author(s): Unidentified
Affiliation: Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Publication Date:
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Monday, May 5, 2003

Nonergonomic! Lateral Stability in Sideward Cutting Movements

Nonergonomic! Lateral Stability in Sideward Cutting Movements
[人因工程 ]

Lateral Stability in Sideward Cutting Movements

With respect to leverage, the barefoot situation has an advantage over the shod situation. The shoe sole increases the lever arm and as a consequence the moment about the subtalar joint. (emphasis added)

All other shoes had one result in common: torsion increased from touchdown to maximum, which, given similar forefoot angles, is equivalent to an inversion moment of the rearfoot relative to the forefoot. Such a movement is not welcomed to improve the lateral stability.

When looking at the forefoot, there are two different landing techniques that can be observed. Barefooted "the flat-foot approach" is chosen by lowering the metatarsals parallel to the ground. With shoes the medial border of the forefoot touches the ground first causing a forefoot angle of around 20%. Within a time span of 40 ms the forefoot is then lowered toward the ground thereby rolling over the medial border of the shoe sole. In other words, a "rolling approach" can be observed with shoes.

Inversion is mostly reduced in the barefoot condition.

The best lateral stability can be observed in the barefoot condition.

Editor's Comments:

Ironically, many shoes loudly touted as "ergonomic" feature ludicrously wide soles, supposedly to offer "lateral stability." The "ergonomic" shoe designers apparently imagine shoe soles that flare out like horses' hooves provide human feet with greater stability. But human beings are not horses, human legs are not horses' legs, and human feet are not horses' hooves. Human locomotion is far too different from equine locomotion for the latter to be applicable to human shoe design. As Stacoff, Steger, Stussi and Reinschmidt note, "The shoe sole increases the lever arm and as a consequence the moment about the subtalar joint." The net result is not more, but less stability as the sole of the foot is artificially wrenched from its natural (and correct) position. Once more, the Law of Unintended Consequences asserts itself, seriously discrediting the "ergonomic designers'" simplistic understanding of human anatomy.

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Lateral Stability in Sideward Cutting Movements
Illustration(s): Unnaturally Wide "Ergonomic" Soles
Author(s): Alex Stacoff, Jurg Steger, Edgar Stussi, and Christoph Reinschmidt
Affiliation: "Lateral stability in sideward cutting movements," Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28(3), 1996, pp. 350-358.
Publication Date: April 11, 1997
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Nonergonomic! Footwear Use Responsible for Ankle Injury

Nonergonomic! Footwear Use Responsible for Ankle Injury
[人因工程 ]

Footwear Use Responsible for Ankle Injury

Ankle sprains are common sports injuries. Inadequate awareness is thought to be the fundamental cause of these injuries. Ankle taping may decrease the risk of injury through improving foot postition awareness.

While taping improves foot position sense when humans wear athletic footwear, it remains poor compared to the barefoot condition if we use barefoot pre-exercise data available from a previous report for comparison. Absolute foot position error was 4.11%, 3.13%, and 1.96% for athletic footwear, athletic footwear taped, and barefoot, respectively. Therefore when compared to the barefoot condition, foot position awareness was 107.5% worse in uptaped subjects with athletic footwear, and 58.1% worse in ankle taped subjects wearing athletic footwear.

The inescapable conclusion is that footwear use is ultimately responsible for ankle injury. The conclusion is consistent with observations made among populations where barefoot activity is the norm. Ankle sprains are uncommon in these groups.

From another perspective it suggests that most ankle injuries are not inherent to sport, but rather are caused by footwear. (emphasis added)

Editor's Comments:

The conclusion that "most ankle injuries are not inherent to sport, but rather are caused by footwear" is a devastating indictment of "ergonomic" designers and their handiwork. Designers specializing in footwear should consider such findings a sobering wake up call, and undertake a humble reevaluation of their fundamental premises.

Such findings are not fundamentally hostile to the footwear industry per se, merely certain products promoted as "ergonomic" by certain footwear manufacturers. I have made this point in the past, but feel compelled to stress it again.

Product lines routinely undergo complete replacement, if not for "ergonomic" reasons, then for purely stylistic reasons. Unsafe footwear designs can be phased out as sound designs based on genuine ergonomics are phased in. Footwear manufacturers can surely profit just as much, if not more, from genuinely ergonomic products as from pseudo-ergonomic products.

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Ankle Taping Improves Proprioception before and after Exercise in Young Men
Author(s): Steven Robbins, Edward Waked, and Ron Rappel
Affiliation: "Ankle taping improves proprioception before and after exercise in young men," British Journal of Sports Medicine, 29(4), 1995, pp. 242-247.
Publication Date: May 29, 1996
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Nonergonomic! Footwear and Flat Feet

Nonergonomic! Footwear and Flat Feet
[人因工程 ]

Footwear and Flat Feet

In Europe and America flat foot is a common reason for attendance at a children's orthopaedic clinic, but in India children are seldom brought for treatment for flat foot. The few children who do attend with this complaint are from affluent urban families and they all wear shoes. In our clinic we have never seen a child from the farming community or from the family of a manual labourer who complained of flat foot.

The high concentration of flat foot among six-year-old children who wore shoes as compared with those who did not, implies that the critical age for development of the arch is before six years.

Our cross-sectional study suggests that shoe-wearing in early childhood is detrimental to the development of a normal or a high medial longitudinal arch. The susceptibility for flat foot among children who wear shoes is most evident if there is associated ligament laxity. We suggest that children should be encouraged to play unshod and that slippers and sandals are less harmful than closed-toe shoes.

Editor's Comments:

Modern man has gotten into the habit of overriding the wisdom of Nature, on the assumption that we have acquired such immense scientific wisdom we know better. "After all, we put a man on the moon, didn't we?" Such smug, out of context hubris backfires on modern man more often than we realize, exacting an often unseen cost in every area of our lives, including our physical health. It is high time we reacquired a modicum of the reverence our ancestors had for natural processes.

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Footwear and Flat Feet
Illustration(s): High Arch, Normal Arch, Flat Arch
Author(s): Udaya Bhaskara Rao and Benjamin Joseph
Affiliation: "The Influence of Footwear on the Prevalence of Flat Foot," The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 74B(4), 1992, pp. 525-527.
Publication Date: December 27, 1996
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect