China-based fans of the Wachowski sisters’ storied Matrix franchise have reason to celebrate, with the fourth film in the series — The Matrix Resurrections — receiving a January 14, 2022 release date on the Chinese mainland. The movie will be released in the United States on December 22, both in theaters and on HBO Max.
The release was announced on December 4 via Warner Bros’ official account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform. The post also included a version of the film’s poster for the Chinese market, which you can see below:
Image via Weibo
While the crew behind the fourth Matrix film has been relatively tight-lipped about its plot, we know that it will take place after the events of The Matrix Revolutions (2003) and will involve at least one red pill, a whole lotta blue pills, and an onslaught of action sequences.
Fans of the series will be well aware by now that fan favorites Keanu Reeves (Neo), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Jada Pinkett Smith (Niobe), and Lambert Wilson (The Merovingian) are returning to reprise their roles. Newcomers include British-Chinese actress Jessica Henwick (Bugs), Neil Patrick Harris (Neo’s therapist), and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who replaces the iconic Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus.
The Matrix Resurrections is the only major Hollywood film so far to receive a China release date in 2022, beating out the highly anticipated Spider-Man: No Way Home for a spot on the calendar.
“The release date for Matrix 4 is January 14, two weeks before the 2022 Spring Festival holiday. Usually, Spring Festival is the most competitive box-office season in China. So, it has perfectly avoided strong rivals — all supposed to be Chinese tentpoles — contending for the Chinese New Year holiday,” says Xu Fan, a Beijing-based film critic. “But it may have to face off [against] the new Spider-Man film, as rumors indicate [Spider-Man: No Way Home] will be released on the mainland on January 7.”
But considering the fact that three of the top five highest-grossing films worldwide of 2021 are Chinese films, and that eight of the 10 most financially successful movies in China this year are domestic titles, it’s worth pondering whether The Matrix Resurrections will enjoy success in the Chinese mainland.
Keanu Reeves and Jessica Henwick in The Matrix Resurrections. Image via IMDb
Chinese audiences are familiar with the film franchise, with the series’ first film — The Matrix (1999) — shown on big screens in January 2000. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) also secured a Chinese mainland release date on July 17, 2003 — two months after hitting silver screens in the US. The sequel grossed 5 million USD in the China market.
The Matrix Revolutions, though, dropped in Chinese theaters simultaneously with the rest of the world as part of a synchronized global release on November 5, 2003. It grossed a paltry 1.5 million USD over its five-day opening run.
“[The new film] will draw many Chinese sci-fi film fans. The franchise’s previous three films all won high reviews in China and have influenced some Chinese directors to create their own sci-fi tales,” Xu tells RADII.
Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix Resurrections. Image via IMDb
Unlike films like Dune and the Star Wars sequel trilogy, which suffered in the China market due to a lack of cultural relevance and unfamiliarity among Chinese audiences, the Matrix films enjoy several fundamentals that will resonate in the country.
For one, every installment in the franchise includes elements of wuxia, a genre of Chinese fiction or cinema that incorporates superhuman feats and martial arts. In fact, the Wachowski sisters recruited legendary Hong Kong martial arts choreographer and film director Yuen Woo-ping to oversee the action sequences in the first three films.
Yuen actually trained all the primary cast members — Reeves, Moss, Fishburne, and Hugo Weaving — in the art of kung fu from scratch. He also brought the physical wirework techniques he utilized in Hong Kong to the film’s production.
Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix Resurrections. Image via IMDb
And, while the Matrix films have no shortage of influences, ranging from Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Gnosticism, and Hinduism to philosophies such as existentialism and nihilism, one of the film’s core plot points has apparent similarities to an ancient Chinese story.
More than 2,000 years ago, before Julius Caesar declared himself perpetual dictator of Rome and before the birth of Christ, a Chinese Taoist philosopher asked himself a profound question: When I awaken from dreaming that I’m a butterfly, how can I be sure that I’m not still the butterfly dreaming that I am human?
俄然覺，則蘧蘧然周也。不知周之夢為胡蝶與，胡蝶之夢為周與。周與胡蝶，則必有分矣。此之謂物化。 Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. He didn’t know that he was Zhuang Zhou.
This concept — fleshed out in one of the foundational texts of Taoism written by Zhuang Zhou — had an undeniable influence on the central concept of the Matrix films: That reality is not what it seems.
Human revolutionary Morpheus, who frees Neo from the digital world created by the dominant machines in the first film, essentially paraphrases Zhou’s butterfly dream, asking, “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference from the real world and the dream world?”
But while The Matrix Resurrections’ philosophical underpinnings and combat scenes bode well for the film in China, its theatrical release in the country comes more than three weeks after the US — meaning piracy and dodgy online streaming sites may cut into its revenue.
Cover image via Weibo
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