The Matrix movies were a phenomenon when they came out in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They were probably the biggest American martial arts film of all time. Jet Li was one of the biggest action stars of the era, first in his home country of China, then in the States. It seems like having Li star in The Matrix would be a no-brainer. In fact, he was offered the role of Seraph in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, but turned it down. The role ended up going to Collin Chou.
In a recent interview with Abacus News, Jet Li finally reveals why he declined the role: to defeat the rise of the machines. Well, not quite. But that was a legitimate concern of his. “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.” He was concerned that, with the direction technology was headed, the film company could take his moves, digitally reproduce them, and superimpose anyone's face onto his. “I was thinking: I’ve been training my entire life. And we martial artists could only grow older. Yet they could own [my moves] as an intellectual property forever. So I said I couldn’t do that.”
This seems like a perfectly reasonable reason to decline the role. He has spent his entire life training, choreographing, creating his moves. And while practical effects have made a comeback in the last few years, in the early 2000s, everyone was crazy for digital effects. Who knows what his moves would have been used for.
Jet Li will next be seen in Disney's live-action retelling of Mulan.