Directors: The Wachowski Brothers
Martial arts director: Yuen Woo-Ping
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Lawrence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
Reeves stars as Neo, a hacker who is drawn to a mysterious character named Morpheus, who says he may hold the key to Neo's reality. It turns out that Neo is actually living several hundred years in the future. Self-aware machines have taken over the world, using humans only as a form of energy. To placate their supply, the machines have created "the matrix," a sophisticated program that creates a sort of virtual reality. Morpheus (who, along with his "right hand" Trintity [Moss], leads a small group of rebels) believes Neo is "the one" who will finally smash the matrix once and for all and free humanity. Neo must decide who (and what) to believe -- is he really the one?
First off, you may be wondering what this review is doing here. Well, the martial arts sequences were coordinated by none other than Yuen Woo-Ping, the legendary director behind many of HK's seminal kung fu films, including Drunken Master and Iron Monkey. So let's get on with it...The Matrix was a runaway (and many thought a surprise) hit. I initially hesitated on seeing it because the film just had so much hype. It's been my experience that many films which get locked into the "hype machine" suck (for lack of a better word). Witness two films that came out around the same time as The Matrix and got just as much (if not more) hype -- Eyes Wide Shut and The Blair Witch Project -- two films that stunned me, not because they were so good, because they were so damn boring. At any rate, I was quite surprised when I finally saw The Matrix. I'm not a drooling fanboy (as you will see plastered all over the net) but the movie is damn good. In fact, it's the best action movie (both from the US and HK) that I've seen for quite a while.
For starters, it's great to see an original story in a US movie. Sure, the plot has elements of Blade Runner and other "cyberpunk" sci-fi films, but it's a far cry from the Lethal Weapon (two mismatched "buddies") clones that the Hollywood studios churn out. The script almost goes a bit overboard at times, but, thankfully, it keeps from going too full-boar into deep philosophical issues which may have killed the movie's full-tilt pace. The actors also perform well. They all spent six weeks with Yuen Woo-Ping, and it shows -- they look very convincing in the action sequences, and their acting chops aren't bad, either. A lot of people like to rip on Keanu Reeves, but I think he's a good actor when the film and/or director propels him to do so. He won't win any awards, but he is convincing as Neo. Carrie-Anne Moss (other than having one of those annoying "three name" names) is great -- she's sexy, smart and can whip major ass, a refreshing change from the ditzy females usually seen in US films and a definite nod to HK stars like Michelle Yeoh. Only Lawrence Fishburne (ironically the best overall actor in the cast) doesn't really fit into his character. When he speaks about deep philosophical concepts (see, that's why I brought it up before) he sounds too much like he's just reading from a script, instead of being someone who believes in the philosophy.
But what really propels The Matrix is its great visual style. The Wachowski brothers (along with their cinematographer Bill Pope) knew enough to "borrow" elements from other films (such as slow motion and using dual guns) but perfected a multiple-camera technique known as "bulletcam" that looks stunning. The Matrix truly looks like no other movie before it -- and that's saying a lot. The set design and costumes (along with really good special effects) are also great and help fully develop the strange world Neo inhabits.
If you're a HK film fan, you should definitely check out The Matrix.
A review of the DVD for this movie can be found here
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