Jet Li (born 1963) has been called the Fred Astaire of Hong Kong action film. He is known for his lightning fast moves and inventive choreography. He has been making movies since 1982. The “Once Upon a Time in China” series made him a Hong Kong superstar.He was 46 in 2009. He has made kung fu movies in both mainland China and Hong Kong. He lives in Shanghai.
Jet Li was born Li Lianjie. He acquired his screen name in 1982 in the Philippines when a publicity company thought his real name was too hard to pronounce. The company likened his career to an aircraft, which "takes-off" as quickly, so they placed the name Jet Li on the movie posters. The name caught on and soon everybody was calling him that. It is also said that"Jet" was a nickname, given to him as a young student, due to the speed of his moves.
Jet Li is a naturalized Singaporean citizen. For a while he a U.S. citizenship in part because he spent so much time there working. In 2009, he renounced his US citizenship. He is said to have chosen Singapore for its education system for his two younger daughters. Li is a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism. His master is Lho Kunsang. One of his hobbies is collecting rare Tibetan beads. In his free time he likes to play badminton and table tennis, ride his bicycle, read and meditate. Jet Li has criticized Chinese censors, especially in regard ro the fact that few of his Hollywood movies are shown on the mainland. “Romeo Must Die” was banned because of it gangsters. “Kiss the Dragon” was banned because Li’s character, a policeman, kills foreigners.
Jet Li has said the he struggles with love scenes in his movies because has naturally introverted personality. On his web log he said, “Every time I start a move I don’t know how to have a conversation with the female lead. I’m rather introverted.” Li married Nina Li in September 1999. They have two daughters. “You realize, “I put myself out there. I can give up my fame and success, give up my status, give up my money. I’m willing to die for her.” You realize this is love.”
Websites: Love Hong Kong Film lovehkfilm ; Hong Kong Cinemagic hkcinemagic.com ; Hong Kong Movie Database hkmdb.com; Martial Artist’s Guide to Hong Kong Films magthkf.ronlim.com ; Chinese Film Classics chinesefilmclassics.org ; Senses of Cinema sensesofcinema.com; 100 Films to Understand China radiichina.com. dGenerate Films is a New York-based distribution company that collects post-Sixth Generation independent Chinese cinema dgeneratefilms.com; Internet Movie Database (IMDb) on Chinese Film imdb.com ; Wikipedia List of Chinese Filmmakers Wikipedia ; Shelly Kraicer’s Chinese Cinema site chinesecinemas.org ; Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Resource List mclc.osu.edu ; Love Asia Film loveasianfilm.com; Wikipedia article on Chinese Cinema Wikipedia ; Film in China (Chinese Government site) china.org.cn ; Directory of Interent Sources newton.uor.edu ; Chinese, Japanese, and Korean CDs and DVDs at Yes Asia yesasia.com and Zoom Movie zoommovie.com ; Bruce Lee, the Divine Wind bruceleedivinewind.com ; Jackie Chan Official Site jackiechan.com ; ; Wikipedia article on Jackie Chan Wikipedia . Books: ”Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit” by Bruce Thomas, the bassist in Elvis Costello’s group The Attractions. Jackie Chan Autobiography: “I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action” (Ballantine Books). “Hong Kong Babylon, Guide to the Hollywood of the East”, a well researched book by New Yorker staff writer Frederic Dannen; the enthusiastic “Hollywood East: Hong Kong Movies and the People Who Make Them” by Stefan Hammond (Contemporary Books, 2000); “Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment” by David Bordwell (Harvard University Press, 2000); “The Hong Kong Filmography 1977-1997" by John Charles (McFarland).
Jet Li's Life
Jet Li was born in Beijing. He was the youngest of two boys and two girls. When he was two years old, his father died and his family then lived in poverty. He began studying wushu at the age of 7 and eventually became a five-time all-China wushu champion. In 1974, he performed on the White House lawn in front of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger as part of the People's Republic junior wushu team. According to Li, Nixon asked him to be his personal bodyguard. Li replied, "I don't want to protect any individual. When I grow up, I want to defend my one billion Chinese countrymen!"
Jet Li has been married twice and has four daughters In 1987, Li married Beijing Wushu Team member and "Kids from Shaolin" co-star Huang Qiuyan, with whom he has two daughters, Si and Taimi. They divorced in 1990. He said his first marriage was done out of obligation and never developed into loving relationship. In 1999, Li married Nina Li Chi (born Li Zhi), a Shanghai-born, Hong Kong-based actress. He has two daughters with her, Jane (born 2000) and Jada (born 2002). His marriage to Nina Li, he said, was out of love. On his first wife he said, “In terms of how much emotion each person devoted, she maybe gave 90 percent or 80 percent. At most I gave...I still haven’t figured it out. She was a classmate two years his elder. “My family was poor,” he said. “Her family was well-off. She often took care of me. That’s how it happened. I didn’t know what love was.”
Jet Li was vacationing in the Maldives when the Great Tsunami of December 2004, that killed 220,000 people, struck. For a while it was reported that he might be dead but it turned out he only injured his foot as he protected his four-year-old daughter and nanny from tsunami waves that flooded his hotel. Associated Press reported: Li was with his daughter in the hotel’s lobby when huge waves gushed into the hotel, the Apple Daily newspaper reported, quoting a friend vacationing with Li. He slightly injured his foot while picking up his daughter, the report said. Ming Pao Daily News reported Li struck his foot against a floating piece of furniture. [Source: Associated Press, December 29, 2004]
Jet Li’s Martial Art Skills
Li’s wushu skills was noticed when he practiced at a school summer course at an eight-year-old . After attending a non-sparring wushu event, he joined the Beijing Wushu Team which did a martial art display at the All China Games. Renowned coaches Li Junfeng and Wu Bin spent considerable time developint the boy’s talents and even bought food for Li's family in order to boost his protein intake. At age 12 he competed against adults in the national all-around wushu championship from 1975 to 1979 and won. [Source: Wikipedia]
Li told Internet Celebrity: My winning first place caused quite a sensation because I was so young. I was 12 years old, and the other two medalists were in their mid- to late twenties. During the awards ceremony, as I stood on the top step of the podium, I was still shorter than the 2nd and 3rd place medalists. It must have been quite a sight.”
Li is a master of several styles of wushu, especially Fānziquán (Tumbling Fist) and Chángquán (Northern Longfist Style). . He has also studied Ying Zhao Quan (Eagle Claw Fist) , Xing Yi Quan (Shape Intent Fist), Taijiquan (Supreme Ultimate Fist), , Zui Quan (Drunken Fist), Baguazhang (Eight Trigram Palm) and Tanglangquan (Praying Mantis Fist). He did not learn Nanquan (Southern Fist), because his training focused only in the Northern Shaolin Styles. He has also mastered wushu's main weapons, such as the Jian (Straight Sword), Sanjiegun (Three Section Staff) and Gùn, Dao (Broadsword). Li retired from competitive wushu when he was only 18 because of a knee injury. He served as an assistant coach of the Beijing Wushu team for several years.
Jet Li Hong Kong and Mainland Films
Jet Li made his film debut while still s a teenager in the 1982 film “Shaolin Temple”, which made Shaolin Temple a major tourist attraction as the birthplace of kung fu and remains one of the most popular kung fu films ever. “Once Upon a Time in China” made him a star. Some critics believe that Li’s best Hong Kong films are “Fong Said Ache” and “My Father Is Hero”. In a memorable scene from “New Legend of Shaolin” he fights off a dozen attackers with an infant strapped to his back. Jet Li was making the Chinese-language film “Ci Ma” (“Piercing Horse”) in 2007 with Chinese actress and director Xu Jingiei. He played the lead role in "Hero″ — Zhang Yimou's most commercially successful film
Li's most famous Chinese films include: 1) The "Shaolin Temple" series (1, 2 and 3); 2) The "Once Upon a Time in China" series (Chinese title: Wong Fei Hung), about the legendary Chinese folk hero Master Wong Fei Hung; 3) "Fist of Legend" (Chinese title: Jing Wu Ying Xiong), a remake of Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury.; and 4) the Fong Sai Yuk films, about another Chinese folk hero. Li had was involved in two wuxia feature films released in 2011: "The Sorcerer and the White Snake" and "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate". The latter was directed by Tsui Hark.To promote tai chi, in 2012, Li starred in a film titled Tai Chi and co-produced the movie with Chen Kuo-Fu. Li portrayed Tai Chi master Yang Luchan.
Li starred in the 1995 film High Risk, where Li plays a Captain who becomes disillusioned after his wife is murdered by crime lords. Along the way, he pairs up with a wacky sell-out actor, Frankie (played by Jacky Cheung), and proceeds to engage in a series of violent battles in a high-rise building. The setting is similar to that of "Die Hard". This movie is notable in that director Wong Jing had such a terrible experience working with Jackie Chan in his previous film "City Hunter" that he chose to make Cheung's character a biting satire of Chan. Li would later publicly apologise to Chan for taking part in it. [Source: Wikipedia]
Jet Li’s “Fearless” (directed by Ronny Yu, 2006) is about Huo Yuanjia, a kung fu master who turns from a fighter into to a man who preaches martial arts as a means of self-betterment. On the role, Li said, “It’s my most important film because it is the heart if my philosophy — that the biggest enemy is within yourself.” Huo popularized Wushu as a legitimate combat style around the world. Jason Lin, former executive at Alibaba Pictures, told RADII: Unlike more recent nationalistic films, Jet Li’s Fearless is undoubtedly a film that celebrates the wisdom and depth of China, Chinese philosophy and Chinese sports, but it takes a global and balanced approach. The film’s main message is that there are many types of martial arts from the around the world. It is not a matter of which one is better but a matter of which practitioner of the martial arts will respect the rules of the sports and strive for greatness but also understand the values of competition should bring out the best in humanity. It’s a film many more of us should be re-watching in these times. [Source: RADII]
Jet Li Hollywood Films
Poster for Shaolin Temple 2
Jet Li made his Hollywood debut playing the villain in the film “Lethal Weapon 4" (1998), a role he took even though it meant a a pay cut to around $1 million. He then appeared in “Romeo Must Die” (2000), “Cradle 2 the Grave” and “The One”. Warner Bros signed him up to a multi-picture deal because women in a test audience loved him. The best scene in “Romeo Must Die” shows Jet Li using his costar, the late hip hop singer Aaliya, as weapon in fight against a female villain. Li said, "[My] character wouldn't hit a girl. I thought, 'Why not use the girlfriend?'"
Li could barely speak any English when he made his Hollywood debut in 1998 but now is regarded as fluent. He told the Los Angeles Times, “When I started I only knew how to say “good morning,” “thank you” and few single words. Warner Bros hired a teacher and he taught me enough. If you want to make Hollywood movies you need to study [English].”
Li worked in France in the Luc Besson-produced films “Kiss of the Dragon” (2001) and “Unleashed” (2005). He co-starred in “The One” (2001) and “War” (2007) with Jason Statham, “The Forbidden Kingdom” (2008) with Jackie Chan, all three of The Expendables films with Sylvester Stallone. He was the title character villain in “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” (2008). In “Rouge” Jet Li plays a violent assassin who is sought by an FBI agent whose partner was killed by Li’s character. Li has also supplied his voice and stunts to the video game “Rise and Honor”.
Li turned down Chow Yun-fat's role in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) because he promised his wife that he would not make any films during her pregnancy. He also turned down the role of Seraph in “The Matrix” trilogy, based on his belief that the role was not one which required his skills and that the films were iconic and stunning enough without adding his name to the cast list. Li was also cast as Kato in The Green Hornet when the film was still in development in 2000. In 2001, it was moved to another studio. When the film was moved on again and released in 2011, the role of Kato was portrayed by Jay Chou.
Jet Li Agreed To Star In ‘Mulan’ to Please His Daughter
Jet Li plays the Emperor in Disney’s live-action remake “Mulan” (2020). He had originally turned down the role due to the script and pay but changed his mind after his then 15-year-old daughter, Jada, requested him to take up the role, the actor said an email interview with Shin Min Daily News. [Source: Jia Ling, theAsianparent, September 7, 2020]
Li was 57 years old when he played the role. Jia Ling wrote in theAsianparent, “He said that his youngest daughter, Jada, asked him three questions when she heard about his decision. “She asked me if I am proud to promote Chinese culture to the world. I didn’t disagree — I do like to share Chinese culture with the world,” he said. Jada then suddenly asked Li if he lacked money, in which he denied. Apparently, Jada believed that Li rejected taking on the role because he thought it did not pay enough. Lastly, she questioned whether Disney was investing a lot of money into shooting Chinese stories. Jada asked: “The main characters are all Chinese. Isn’t it promoting Chinese culture?” Li said her question “shocked” him and that he didn’t know how to answer her.
“However, Jada did not stop there as she pressed on further, asking Li to take on the role for her. Jada’s elder sister, Jane, also shared her sentiments. “That’s how I decided to make this film,” said Li who was encouraged by his daughters who loved the original animated 1998 film. This prompted the star, who is said to be picky about his film roles, to take on the role of emperor once again. He said: “When I think about ancient China or the ancient world, I wonder why people want to become king. For my personal taste, I like freedom.”
“Aside from that, the heavy imperial robe and having to deliver his lines in English were the challenges Li said he faced while filming. “Speaking English dialogue is not easy for me. I am too lazy to learn English or speak any foreign language, so I am very grateful to my dialogue coach for helping me a lot,” said Li. Also, a great father-daughter film to engage in, it is said that more time is spent on building the core relationship between Mulan and her father (Tzi Ma), despite its small amount of time on screen in the original. And above all else, the film also sends an empowering message to young women.
Jet Li and Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan and Jet Li The 2008 film “The Forbidden Kingdom” was the first film to feature Jackie Chan and Jet Li together, with Jackie Chan playing the Drunken Master Lu Yan and Jet Li playing the Silent Monk, both based on roles from their classic films. Shot entirely in China, in locations varying from city streets to the Gobi Desert, the film is about an American teenager that is transported to a storybook version of ancient China, where he meets with several traveling companions (including Chan’s and Li’s characters) to challenge the Jade Warlord, a supernaturally powerful warlord.
The fight scenes were choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, who worked with Chan on his first moves but hadn’t worked with him in more than 30 years. He was chosen because he was the one guy respected by both Chan and Li.
Director if the film Rob Minkoff told the Daily Yomiuri, “A week before shooting the movie, both of them told me that they are scared to death and they wanted to get out. They called their managers and said, “Can we get out? And the managers said, “It’s too late; we cashed the check.” Bringing them together in first place he was no piece of cake. “You have like those two giant nations suddenly ramming together to try to do a merger...It’s just an overwhelmingly complicated and difficult to deal with.”
“You have the two largest movie stars in Asia — largest martial arts stars particularly...All the customary things that they would get suddenly are challenged. Who’s gonna to get first billing, who’s gonna get second billing, who’s gonna get this, who’s gonna get that?..You had to make sure that they were going to be treated equally, because the truth is, the two of them had an enormous amount to lose if this didn’t work.”
On Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Time film critic Richard Corliss wrote: “For all the safety precautions taken, the two stars still have to give every fiber of their disciplined, battered bodies to get through the kung-fu scenes. It’s what made them action stars to begin with: the willingness to display their physical gifts while undergoing something like physical torture. In a phrase macho masochism.”
In his blog Chan said, the scenes were expected to take all day but were completed in a couple of hours. “The short sparring that lasted a few moves went very smoothly. It was like lightning with a brother from the same school of martial arts. We blended easily on every move, be it on terms of timing or rhythm.
Jet Li’s Charity Work
Jet Li is one of China's best-known philanthropists thanks to his One Foundation. He has highlighted the difficulties such groups face when he said its future was uncertain due to its blurry legal status, telling state broadcaster CCTV that soon “it will be questioned by those who seek more transparency and professionalism in China's charity development.” Li met with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett when they came too China urging Chinese billionaires to give to charity. Tony Blair and Jet Li are collaborating on the “1000 Village Plan,” a plan to make 1000 villages worldwide energy efficient, with 400 of the villages are to be in China.
Li has been a "philanthropic ambassador" of the Red Cross Society of China since January 2006. He contributed US$62,500 of box office revenues from his film Fearless to the Red Cross' psychological sunshine project, which promotes mental health. Founded in part because of his experience in the Maldives during the 2004 tsunami, the One Foundationsupports international disaster relief efforts in conjunction with the Red Cross as well as other efforts, including mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Since the starting of the foundation, Li has been involved with recovery efforts in seven disasters, including the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan.
Image Sources: Wikipedia
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated December 2021