Keanu Reeves Opens Up About His Asian Identity and ‘Love’ of Martial Arts

by Allison Hambrick
TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 16: Actor Keanu Reeves attends the Canadian Premiere of "The Matrix Resurrections" held at Cineplex's Scotiabank Theatre on December 16, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Sam Santos/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Pictures Canada)

The Matrix icon and internet boyfriend Keanu Reeves discussed his Chinese Hawaiian heritage with pride, while also describing his enjoyment of martial arts.

“My relationship to my Asian identity, it’s always been good and healthy,” Reeves said in an interview.
And I love it. We’ve been growing up together.” As for his feelings on being called a person of color, the actor is decidedly neutral. He said “I don’t know if I agree with that statement, but I don’t not agree.”

Additionally, Reeves returned to his martial arts roots for The Matrix Resurrections. He was reunited with past teacher and current friend, Tiger Hu Chen. Chen is a martial artist and stunt double who worked on the original Matrix trilogy. He also works as a stunt double, serving as Uma Thurman’s double in Kill Bill. Chen also had cameos in The Matrix Reloaded and John Wick: Chapter Three–Parabellum, both of which star Reeves.

“Chen was my teacher on the trilogy, and it was wonderful to work with him on Resurrections,” said Reeves. “He’s a wonderful martial artist, so I feel really grateful and honored to be able to spend time with him.”

While the Matrix franchise is helmed by Lana Wachowski, it draws a lot of influence from Asian cultures. Both the original film and Resurrections feature fights taking place in a dojo setting. Reeves believes that Wachowski does a good job of paying tribute to her influences as opposed to appropriating them.

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

Keanu Reeves Was ‘Ahead of the Game’ Says Costar

In addition to Reeves, Resurrections cast two actors of Asian descent in major roles. British Chinese actress Jessica Henwick, who is known for her role in Iron Fist, plays Bugs, who attempts to rescue Reeves’s Neo from the Matrix. Indian actress Priyanka Chopra plays Sati, a sentient program that decides to help the humans. Sati first appeared as a child in The Matrix Revolutions. In that film, she was played by Tanveer K. Atwal.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision to choose an Asian person for Bugs,” explained Henwick. “But I know it means a lot to the community, and that’s amazing. And obviously, Keanu was way ahead of the game and has been a shining pinnacle.”

When discussing Wachowski, both actresses had kind things to say about her reverence for Asian culture.

“Lana is a self-confessed, huge fan of martial arts cinema, of anime,” Henwick added. “She’s seen more anime than I have, actually. So I know that she would only ever come at it from a place of real love.”

Additionally, Chopra felt that The Matrix films “really respect” their inspirations. Wachowski paid a lot of attention to detail, even down to characters’ names. While Bugs comes, of course, from Bugs Bunny, Sati comes from the Buddhist term for mindfulness.

Chopra appreciated Wachowski’s vision, stating: ‘To bring in Eastern philosophy, which I — having been raised in the East and grown up in India — feel like there’s something so powerful about the ancient wisdom that comes down, from cultures that are so old, and have been passed down from generation to generation.”

The Matrix Resurrections releases simultaneously in theaters and on HBOMax on Dec. 22.