Back in April, news surfaced that Jet Li was being courted to star in the two "Matrix" sequels. After a brief flurry of activity, including some pseudo-official announcements of Li's involvement, further news has been scarce. But now, Variety columnist Michael Fleming says Li has passed on the opportunity and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" star Michelle Yeoh is in the lead for Li's vacated role.
The reason for Li's non-committal is, as always, money. The hefty $30-million salary of Keanu Reeves combined with the many hands in the profit-sharing pot have depleted the production's resources to the point where Li was offered $1.5 million per picture a number way below the $9.5-million rate he's commanding. While a significant paycut is a reasonable excuse for exiting a picture, Li may come to regret the move if the "Matrix" trilogy taps into the same reverence given to the first three "Star Wars" classics. Of course, Li is one of the few people on the planet who has a legitimate chance to kick his own ass, so self-inflicted punishment is always an option.
Yeoh, best known as the woman who stole the show from Pierce Brosnan in "Tomorrow Never Dies," is garnering critical and audience acclaim for her work in Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Oscar talk has started to buzz around the film, which means the "Matrix" money-handlers will have to sign Yeoh soon before more nominations are announced and her asking price goes up.