Karate enters age of “Matrix”

USA Today reports on Matrix style Karate in modern films

In Rush Hour 2, which opens Friday, Jackie Chan takes on a formidable foe, Zhang Ziyi of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame. The pair tussle, martial-arts style, with high kicks and rapid-fire karate chops, their limbs thrusting and attacking simultaneously. Many action movies these days are bending over backward to pull off such extravagant action scenes. You could even say American films have been Matrix-ed.

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It was that landmark 1999 sci-fi film that made graceful martial artistry and gravity-defying leaps the hottest moviemaking trend in Hollywood and spurred a much-emulated formula: merging traditional martial arts with the latest computerized film technology.
Some recent movies influenced by The Matrix include:

Cats & Dogs, which features ninja-garbed cats leaping and kicking with kung fu expertise.

The Mummy Returns, which shows a reincarnated Nefertiti and another Egyptian princess engaging in combat using sais, or swordlike weapons.
Osmosis Jones, opening Aug. 10, in which a white blood cell and an evil virus duel in a midair battle.

“Right now everybody is the same: Fly up to the sky for 20 takes and 100 punches,” Chan says. “When I saw The Matrix, I said, ‘Whoa, it’s about time I retire.’ … Studios spend $20 million to hire Keanu Reeves, who doesn’t know martial arts, but it doesn’t matter because the special effects can make everybody an action star.”

Even Madonna has gotten in on the action. In her world tour, she transforms herself into a geisha who vanquishes a group of tormentors in a martial-arts-inspired routine. TV shows such as The Simpsons and upcoming fall action dramas such as Alias and Thieves feature women kicking butt — performing martial arts, that is.

Matrix-style fight sequences may be just the ticket for studios under fire from the government for excessive violence in youth-oriented films. The stylized violence of this genre makes it easier for some films to get the coveted PG-13 rating.

“It’s less brutal, sort of a step back from reality,” says James Wong, who directs Jet Li in the fall sci-fi action film The One. “It’s a little more fantastic and entertaining than the grittier style where people actually get hurt.”

Martial arts in movies is not new. “It’s always been there and always will be there,” says Rush Hour 2 producer Arthur Sarkissian. “It’s how one introduces it, either through a star or some sort of new style, which Matrix did. The next person who comes along and adds a new twist to it keeps it alive.”

Even the original innovator must find new ways to reinvent itself.

“The Matrix sequels are going to have to push the envelope even further,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations.

Directors/brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski have been shooting the two Matrix sequels simultaneously, though they’re staying mum about the projects, due next year and in 2003.

But Matrix producer Joel Silver promises new visual thrills.

“Wait till you see what we’re doing,” he says. “Think of a car chase inside the matrix. It’s beyond anything you could ever imagine.”

By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY