The Matrix franchise revolutionized the film industry through cutting-edge special effects, an innovative story, and characters unlike any ever seen onscreen. The movies featured futuristic special effects and intense action — notably, impressive martial arts scenes. Though The Matrix movies undoubtedly used martial arts in fascinating ways, one icon of the sport declined a high-profile role in the films because of how they depicted martial arts.

‘The Matrix’ franchise heavily uses martial arts

Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving in ‘The Matrix’ | Ronald Siemoneit/Getty Images

The Matrix movies are impressive in more ways than one. From incredible special effects to riveting performances, there’s much to draw the eye. However, one of the most distinctive elements is how the action sequences use martial arts.

The films employ many martial arts styles, including kung fu (memorably practiced by Neo), wing chun (aka Chinese boxing), jiu-jitsu, and aikido. Taekwondo also heavily features in The Matrix movies, including during Neo’s iconic subway fight with Smith.

Ultimately, the franchise is not only a futuristic fable but also a love letter to martial arts and its practitioners.

‘The Matrix’ producers reportedly wanted to digitize Jet Li’s martial arts moves

The Matrix producers didn’t just want to include lots of martial arts fight scenes. They also wanted a martial arts icon to have a featured role in the films. The Wachowski siblings offered Jet Li the part of Seraph when The Matrix Reloaded was in active development. He ultimately turned down the role, but not because he wasn’t interested.

“It was a commercial struggle for me. I realized the Americans wanted me to film for three months but be with the crew for nine,” Li revealed to Abacus in 2018. “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.”

The icon noted he didn’t feel comfortable with his moves being recorded. “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,” Li revealed.

Who ended up playing Jet Li’s role in the movies?

Interestingly, Seraph was initially written as a woman. However, the Wachowskis campaigned hard for Li to take the role, changing the character’s gender to male so he would be interested in the part.

Ultimately, after Li turned down the part, it was back to the drawing board for the producers, and they began looking for another actor. The role of the guardian of the Oracle ultimately went to Taiwanese actor and martial artist Collin Chou.

Chou and Li had no hard feelings over the incident. Down the road, they worked together when the former appeared in Li’s 2006 film, Fearless.

As for The Matrix films, they have grown in popularity over the years, with their special effects and martial arts sequences holding up well.