The Matrix Reloaded: Interview with Yuen Wo Ping (袁和平)
Interview: Yuen Wo Ping on the Matrix Reloaded
In 1999, The Matrix ushered in a new dimension to science fiction movies by introducing Hong Kong style action. It became a landmark in Hollywood action movies. It brought the martial arts choreographer behind this movie, Yuen Wo Ping, to new career peaks. The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon established for Yuen Wo Ping a firm foothold in Hollywood and he became a grandmaster wushu choreographer of this era in the West. Even the old movie, Iron Monkey, did not fare badly at the US box office when it was introduced there in Oct 2001, grossing US$14.7 million.
The Matrix sequels, Reloaded and Revolutions, have become the focus of everyone and the most anticipated movies this year. Yuen Wo Ping continued to choreograph the martial arts for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions as well as training the actors and actresses. With strong finance backing, many unprecedented action sequences were staged.
Recently, Yuen Wo Ping, who the man who is also behind such hits as Fist of Legend, Drunken Master and Master of Taichi, granted Hong Kong Economic Daily an interview, and talked about how he felt working in the two sequels.
Could Have Done Better
On mentioning that The Matrix is of major significance to Yuen Wo Ping, he merely brushed it aside lightly, "I think there should be some significance, but I went through a lot in the process, it is imperative to have someone you could work with. Every time a production is released, I would find it to be lacking in some aspects on viewing it again. For instance, the outmoded shooting method in Hong Kong. With improved technology and use of computer generated images, I always felt that they could have been better, judging by today's standards of digital age."
Larry and Andy Wachowski brothers, directors of The Matrix, are zealous fans of Hong Kong action films. They chose to work with Yuen Wo Ping due to their admiration for him. "Before shooting The Matrix, the Wachowski brothers watched lots of Hong Kong movies, in order to look for someone who suited their style and they found me. This doesn't imply that that the others were not good; it was because my style was more in tune with their ideas."
They Have Clear Ideas What They Want
However, on going to the set, the Wachowski brothers earned Yuen Wo Ping's respect for their directing talents, "They are exceedingly great action directors. I have encountered many Hollywood directors, when they shoot action scenes, they employ multiple cameras at the same time. However, the Wachowski brothers are like the Hong Kong directors, using only one camera. This shows that they know very well what they want, and from which angle would the shot be most convincing. Their judgement are like the Hong Kong directors' and the outcome is also very precise."
Both The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions were shot at the same time, and Yuen Wo Ping and Larry and Andy Wachowski collaborated in the same fashion as they did in the original movie. During the one and a half year shoot, the actions were conceptualised beforehand and no action was changed last minute on the set, and this is what that bowled Yuen Wo Ping over.
"The Wachowski brothers would first relay, very clearly, to me their ideas and instructions for each scene, right down to the nitty-gritty like the number of action scenes, how they wanted the fights to be like, and for how long. After that, I would choreograph the moves, have the moves demonstrated, and after further talks and tailoring, I began to teach the actors and actresses the stunts. Most directors would completely leave everything pertaining to action sequences to the action directors while the Wachowskis would be involved in the planning of each and every move. On the set, I would help the directors on how to best capture the actions."
Contemporary Ways of Fighting
The actions in The Matrix sequels are bounteous and complicated. Every role, from Keanu Reeves' Neo to Hugo Weaving's Agent Smith, needed the aid of a martial arts instructor. Yuen Wo Ping brought along many assistants. The actors and actresses had to undergo five months of basic training, "As a few years had passed since the first movie, it was inevitable for the actors and actresses to be out of touch with the movements. So everyone had to be trained from the beginning. Only after the fundamental training could we design the stunts for them." Yuen Wo Ping added that the moves were choreographed according to the script and the directors' demands, and not based on the abilities and limitations of the actors and actresses. "There was no excuse for not being able to execute anything; They had to carry out the moves on the set."
The world of Matrix is filled with bizarre imaginations and, under the aid of computers, the characters can do anything they wish. However, Yuen Wo Ping does not want the action to be over-exaggerated and lose realism, opting instead to present a realistic choreography.
"Although the movements in science fiction need not belong to any specific sects or styles, they basically need to carry the notions of action. To choreograph The Matrix, I let go of Eastern, Western styles of fighting. What I sought for was realism in the fights, eliminating decorative movements - this is the contemporary fighting style. When two persons fight, it's one punch followed by another continuously, no swerving of the body after every blow." However, the movie ultimately relies mostly on special effects, and Eighth Master, as Yuen Wo Ping is commonly known, also said that the computers helped a lot, "Whenever there was flying, computers were needed. What the humans could do are, undoubtedly, limited."
Yuen Wo Ping Toys around with Chinese Weapons
Yuen Wo Ping came up with new ways of fighting in the Matrix sequels, inter alia, introduced such Chinese weapons as spear and three-pronged fork. It was also very difficult to handle, "Keanu Reaves had high expectations and demands on himself, when he thought that he did not carry out the moves good enough, he would be angry with himself, he sought perfection in his moves."
My Most Satisfactory Action Scene
There are many memorable scenes in the original Matrix movie. Among them was the fight scene on the rooftop, where there was not only exchange of martial arts but also novel CGIs showing Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving dodging bullets. Yuen Wo Ping said that he was most happy with the scene on the rooftop. "We upped the ante in The Matrix Revolutions and The Matrix Reloaded with more complex and sophisticated martial arts scenes." Eight Master, had the most kicks with the rooftop fight scene with pouring rain in Matrix Revolutions, which he described as earth shattering. He especially looks forward to seeing the final cut of this scene on the big screen.
Keanu's Solo Fight against a Hundred
One of the highlights of The Matrix Reloaded is Keanu Reeves being surrounded by 100 Agent Smiths. "What I wanted is not haphazard fight but one with layers after layers of depth. Keanu will deal with 15 first, then 30, snowballing in such a way. But the most tiring was Hugo Weaving who was playing Agent Smith. He had to do hundred different moves, and I had to think of hundred different combat techniques for him."
Rivers of ink have been devoted in recent years to "cultural creative industries," usually accompanied by intense hand-wringing over our place in the Global Village. Due to any number of irrelevant factors meanwhile, the contribution of martial arts choreographers such as Yuen Wo Ping to the "cultural creative industries" of the emerging Global IT Village have consistently been overlooked.
Meanwhile, film makers from the Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland regions of China have forged a spontaneous revolution in Hollywood film-making. Yuen's contributions to the Wachowski brothers' Matrix Trilogy and Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are film Art with a capital A -- just as much as Gene Kelly's joyous choreography for Singing in the Rain or athletic choreography for The Pirate.
Parenthetically, martial arts action/comedy star Jackie Chan once confided to the Hollywood press that his dream as a youth was to become "the Chinese Gene Kelly." Few will dispute that the internationally famed Chan has more than realized his dream.
The "cultural creative industries," if truth be told, are alive and well. They are all around us, like the air we breath. They emerge, unbidden, from our rich 5,000 year old cultural tradition. To experience them we need not search far and wide, rummaging through dusty nooks and crannies. We need merely remove the artificial blinders we have placed over our own eyes.
Explanation: Yuen Wo Ping on the Matrix Reloaded
Illustration(s): Yuen Wo Ping, The Battle Continues, Neo Fights, Neo Stops Bullets, Neo Spins, Neo Attacks, Neo, Neo & Agents, The Keymaker
Author(s): Chen Jia Chang
Affiliation: Nangfang City Daily/Hong Kong Economic Daily
Publication Date: April 24, 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect