The Matrix: Groundbreaking Martial Arts and Wire Work

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"The Matrix" is a movie with a lot of ideas, but it is unmistakably a rousing action-thriller at the same time. Many of the fight scenes in the story dramatically demonstrate the evolution of Neo's character and the power of his adversaries. The style of these physical confrontations grows directly from the nature of The Matrix.

Explain the Wachowskis, "Once you start dealing with a digital reality you can really push the boundaries of what might be humanly possible. So if characters in 'The Matrix' can have information instantaneously downloaded into their heads, they should, for example, be able to be as good a Kung Fu master as Jackie Chan."

This premise offered the Wachowski brothers a chance to work in another area of their particular interest - the fight choreography seen in Hong Kong action films. "We've always wanted to bring Hong Kong wire stunt and fight sensibilities into our Western story ideas. This was the perfect opportunity."

Executive producer Barrie Osborne describes the difference between Eastern and Western-style fight choreography: "Most American stunt work uses rams or pneumatics to project a person through the air at a certain speed. With wire-stunt work, the stunts are far more controlled and very stylized. It's almost like puppeteering, but using a real person. It takes tremendous skill and finesse."

The brothers had long admired the work of YUEN WO PING - one of the top Hong Kong stunt specialists in both Kung Fu and wire-stunt work. When they mentioned his work to Joel Silver, they learned that he was also a fan of Wo Ping's rapid-fire, stylized fight choreography, and that he supported their desire to incorporate Wo Ping's work into "The Matrix."

Barrie Osborne located Wo Ping in China and the filmmakers contacted him to ask if he'd join their team. Wo Ping agreed to work with the Wachowskis under only one condition: they would have to guarantee that their cast would train long hours to learn Kung Fu and how to work with the wires. Says Wo Ping, "The training is very intensive and not something you can go into without a serious commitment.

"First we had to train the cast to work with the wires, to balance with the wires, and we then began to hoist them up into the air. The most difficult part of the process is to land without losing balance, so it looks very natural, as if the actors have made that leap without any assistance. They then had to learn how to fight Kung Fu style."

Say Larry and Andy Wachowski, "It was a big request for us to make. How do you tell an actor that they're going to have to spend four months training and learning Kung Fu when they could make another movie in that same time? That's what impressed us about Keanu. He understood why it was necessary and the dedication it required. In fact, the whole cast amazed us with their dedication to the training regime - it was incredibly rigorous and we were extremely proud of them all."

The cast trained with Wo Ping and his team for three months in Los Angeles before moving to the movie's Sydney, Australia location for another month of training before filming began. Asserts Keanu Reeves, "It was an honor to work with Wo Ping; I've always been a fan of his work and it was a wonderful opportunity to learn his techniques and style of fighting.

"In the beginning he worked very closely with us to see what we were good at and what we weren't very good at. He then trained us around that."

Acknowledges Wo Ping, "Given that none of the cast had any kind of Kung Fu background or knowledge, the final results were far better than I could ever have hoped to achieve. And that was because of the dedication of all those involved."

Adds Laurence Fishburne: "Wo Ping's choreography is second to none. It's very exciting and has great dramatic effect. I believe we were the first Western actors to work in this particular style and I feel tremendously grateful to have had that opportunity. Plus I'm now fitter than I have ever been before and that's a great feeling!"

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