The Real Reason Jet Li Refused A Role In The Matrix

The mid-2000s were a hell of a time to have a symmetrical face and know how to kick things. Martial arts-heavy franchises like The Transporter and the Bourne-iverse were just getting off the ground, and the creme de la creme was unquestionably the Wachowskis' breakout Matrix series. Audiences were still basking in the sweet, warm pod goo of not having seen a sequel to the first film yet, and could only speculate as to how definitely awesome and decidedly unpretentious future installments might be. Hollywood, too, was stoked on the guaranteed cash grab coming their way in the form of five more hours of tight leather and slow motion gunplay, with Warner Bros pouring a combined $300 million into parts two and three.

With that kind of cheddar, you'd think that the filmmakers would have had their pick of the litter in terms of acting talent, so it's surprising to find out that Jet Li turned down the role of Seraph in The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions. He was a rising star at the time, finally starting to make a name for himself with American audiences thanks to lead roles in The One and Romeo Must Die. Why wouldn't he want in on what was definitely destined to be the next Star Wars and not a rambling mess of messianic images and monology?

Do not go Jet Li into that goodnight

The answer is more Matrix-y than you'd think: he didn't want to be owned by computers. In an interview with Abacus, Jet Li stated that on top of a heavy shooting and prep schedule, he was concerned about the implications of having his movements captured digitally.

He's quoted as saying "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."

While it's a drag to think that we'll never see a Keanu v Jet Matrix sequence, nine months and the rights to your digital soul seems like a big ask for a character who only wound up with around twelve minutes of screentime anyway.