Every decade has the few films which define the era, these movies change the game entirely, they ignite something new and unseen before in cinema, forever making their mark. In the 20s it was Chaplin’s The Kid and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Gone With the Wind was the epic of the 30s, Citizen Kane and Casablanca in the 40s, The Godfather, Star Wars, Alien in the 70s and in 1999 The Matrix was released. At the turn of the century audiences were treated with an action packed, cerebral and supremely unique experience.
The Matrix is a layered and sophisticated journey through the visionary minds of the Wachowski sisters, but what The Matrix achieves flawlessly is its ability to weave ground-breaking action within an intellectually complex plot. The Wachowskis committed to the action; they weren’t going to pull any punches. Whether it was a gun fight or a hand to hand duel, the Wachowskis ensured they had the best.
Characterized by the stylized blend of shootouts with martial arts, The Matrix was the peak of action choreography with none other than the legendary Woo-Ping Yuen behind it all. His work includes Drunken Master, Once Upon a Time in China, Iron Monkey, among other martial arts masterpieces. In addition, Chad Stahelski (Keanu Reeve’s stunt double) and Australian stunt coordinator Glenn Boswell were part of the team that made The Matrix an action classic.
At the turn of the century audiences were treated with an action packed, cerebral and supremely unique experience.
The slick action and almost ballet like hand to hand combat sequences were however no easy task to create. 4 months of rigorous training, from martial arts training to wirework, 4 months of blood, sweat and tears that soon paid off. Keanu Reeves despite undergoing neck surgery did 95 percent of the martial arts and stunt work Neo does in the film according to Stahelski. That's one of the things the Wachowskis were great at. They want you to believe in the character. They don't want you to believe it's Chad, or it's Keanu Reeves, they want you to believe that it's Neo. As long as we don't let that illusion slip, we're good Stahelski said in an interview with SYFY Wire.
Perhaps the scene that brings it all together is the phenomenal subway duel between Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and Neo (Keanu Reeves). A brutal display of hand to hand combat and flawless choreography. Yes, the action often defies physics, and yes, the walls crumble as they are battered but these are the rules already established in the Matrix and the exaggeration only contributes to the experience. The sequence hardly lasts 4 minutes but it is a highlight. Remarkable wirework and convincing action from two actors and a stunt team dialling everything to eleven create a moment that is the epitome of action.
The Matrix in many ways brought the mesmerising world of martial arts - that at the time was restricted to Hong Kong – to Hollywood. Every Hollywood movie that goes beyond a bar brawl to something more elegant owes itself to The Matrix and more than 20 years later it holds up as one of the greatest action movies ever made. The Matrix is the result of dedication, hard work, practice and pain, Stahelski broke a wooden beam with his head as he was thrown during a stunt, one of many injuries the stunt team would endure to create the masterpiece The Matrix is. Its influence is evident today and will continue to be the example of martial arts seamlessly incorporated in a big budget film. Needless to say, Hollywood is grateful.