Beckons Jet Li
by William C. Martell
When Keanu Reeves said, "I know kung fu," in The Matrix, we knew it was something of a stretch for the new-to-the-martial-arts actor — not that we didn't enjoy his virtual face-offs with Laurence Fishburne.
Now, how about adding someone who really knows kung fu to the sci-fi action trilogy?
Will Jet Li do? Matrix filmmakers Andy and Larry Wachowski are courting the Hong Kong action star to join their ultracool sci-fi series. As Neo would say, "Whoa!" We say, "Great idea!"
The success of Romeo Must Die — it nearly tied for first place with Erin Brockovich its first week out — proves that there is indeed a Western audience for Li, who was previously known for his too-brief turn as a villain in Lethal Weapon 4.
It's not really a new idea: In the April issue of Premiere, the Wachowskis (who say, "Jet Li is God!") reveal that they had a martial-arts showcase scripted for Li in the first Matrix, "but eventually we couldn't afford Jet or the scene." The fight choreography, and martial-arts training for the leads, came courtesy of Yuen Woo-Ping, who honed his skills in many an HK flick.
Li says he's eager to work with the brother writing-directing duo. "They are very talented. If they invited me to do The Matrix sequel, I'd take it," he tells Premiere.
This week, unnamed sources confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the Wachowskis are "keen on making a deal" with Li, but that formal negotiations have yet to begin.
Joel Silver, who produced both Romeo and The Matrix, is said to have given the casting idea his full support.
What's not clear yet is whether they can afford Li this time either. Original stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, and Hugo Weaving, as well as the filmmakers and producers, have all seen significant pay hikes for the second and third Matrix installments.
In an upset over the Star Wars franchise, The Matrix swept the technical awards categories at this year's Oscars, netting all four of the Academy Awards for which it was nominated.
Romeo Must Die has grossed $38.8 million after two weeks. The Matrix racked up $171.3 million domestically. Work on the back-to-back sequels will begin in 2001.