Keanu Reeves, Priyanka Chopra on “The Matrix”, respect for Asian cultures in cinema

In 1999 “The Matrix” came out and with it the phrases “red pill”, “bullet time” and “free your mind” entered the cultural lexicon. It was another world back then, when the technology taking over our brains was science fiction. For Keanu Reeves, our current over-reliance on technology is what makes “The Matrix: Resurrections,” the latest installment in the franchise, all the more relevant.

“I think it encompasses the technology, or the way we interact, and also has a futuristic aspect – in terms of programs, artificial intelligence, machines, all kinds of sentients and the interactions of those. I feel like that gives us a perspective to hopefully sit down and ask ourselves where we’re at. And what do we do? ” Reeves told NBC Asian America.

Does that mean Reeves is hyper aware of the technology in his own life and is taking a step back? “Both are true,” he replies.

“The Matrix Resurrections” hits theaters and on HBO Max on Wednesday, December 22. It takes place in an apocalyptic future where robots became sentient and trapped the human race in a computer program called the Matrix, so their bodies could be harvested for energy.

Reeves plays Neo, who in the original trilogy tried to free humanity from the machines. He died at the end of the original trilogy. So how does he come back in this new movie?

Without giving anything away, “Resurrections” takes place after the events of the trilogy and reunites Reeves with his “Matrix” co-star Carrie-Ann Moss, who plays Trinity. And it also introduces new faces. One is Bugs (named after Bugs Bunny), played by Jessica Henwick, who is on a mission to find Neo and save him from the Machines, which once again trapped him in the Matrix.

For Henwick, who is of Chinese descent, the film is important for having Asians in leading roles without any question of identity. Bugs was not written to be Asian, and “it was not a conscious decision to choose an Asian person for Bugs. But I know it means a lot to the community, and it’s amazing, ”said Henwick. “And obviously Keanu was ahead of the game and was a brilliant top.”

In recent years, headlines have made headlines positioning Reeves, whose father was Hawaiian Chinese, as a person of color. “I don’t know if I agree with this statement. But I don’t agree, ”he admits.

At the same time, although he rarely talks about his ethnicity, Reeves considers himself Asian. “My relationship to my Asian identity has always been good and healthy. And I love it, “he said with a smile.” We grew up together.

Similar to the previous films in the franchise, “Resurrections” mixes Japanese animated films and Chinese kung fu, with a contemporary action-adventure sensibility. It also takes tenants of Eastern and Western philosophies and religions, with Neo having been interpreted as a figure of Christ and as Siddhartha leading his followers to the Enlightenment.

It is directed and co-written by Lana Wachowski, who co-created the “Matrix” franchise with her sister, Lilly. When casting, it was important to make sure that the film was not only entertaining, but also respectful of the Asian cultural sources from which it drew.

Priyanka Chopra Jonas in ‘The Matrix Resurrections’. Photos of Warner Bros.

“I think ‘The Matrix’ movies really respect that,” said Priyanka Chopra, who is also in the new movie. “Bringing in the Eastern philosophy, which I have – having grown up in the East and raised in India – I feel like there is something so powerful about the ancient wisdom that comes from cultures that are so ancient and that have been passed down from generation to generation. to generation.

In “Resurrections”, Chopra plays Sati, a sensitive computer program that decides to help humans. The name Sati also comes from the Buddhist term for mindfulness, which Chopra sees as reflected in his character. “It’s really cool for me to play the character of Sati,” she said. “It’s a program, but at the same time, the philosophy it defends is peace, humanity. And peace between humans and machines, and will that ever be possible. ”

There is also a lot of kung fu fighting and shootouts in the new movie. To help choreograph the stunts, “Resurrections” employed Jonathan Eusebio, who worked with Reeves on the “John Wick” franchise and Tiger Hu Chen, who worked on the original “Matrix” franchise.

“Chen was my teacher on the trilogy, and it was wonderful working with him on ‘Resurrections’,” Reeves said. “We know each other, he’s a wonderful martial artist. So I really feel grateful and honored to be able to spend time with him.

In the film, Reeves has a central clinch with actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – who plays Morpheus, but a different version of the character played by Laurence Fishburne in the original trilogy. They are in a setting reminiscent of a Japanese dojo (where Abdul-Mateen is dressed in a kimono robe and men’s pants).

“With martial arts, [we’re] present these art forms in an artistic way, in a respectful way. Not in a way where it’s experienced as a caricature, but from a place of reverence, ”the actor said.

Henwick also points out that the Wachowskis were “ahead of the curve in terms of diversity” when casting the original “Matrix” films. And that the new film continues that trend by ensuring that onscreen and offscreen gamers come from a range of backgrounds. Lana Wachowski herself is trans and was released in 2010. “Lana is a huge fan of martial arts movies and anime,” Henwick said. “She’s seen more anime than I’ve actually seen. So I know she would never get there except from a place of true love.

Warner Bros. had been pressuring the Wachowskis for decades to make more “Matrix” movies, but the duo refused. It was only in the last few years, after the death of their parents, that Lana had the idea of ​​making another film.

So “Resurrections” is not so much an end-of-the-world action-adventure film, but a more existential film, about mourning and loss, and about perseverance. In the new movie, Neo remarks that “I don’t feel like anything I’ve done in my life has mattered.” This time, Neo is not a figure of Christ who will save humanity. Instead, he’s a beacon for the characters, on how to strive for something beyond survival.

Wachowski was clear that the story was a story of hope. Chopra said she found the movie to be not so much about a savior. Instead, it is a group of people coming together towards a higher goal. “The collective is such a big part of this movie, and that makes me really happy.”