Sometimes, missing the boat on a franchise like The Matrix turns out to be a painful decision to have made. However, in the case of Jet Li turning down a crucial role in both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, it was a clean and easy decision. His refusal to participate in those films was boiled down to the following rationale:
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. 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.
While taking the role of Seraph, the guardian and companion to The Matrix universe's Oracle, could have set Li up for life; there was that one catch that made him uneasy. No one can blame him for turning it down either, as any martial artist, or even any actor, will tell you, their signature characteristics are what keep them in the business. So, for the sake of Jet Li's livelihood, as well as his unique moves, it was the choice that he felt had to be made, with the role eventually going to actor Colin Chou.
Apparently, according to Abacus News, this recent discussion isn't the only time that Jet Li has voiced concerns about technology overtaking the film industry. In fact, previous remarks have basically shown that Li had the right to fear that, one day, if the studios really wanted to, they could make it look like any other actor was performing moves only Li was known for.
Despite turning down what became the monolithic Matrix franchise, Jet Li went on to do pretty well for himself. Not only did he use that time he would have spent kicking Agent Smith's ass to fight for the glory of China in Hero, he also went on to be part of the wildly successful Expendables trilogy. As if that wasn't enough, Li is about to become part of the Disney family, as he'll be playing the Emperor of China in the live-action remake of Mulan.
While actors turning down big roles in The Matrix trilogy has given us some pretty massive "what if" scenarios in the past, there's no question that Jet Li has done rather well for himself, and hasn't looked back. Though, now, there's an entire alternate universe version of The Matrix trilogy that sees Will Smith, Val Kilmer, and Jet Li fighting a whole bunch of machines; and we can't help but think about how interesting that version could have been.
You can see Jet Li next in Mulan, which is set to hit theaters on March 27, 2020.