Jet Li, co-star of the "Unleashed" Movie!
Jet resembles the versatile action-starring actor Jackie Chen. With amazing physical performances on the hollywood screen Jet Li's lightning-fast moves, friendly sense of humor, and genuine concern for his fans have endeared him to a generation of international action-film lovers as one of the most respected figures in martial arts cinema. The youngest of five siblings (consisting of two brother and two sisters) whose father died when he was only two years old, one might say that the painfully honest momma's boy has, since reaching adulthood, slightly overcompensated for his admittedly over-protected childhood (the future daredevil didn't even learn how to ride a bicycle until in his early teens). Sent during summer recess to what is now referred to as the Beijing Sports and Exercise school, Li was fatefully assigned to the wushu class and was one of a mere handful of students asked to return when the season ended and students filed back into classrooms in the fall. An acceptionally adept wushu student despite being only eight years of age, the experience boosted the confidence of the shy youth despite urges to join his classmates in after-school play. Leaving home for the first time the following year to attend competition, Li took first place at the event and was concurrently given the honor of performing at the opening ceremony of the eagerly anticipated Pan-Asian-African-Latin American Table Tennis Championships, an honor which also included the youth receiving personal praise from none other than Premier Zhou Enlai. No longer required to attend conventional schooling, the young wonder was admitted to a rigorous sports school. Eventually remaining with a group that consisted of 20 of China's finest young wushu practitioners, the students were then put through another kind of training entirely -- this time of the Western etiquette persuasion -- for an extremely important goodwill tour of the United States. Despite a potentially embarrassing international incident in which the overly excited youngster expressed his excitement when he spotted what he thought was a Chinese airplane in Hawaii (the plane was actually Tawianese, an extremely sensitive and important distinction at the time) and travels with a heavily guarded entourage, the journey went fairly well and gave Li a newfound sense of independence. Winning the coveted All-China Youth Championships upon his return to China provided Li with his first national championship title, though it was only a prelude to a slew of awards to come including a bloodied performance at the qualifying round of China's National Games, during which Li accidentally cut his head with his saber (the determined youngster didn't even realize what had happened, assuming he was simply perspiring, until his form was nearly finished). Despite his serious injury, the 12-year-old Li went on to win first place in the National Games to the amazement of the enraptured crowd. Competing frequently in the following years and surviving a close brush with death in a faulty cargo plane (the passengers were literally given pads of paper to write out their wills), Li was later appointed to an official welcoming committee for American presidents due to his previous contributions to positive Sino-American relations. Later attempting to live up to his title of "All-Around Wushu Champion of China," the 16-year-old who many referred to as all capable decided to do all he could to live up to the title by internalizing his understanding of the wushu practice through philosophy. Operating on the basic principle of Taiji (similar to yin/yang in the balance/counterbalance theory), Li began an internal voyage that would be just as rewarding as the physical labors he had so diligently pursued. Breaking into the world of film with an exciting performance in 1979's Shaolin Temple, Li's screen presence was undeniable and ignited a boom in the kung-fu film industry during the 1980s. Though he took an unsuccessful attempt at directing a few short years later with Born to Defend (1986), his acting career continued to accelerate at high speed with such hits as the Once Upon a Time in China and the Fong Sai-Yuk series in the early '90s. Rising to remarkable celebrity status due to his charm and unmatchable moves, Li gained fans in both the young and old and continued to thrill Eastern moviegoers in increasingly awe-inspiring ways. A crossover to American films began with his role as the villain in Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) (a role originally offered to Chan but turned down due to his inclination never to play the bad guy), and continued with more likable roles in Romeo Must Die and Kiss of the Dragon (2000 and 2001 respectively). Li caused something of a sensation with the release of Kiss of the Dragon when he made a special plea to parents not to bring their children to the film due to the unusually (for Li) adult-oriented violence of the film. A request virtually unheard of in the Hollywood system, Li promised parents that they would soon be able to share his high-kicking escapades with their children with the decidedly more family friendly The One a few short months later. Soon after joining an impressive Chinese cast for Hero in 2002, Li would return to stateside screens alongside DMX in Cradle to the Grave (2003), a remake of the classic Fritz Lang film M (1931).
More fun facts about Jet Li
Date of birth: 26 April 1963
Birth name: Li Lian Jie
Height 5' 6½" (1.69 m)
Jet Li was Wu Shu (a martial art) world champion several time.
He got his first part as a shao lin disciple in the film of the same name.
He first attempt at directing, Zhong hua ying xiong (1986) (Born to defend), met with failure.
Jet Li started training at the Beijing wushu academy at age eight (wushu is China's national sport, largely a performance version of various martial art styles), and won five gold medals in the Chinese championships, his first when he was only 11.
In his teens, he was already a national coach, and before he was 20, he had starred in his first movie: Shao Lin tzu (1979) (Shaolin Temple), which started the 1980s Kung-Fu boom in mainland China.
He relocated to Hong Kong, where he was the biggest star of the early 1990s Kung-Fu boom as well.
Spouse: Nina Li Chi (19 September 1999 - present) 1 child
Qiuyan Huang (1987 - 1990) (divorced) 2 daughters
Won Chinese national championship in the acrobatic martial art wushu when he was 11; his prize was a trip to Washington D.C. to meet President Richard Nixon.
He studies English with a tutor for 4 hours a day.
Jet & wife Nina Li Chi became parents to a 6 lb. 13 oz. daughter, Jane. [19 April 2000]
Was originally cast in the role of the character Li Mu Bai in Ang Lee's martial arts blockbuster Wo hu cang long (2000) (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), but turned it down to take the lead in Romeo Must Die (2000) (some sources state the decision was prompted by a promise to his wife Nina Li Chi that he would not work while she was pregnant). The role of Li Mu Bai went to actor Yun-Fat Chow.
Other than providing voice-overs for Kit Yun in Rise to Honor (2003) (VG), he also did the motion-capture for his fight scenes.
Injured his foot while escaping the tsunami that followed a 9.0 earthquake in the Indian Ocean. Li and his four year old daughter were on vacation in the Maldives on December 26th, 2004. The two were in the lobby of their hotel when the wave came ashore. Scooping up his daughter and running for higher ground, a piece of furniture hit his foot, causing the injury.
"I can feel very brave through all the action scenes in front of the people who are on the set, but when a girl comes close to me my face turns red because I'm so shy."
"I have met Jackie Chan about 6 times up till now...and even though many people think we are natural enemies, I personally think he is a cool bloke and would honestly love to work with him in a film one time - that would a well brilliant movie!"
"You can beat me up, but don't touch my hair, I will kill you!"
Usually action films have a formula: good guy gets in trouble, his wife dies, friends have problems, so he goes to the mountain, learns martial arts, comes back, and kills the bad guy. But on this film, we talked about a totally different angle to see my character. [on 'Hero']
In the past two years, somebody tried to recut it the American way, looping English, but I'm glad right now we still keep the original way. I think the way the director shot [the movie] was not a normal action film. [on 'Hero']
The One (2001/I) $7,500,000
Kiss of the Dragon (2001) $5,000,000
Romeo Must Die (2000) $2,400,000
Shao Lin tzu (1979) $700
Jet Li Still Kicking
An Interview with the star of Cradle 2 the Grave
AsianConnections' Mike Kai chatted with Jet Li at a press roundtable the day before the world premiere of his latest movie Cradle 2 the Grave produced by Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die).
Cradle 2 the Grave features a blend of East meets West where kung fu meets street fighting, choreographed by legendary martial arts director Corey Yuen (Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die). Jet talks about how Buddhism and his fans at his website JetLi.com are influencing his work, and his next film as a break away from action.
Check out the official site at Cradle2theGrave.com. Also, the Cradle 2 the Grave contest has been extended with new prizes. Enter to win at RottenTomatoes.com!
Jet Li in Cradle 2 the Grave
Q: What attracted you to do this role?
Jet: I was working in China making the movie, Hero. Joel [Producer Joel Silver] called me [saying] we had another film to work together. I worked with him with Romeo Must Die, several years ago so I said ok, lets do it for fun.
Q: So you are the only good guy in this movie? You’re the only one on the side of justice and the law in the whole movie.
Jet: I think that he [my character] also tries to do bad things, like revenge, that is not right. He tries to find the bad guy and bring back the stone.
Q: So what’s the trick to making these work as "movie" movies and action movies at the same time? Some movies get one part right and not the other part right. And obviously you want to get both right at the same time.
Jet: I think for martial arts and film, [it's] composing. We try to make them together. Sometimes martial arts and story do not work. It is really difficult to make use the right way, so that film can help the whole story.
Q: Do you think it works with this film?
Jet: This film is entertainment right? (laughs) Music, Fight!...Some movies work very serious. Because you believe the director and the story, like Hero… we worked for six months, everyone believes the director, we worked very hard, many details. With Cradle 2 the Grave, its kind of just… go there and work. I know the story but you just do the acting part, something you believe that is right, just do what the producer says. Just do it for fun.
Q: Have you done a film that you think is your best film, your favorite?
Jet: Some movies are very good that change my career, like Shaolin Temple, Once Upon a time Chine, Fist of Legend, Hero. But I always work very hard each time. Some, you just do your job, but these are different.
Q: Do people ever challenge you to fight?
Jet: Uh, no. Because I never say I’m the best fighter in the world. I just do martial arts, an athlete, and I make movies. Just a normal guy who plays a role. I’m not a tough guy, everyone could beat me pretty easily!
Q: How important is it for you to succeed in the States? What does that mean to you?
Jet: In the beginning, of course you are happy because the Hollywood production model is much bigger than the Hong Kong films. They spend more money and distribute the films around the world and reach more audience. I think since five years I’ve studied Buddhism. Right now I try to do my best in each film, I don’t care too much about the future because the future is not coming yet. And the past is already past. So I focus on today. Today I do my best.
Q: How did your becoming Buddhist influence your decision to make specific films and how did it influence the kind of character that you choose to play and your relationship with martial arts and acting?
Jet: I think that some movies you really want to make it, you believe the story but its difficult to make it because you have to prove to the studio that it will work because (the character) is different than the normal you. Like right now I am working on a film called Danny the Dog, with Morgan Freeman, a break out of action movies. I’ve made thirty one films where I always am the hero and save everyone, the city, country, everyone. This is the first film where I am saved by an individual, Morgan Freedom. [My character] is physically built, but doesn’t know much about life mentally, like a dog, what life means. I learn compassion, love, family, responsibility and become a normal human. This kind of story I really enjoy.
Q: Can you talk a little about how your fan’s feedback influences your fighting style in your films? I know that you used your website’s chatroom to determine who you fight against in this film.
Jet: Yes, my website is like family. A big family, a lot of people talk about movies, love. I share my life experiences and they share their lives. Like family. So this time we make this film I asked them who would be the best fighter that they want to see in this film. So we voted and Mark [Dacascos] was the highest guy.
Q: How long did it take you to shoot the fight challenge scene in the cage when you go in with Tom Arnold?
Jet: About 8 to 10 days. In Hong Kong we might spend two months on action sequences.
Q: Did anyone get hurt, kicked or punched accidentally?
Jet: Of course, everytime. You punch someone and just say sorry, sorry!
Q: What was it like working with the cast. You have DMX, Drag-on, which are all kind of new actors and I know they haven’t done many action or stunt scenes. What was it like working with them?
Jet: Its fun, everyone has their own personality. Some work this way, some work the other way…and I think its cool.
Jet Li: Why is he famous?
Jet Li hit it big in the U.S. after starring as the bad guy in Lethal Weapon 4. Then, after starring in Romeo Must Die alongside Aaliyah and Cradle 2 the Grave with DMX, there wasn't an American citizen left who didn't know Jet Li's name.
Li Lian Jie, a.k.a. Jet Li, was born on April 26, 1963, in the suburbs of Beijing, China, in a town called Hebei. He developed an interest in martial arts at a young age and was enrolled in an academy. The school's coach took immediate interest in Li, noting his natural talent.
Jet Li's skills blossomed quickly and he eventually took his art to the road, winning many competitions, putting on various demonstrations and spreading the word of his art.
Li was considered an athletic star for his achievements in his sport by the time he was 19, which, incidentally, was the year his first movie came out. After that, Li shot into superstardom.
However, Li was a shy guy, whose inspiration was actually to spread his art rather than become famous.
Li's popularity increased in the U.S. through films like Lethal Weapon 4 and Romeo Must Die, and North America became quite interested in him. Luckily, we had the chance to talk to Jet Li about martial arts, movies and, of course, Richard Nixon.
If you want to check out Li's upcoming movie Hero, visit Miramax.com
Jet Li in Hero
Q: What was it about martial arts that you fell in love with?
When I was 8 years old, I knew nothing about martial arts. The coach told me I was talented with learning martial arts, and put me in a school. After that, I was only slightly interested in it, but about three years later I got my first championship in China.
Q: In the '70s, you performed for President Nixon. Was that the first time you were in the USA?
Yes, in 1974. It was 30 years ago.
Q: So when did you want to get involved in acting?
In 1974, Bruce Lee had just passed away. People would come to me and say, "Jet, your Kung Fu is pretty good, do you want to be an action star when you grow up?" At 17, I was given the script and I went to make the movie.
Q: How big of an influence was Bruce Lee on you?
When we did demonstrations, at that time, a lot of people asked what we were doing and people would say, "Bruce Lee, Bruce Lee." Even in Africa. [Bruce] was very famous and I watched his movies and he is amazing. He is a martial arts master, his philosophy, his movement, both physically and mentally, were very strong.
How does Jet feel about being compared to Jackie Chan?
Q: I'm sure you also get compared to Jackie Chan, how does that make you feel?
Jackie Chan is a very good comedy/martial arts star. He does one kind of martial arts that Jet Li doesn't know how to do and Jet Li does a martial art that Jackie Chan doesn't know how to do. You can both go to two Chinese restaurants, but both can have different kinds of food.
Q: Tell us about your 2004 movie, Hero.
It's really special because there is no formula. Usually action films have a formula. Usually the good guy has a problem, his wife or mother dies and then they go to the mountain to learn martial arts, to come back and kill the bad guy. Revenge. This film doesn't have a real bad guy in it. Different people have different opinions. We want the audience to decide what they like. It is a different way to tell the story and it is a very unique film. I always think that violence is a solution, but we know that violence isn't the only solution, so the "Hero" shows you how to solve the problem.
Q: Who are some of the actors you would like to work with in the future?
It would really depend on the story, because I may want to work with Mel Gibson, but he may not want to work with me. You just do your best to prove you can do something.
Q: Do you do your own stunts?
I do some of my stunts for the things I have learned. But if it is for something I have never learned, then I use a double.
Q: What if you received a script that wanted you to act alongside Jackie Chan, would you do that?
Yeah, Jackie and I talked about making a movie together a long time ago. We have no script, so no movie.
Q: You worked with Aaliyah in Romeo Must Die. How did it affect you when Aaliyah died?
She was a very sweet girl and she was very charming. When she was on the set, she brought a lot of energy; she made everyone happy and would sing all the time. I was in China working on Hero and I heard the terrible news, we lost a best friend. She is still living in a lot of people's hearts.
Q: You have a website that you manage; where do you find the time?
My friend Mark takes care of the website, and when I have time, I read a lot of the e-mail. I receive suggestions from friends from around the world about my career -- sometimes I take their ideas to the studios and work on them.
Q: How does stardom affect your love life?
My wife is the boss at home, and my daughters are the bosses. I am just the worker. We are a very warm family and very happy.
Q: Best of luck with Hero, I'm sure it's going to be a hit.
Rich and famous caught up in tsunami terror
Rich and poor alike were swept up by Asia's killer tsunami, with a supermodel, multi-millionare football players, royalty and movie stars among those running for their lives.
Czech supermodel Petra Nemcova clung to a palm tree for eight hours in the devastated Thai resort of Khao Lak after being hit by a wall of water in Sunday's deadly tidal waves, her publicist in New York said.
Her British boyfriend, fashion photographer Simon Atlee, is missing.
"People were screaming and kids were screaming all over the place, screaming 'help, help'. And after a few minutes you didn't hear the kids any more," Nemcova told The New York Daily News from her hospital bed in Thailand Thailand.
"There were so many people with horrible injuries, with blood everywhere. It was like a war movie," she said.
The 25-year-old, who has graced the front cover of Sports Illustrated's special swimsuit issue and also modeled Victoria's Secret lingerie line, suffered a broken pelvis and internal injuries.
There was no lucky escape for Bhumi Jensen, the 21-year-old grandson of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej who was killed at the same popular resort area when the waves struck.
"It's a national tragedy," said a grim-faced Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The monarchy is revered in Thailand Thailand.
Bhumi is the son of Princess Ubolratana and her estranged American husband Peter Jensen. He was holidaying with his mother at the time but she was safe.
British actor and film director Richard Attenborough was also in mourning after the death of his grandaughter in the Thai catastrophe.
Lucy was among a family group staying on Phuket island, said Diana Hawkins, a colleague and friend of the Attenborough family. Attenborough's eldest daughter Jane is missing, as is her mother-in-law, Jane Holland.
"Lord (Richard) Attenborough and his wife, Sheila, have lost three members of their immediate family in the tidal wave disaster that hit the beaches of Thailand Thailand on Boxing Day morning," said a statement from Hawkins.
The 81-year-old is one of the most successful actors and directors Britain has ever produced, finding fame appearing in films such as "Brighton Rock" and "The Great Escape".
As a director, his biggest triumph was "Ghandi", which won eight Oscars in 1983, including best film and best director.
Chinese action hero Jet Li survived the horror on the picture-postcard Maldive islands, sustaining minor injuries when the tidal wave triggered by an undersea earthquake off Indonesia Indonesia swamped the hotel where he was staying.
Li, who starred in Hollywood flicks including "Lethal Weapon 4" and "Romeo Must Die" grabbed his four-year-old daughter when their hotel room started to flood and escaped, the Singtao Daily reported, citing his management.
Stars of the sporting arena were also caught up in the tsunami nightmare that has left more than 55,000 people dead.
A number of Italian football players were also holidaying in the Maldives Maldives when the full force of the tidal wave hit, Gazzetta dello Sport reported.
Among them were AC Milan's Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi and Cristian Brocchi, and Juventus defender Gianluca Zambrotta.
The newspaper's website said they were safe.
Sri Lankan cricket spin king Muttiah Muralitharan declared himself "lucky to be alive" after narrowly missing one of the tsunamis that killed over 17,000 people in his home country.
Muralitharan told the Sydney Morning Herald he drove out of the southern city of Galle just minutes before it was swamped by a massive surge of water.
Among others fleeing the tragedy in southern Sri Lanka Sri Lanka was former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, who was helicoptered from his guesthouse at Talpe, a suburb of Galle.
Back in Thailand Thailand, skiing great Ingemar Stenmark ran for his life when he saw an immense wave heading towards him in Khok Kloi, offshore from Phuket.
"The water from the first wave disappeared, but then it came back with terrifying speed," Stenmark, who won two gold medals at the 1980 Olympics, told Swedish media.
Australian AFL star Troy Broadbridge was not so lucky, being swept away from his wife as the strolled along a Phuket beach, his club Melbourne Demons said.
Jet Li Is One of The Biggest Action Stars
My favorite Jet Li movie is "Kung Fu Cult Master". This is one of those movies that blow you away! The action is fantastic and the first 2/3 of the movie is excellent!
He started learning martial arts as early as eight years old. He was trained patiently by his trainer Wu Ben. And at that early age he got the privilege to be part of the first Wu Shu team to tour the West, performing also at Nixon's White House.
Jet Li is very talented. He has the charisma, and he can act very well. He has the grace and the style and this can be seen in the varieties of movies he has made. He can perform drama, comedy, romance, and unquestionably he can do well in action. Jet Li can also direct, he has directed his movie Born to Defence. He also produced some of his movies such as "Kung Fu Colt Master", "Fist of Legend", "Bodyguard from Beijing", "New Legend of Shaolin", "Fong Sai Yuk", and "Fong Sai Yuk 2".
Jet li continues to make big Hollywood Movies. His latest offerings include Hero, Crade 2 The Grave, Kiss of the Dragon and many more.
Jet Li Film List:
Cradle 2 the Grave (2003)
The Hero (2003)
Transporter/Kiss of the Dragon 2-Pack (2003)
Black Mask/Ticker (2002)
Jet Li - Bodyguard From Beijing/Last Hero In China/Kung Fu Master (2002)
Jet Li - Born To Defence/The Shaolin Temple/Kids From Shaolin (2002)
The Martial Arts Collection (2002)
The One (Special Edition)/Meltdown DVD 2-Pack (2002)
The One (Special Edition)/The 6th Day (Special Edition) DVD 2-Pack (2002)
Ultimate Fights (2002)
Yuen Wo Ping Action DVD 3-Pack (2002)
Kiss of the Dragon (2001)
The One (2001)
Romeo Must Die (2000)
Black Mask (1999)
Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)
Lord of the Wu Tang (1997)
Once Upon a Time in China and America (1997)
Swordsman Saga Collection (1997)
Dr. Wai and the Scripture Without Words (1996)
Fists of Legends 2: Iron Bodyguards (1996)
The Enforcer (1995)
The Defender (1994)
Fist of Legend (1994)
Legend of the Red Dragon (1994)
Kung Fu Master (1993)
The Legend (1993)
The Legend 2 (1993)
Twin Warriors (1993)
Last Hero in China (1992)
Once Upon a Time in China 3 (1992)
The Legend of the Swordsman (1991)
Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
Once Upon a Time in China 2 (1991)
Dragon Fight (1988)
The Master (1988)
Born To Defence (1986)
Shaolin Temple 3: Martial Arts of Shaolin (1986)
Shaolin Temple 2: Kids From Shaolin (1983)
The Shaolin Temple (1982)
Jet Li Directed: Born to Defense (1986)
Jet Li Narrated: Shaolin Kung Fu (1994)
Jet Li Produced: Kiss of the Dragon (2001), The Defenders (1994), Twin Warriors (1993)
Jet Li is probably well known now not only in Hong Kong, but all over the world. He has starred in such hits as "Shaolin Temple", "Once Upon a Time in China", "Fong Sai Yuk", "Fist of Legend" and more. He is considered one of the biggest star in Hong Kong today, and his skills are no doubt being recognized by Hollywood producers today. He began his Hollywood career with the hit movie "Lethal Weapon 4", playing for the first time in his career, the role of a villain. He has won the praises of critics and thousands of fans with the movie, immediately winning him movie offers from different producers. A bit of a bad news was that Jet Li will not appear in Matrix 2 and 3. Other news is that he is currently filming a film co written by Luc Besson (Nikita, Leon, Le Grand Bleu), named "Kiss of the Dragon" alongside Bridget Fonda. This film will be released in the USA 6 July. He will also be appearing in a James Wong film, called "The One" Jet Li was born on April 26, 1963 in Beijing, Heibei. He won the championship in Chinese National Martial Arts Contest from 1974 to 1979 (5 consecutive years). He has also participated in some drama performances. His first movie was "Shaolin Temple", this made him famous as it was China's first modern Kung Fu movie. This introduced Shaolin's Wu Shu to the world. There were hundreds of youngsters who visited the remains of the original Shaolin temple, hoping to train in the same manner as Li's character in the movie. His second movie, "Kids from Shaolin", was as good as the "Shaolin Temple". He also likes the color white. His favourite films that he made were the "Shaolin Temple" series because it introduced him to the film industry, and "Once Upon A Time in China" because it brought him fame as an actor and martial artist.
Jet Li is a shy and timid person. He is very conservative, eats healthy meals, and workouts everyday to stay in shape. He is also very private about his life, and for this not many questions are asked of his private life.
Jet Li In Person or 'How I convinced Wushu Superstar Jet Li that I am fluent in Chinese."
June 7th, 1998 was the date. Jet Li was scheduled to appear at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention. My pal Pat and I decided to go for it! Despite the fact that LA is 350+ miles from Berkeley, where I live, the chance to meet Jet was definitely worth the trouble. We've been so close to Jet (training with his classmates, meeting his coach Wu Bin, etc), but we've never had the opportunity to meet him face to face. And you know once Lethal Weapon 4 comes out, Jet will be skyrocketed to superstardom, so the chance to get within a 100 feet of him will be slim to none.
Pat and I jumped in my trusty '67 Beetle and hit the road Friday morning. We made it to LA in one piece, and on a whim decided to crash the premiere of Disney's Mulan, which was being debuted in Hollywood that night.Click here for just a few of the famous people we saw there. Well, Mulan is sort of wushu related, so the random chance to meet and see a lot of big Hollywood stars made the whole trip down to LA worth it. But the real reason for this trip (besides for VW parts) was to see Jet, and nothing could stand in our way!
The day of the convention, we were surprised to find a line stretching around the block full of HK movie fans waiting to get in. In addition to Jet Li, they were also featuring several cast members of Enter The Dragon. Bolo Yueng, Bob Wahl and Ahna Capri were there to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of Bruce Lee's greatest movie. In addition to the VIPs, the comic books and the Anime, toys, etc, I was shocked to find there was an incredible amount of sleazy porn to be found at this convention (the Star Trek and comic conventions that I frequented as a youth never had such faire). In addition to at least one washed up porno-star, there was a table featuring pin-up model Alley Baggett.
But everyone was really there to see Jet. He appeared at 2pm, but some people had gotten to the convention before 7am, to ensure they had front row seats. There were about 200 seats set up in front of a small stage. By the time we got in, all the seats were taken, and people were lining up around the sides and in the back. Before Jet came out, they showed a preview for Lethal Weapon 4, not the one you see in theaters, but a cooler one, showing Jet kicking some ass.
Jet came running down the back stairs and onto the stage. He said a few brief words, something along the lines of "Thank you for inviting me here." This marks the first instance that me (and probably almost all of the people there) heard Jet saying anything in English (and considering that all the voices in his movies are dubbed, anything in any language). Throughout the length of the appearance, I was really impressed with Jet's English. He had a pretty good vocabulary and clear pronounciation. Occasionally he had to refer to his translator for clarification (more due to the poor diction of the question askers than anything else).
Jet looked pretty good, pretty much like he does on the screen. Don't let the poor quality of these photos fool you (more my old camera and bad lighting). But it is clear that he's aging. He's not the young faced kid you see in Shaolin Temple, that's for sure.
First off, Jet took questions from the audience. As soon as they announced this, I ran into line, trying to think of a question along the way. I ended up being the fourth or fifth person in line, and had to come up w/ something fast. OK, no problem, I'll just ask him something about his movies (since I have seen nearly all of them). I decided to ask him which of his movies was his favorite. But wait, should I squander what might be my only chance to interact with Jet in my whole life on just a question about his movies? What about wushu? OK, I figured out a plan: I'll preface my question with some statements about wushu. So despite my nervousness, it came out something like this: "Li Lien Jie, first I want to say that your wushu is awesome and the Beijing Wushu Team rocks! And I wanted to ask you which of your movies is your favorite." So Jet looks at me, then looks at my Beijing Wushu Team T-shirt and says, "Do you want me to answer in Chinese or in English, its obvious you speak Chinese very well." I guess the fact that I referred to him by his Chinese name and correctly used the term wushu instead of kungfu (like all the HK movie fans did) made Jet think I was a fluent speaker of Chinese. So of course, not wanting to disappoint him, I asked him to answer in English (for the audience's sake, of course). So in case you were wondering, Jet likes all his movies the same, because he puts all his energy in each of his movies when he makes them, trying to make them the best they can be and no, I can't really speak Chinese well at all, not yet at least.
The rest of the questions were the run of the mill fan questions. Ever watched any interviews with Jackie Chan? It was nearly the same: "How is making movies in the US different than movies in Hong Kong", "How much do you train?", "When did you start?", etc, etc. There were a few interesting questions, like "The women want to know, are you available?" to which Jet replied, "I am a normal guy, I have a girlfriend, but I won't say her name." What Jet doesn't know, is that I know who his girlfriend is (like I said, I'm connected!). Another interesting tidbit that Jet shared was the first rule that Lethal Weapon 4 director Richard Donner shared with him when shooting: "Don't Hurt Mel!"
After about 30 or 40 minutes of question and answer (included at least two religious nuts wanting to know if Jet mediates and prays), Jet took a little break before the autograph session. The people running the convention fairly decided to let the people who actually had seats get first crack at the autographs (since they're the nuts who got there at 7am). Since Pat and I didn't have seats, we knew we had to take decisive action!
Luckily, we convinced Eric and Debbie Chen of the National Wushu Training Center to come by. They've met Jet several times before, so when we saw them being let 'backstage' (it was really behind the fence thing next to stage) I made my move. While they were chatting, I jumped up, ran around the back side of the stage and accosted them!
Jet Li on Hero
It’s been a long time since we’ve sat down with Jet Li. It was in 2001 for Kiss of the Dragon. We caught a bit with him on the set of Cradle 2 the Grave, but Li hasn’t been to LA for interviews in a while. It took the U.S. release of Hero to bring him back.
Hero is the tale of an assassin (Li) on a mission to kill the king. But the first story he tells isn’t exactly right, and throughout the film we learn about his real mission. Li costars with Hong Kong legends Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyi in the film directed by Zhang Yimou.
Did you grow up with stories of Chinese legend? Not modern day, but I learned martial arts was. I believe the three levels of learning martial arts. One is the first level, the physical part. You have a sword, it’s part of your body. That talks about skill, physical contact, the best person. The second level of martial arts talks about you don’t have a sword, but your heart is the sword. You use your heart to scare them before physical combat. You can stop the war before fighting. Use your knowledge, use a different kind of power to stop the war. That’s the second level. The third level is you don’t have a sword, even your heart doesn’t have a sword. What’s left is love. All the main religions talk about the same thing. Love people, even your enemy. They beat you, let them beat you. Love them. If after three times they beat you, they’re tired. If they’re not tired, 10 times. 10 times, they’ll be tired. That kind of philosophy I believe in the beginning, of course until I became Buddhist. I believed this kind of message.
What was it like working with Zhang Yimou? He’s one of the most famous directors in China. He made a lot of great films, but a not action films. This is the first action film. Of course, he’s the artist so he asks, he wants something that we never think about that way. Like working with your costar but you can’t see your costar on the set, because he knows shooting the man, the boy in the morning is better because the girl wakes up, put on her face, swallows, it’s not pretty. [If we] wait until sunshine, the light is smoother, the girl is more beautiful. That’s his way, waiting for a few days for one lighting, the lights coming. This is his way. He wanted to dye the hair of 500 horses black. We spent seven days waiting. They changed the color of the horses. So he had a very unique way, angle to see things.
What emotional challenges did he give you? I think the most important is how to tell the story. How to use martial arts. He knows martial arts is not the major subject. He just uses it. I believe he did a wonderful job.
Was there any blue screen work? No. At the real location, we’re waiting days, days. Every day, they only have two hours that the lake looks like a mirror. You can see the people’s shadow at the same time. After two hours, the wind comes in, the waters are shaking. It wasn’t clear. We did a week, not a day. Because the actors spent many years to try to make this film. A few days for him is nothing.
Was it a waste of time? No, everybody just enjoyed waiting because he wanted it. I remember one scene in the beginning of the movie, I walked into the palace, I walked for seven days. You have a hundred people walking around me, but we don’t have much lighting. You can see the shadow from their uniform. Only 2:30 to four o’clock in the afternoon the sun shines. You can see some shining from their costumes.
How much CGI is there in the movie? We use a few thousand people as soldiers, real soldiers on the set. Of course, some special effects are there, like the arrows. They’re not real. The location is I think 95-98% real location over a span of six months.
Did the film provide any acting challenges? I think all the actors and actresses in this film, they’re acting much better than me because Maggie Cheung got an award from the Cannes festival. The other man got an award from the other film festival. Everybody is a great actor and actress. But they spent a lot of time learning martial arts on this film. In the beginning, I knew all the costars were great actors and I’m not. And the director just told me every day, “Jet, forget acting. Even the character at the end of the movie, he doesn’t know how to do it, to kill or not.
So just forget. Just do it naturally. Do it naturally and forget it.” So I just listened to him and did my best.
Why do you think you’re not a good actor? Because for an action actor, it’s mostly just physical showing something more physical, not emotion. You need to learn. It’s a little bit different. At least, I didn’t get an award. They did. Everybody in this film got awards. Everybody is a great actor, best actress, best actor from different countries, different areas. Even the king is best actor in China.
What about this film connects with people? I think the way the director shot was not a normal action film. The color is beautiful, each frame is like a painting and the story. I don't know, I just do my best when I was working. Later and now, I don't know. I can’t control. People tried to show this two years ago in the states. That way they could get nominated for an Oscar, not just best foreign film, but maybe can get the other nomination. But we didn’t have a chance. In the past two years, somebody tried to recut the American way, looping English, studying English. I’m glad right now we still keep the original way.
Why did it take so long to come out here? I really want to know the answer also. Because every day, people say, “Hey, I watched Hero on DVD. I already watched the DVD.” I say whoa, whoa, whoa.
Is there an extended version coming? I don't think so.
What are the spiritual analogies in the film? I think 200 years ago, Chinese people, in that culture, trust is very important for man. Like samurais, even though they have different opinions, they’re very proud about each other. Before I kill you, like a cowboy, we shake hands first, then run away, twist again, Boom. But we can’t see that kind of culture in modern day. This film I think, usually action films have a formula. Good guy got trouble, wife died, friends have problem, go to the mountain, learn martial arts, come back, kill the bad guy. Most Asian martial arts films [are like that]. But this film, we talk about a totally different angle to see my character. In the beginning, the same thing, he wants to kill the king. His parents died, he spent 10 years learning martial arts. If somebody’s 10 steps in front of him, you die for sure. But through this journey, at the end of the day, he’s confused by things. He needs to kill the king, but who can guarantee the next king is better than him or not. If he killed him, maybe it would cause more problems, more people would die in the future. So why did he come here? He gave the information, said, “Look, people just want peace. If you can give that, I walk away.” I think that’s the whole point.
How do you see the film’s sacrifice? In real life, if I’m really in the character I will do the same thing. I think Asian culture is very different from western culture. From my understanding, in western heroes, first of all, you need to protect your family, your wife, your children, even your dog. The second thing is protect the city. Third is protecting your country. That’s from my understanding. But for Chinese hero or Asian hero, it’s their country first, then city, then home. Your own personal home. So we always grew up with adults telling us, “That’s a hero, see. Walks by his home three times, didn’t come back to see his wife, he is the man.” In western culture, “He’s the man? He’s not taking responsibility. He walks home, he needs to see his wife, say hello. What kind of man is he?” So it’s a different angle to see the same thing. But I respect what this character is doing.
Future project Unleashed/Danny the Dog and family
Are you still producing and writing with Luc Besson? Yeah, we work with Luc. We’re working on another movie, come out soon, next year, beginning of next year called Unleashed. In Europe they call it Danny the Dog. Also it’s a special martial arts film. It’s very unique. Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins costar. My character [is like] I’ve never played before. He’s mentally only 10 years old, but physically he’s very strong. He grew up very dark, around darkness. He doesn’t understand life, friendship, family, love, anything. He doesn’t know. He just acts like a dog. So Morgan Freeman, his character is a piano tuner. Really funny, right? He plays piano and through the music, he brings me back. I become a normal person, understand and start feeling the friendship, start feeling trust, honor, everything.
So at the end of the movie, he’s a normal guy. It’s a very unique story. It’s not a tough man saves the city, tough man saves the day. I want to talk to the audience, especially younger audience because the past few years making movies in the states, I think I need to say something. Because usually, they say, “Jet Li, kick butt, kick ass, yeah!” Things like learning martial arts, well action movies only give the information to kick somebody’s ass, beat somebody up. But I want to tell them if you’re physically very strong, if you don’t understand friendship, family, love compassion, what are we going to be? We’re just dogs. Just like a machine.
Did being a father make you realize this? Of course, but also after you make more than 30 movies, you get a sense of again, again? What I can do, I can tell more things. I think martial arts is not one level. We can play around and maybe find a different way to talk about martial arts.
Will you go back to China to make more films? I think it doesn’t matter [if you’re] in Hollywood, China, Europe. Everybody tries to make international films for an international audience. Some stories I want to make are really difficult for Hollywood to prove we can make that kind of film, like Hero. If I put a script to the studio, I don't think it will work. But Danny the Dog, that’s kind of a special, unique. You want to take off from the formula business point of view to see the things. So you go to Europe, go to China to make it. I think in the middle I need to find the balance. Which commercial action film do I need to do? After that I need to make something that even if it doesn’t work, doesn’t make money, it doesn’t matter. I still want to make it. You need to find a balance in the middle. What kind of stories you believe in and what studios believe can work.
Are you based here in LA or in China? I spent a few years here but right now I go back to China.
And your wife and kids? They’re in China because my wife wanted to raise the babies in China in the beginning, until they’re 17, 13, 14, they’ll come back to study American culture. Both cultures they need to learn in the future.
Do they speak both languages? Yeah, in the beginning. Even in China, they go to an American school.
Meet the Next Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li
Up-and-coming movie star Tony Jaa has heard the inevitable comparisons: He's the next Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, the heir-apparent to the action star throne.
But Jaa doesn't mind. He grew up admiring Lee, Chan and Li. However, the 28-year-old Thai star of "Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior," which opened nationwide in the United States last Friday, wants to make one thing clear: He doesn't want to erase Lee's legend. He is only carrying on his legacy.
"I feel very proud. But to be clear, I don't think I could ever replace Bruce Lee," Jaa said through an interpreter in an interview with ABCNEWS.com. "He's my inspiration. No matter if it's Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Jet Li, they are my inspirations. They are like masters to me."
Jaa seems poised to become the movie industry's new martial arts poster boy in his first starring role. His predecessors are aging — Chan is 50, while Li is 41 — and the action flick genre needs new blood.
In "Ong-Bak," Jaa plays Ting, a kind-hearted orphan who lives in the small village of Nong Pradu in Thailand and is trained in the ancient martial art of Muay Thai. Ting's master makes him promise to never use his skills. But when the head of the village's sacred Ong-Bak Buddha statue is stolen by drug dealers, Ting volunteers to retrieve it on a mission to Bangkok and is forced to use his butt-kicking talents.
From Water Boy to Stuntman to Action Star
In some ways, Jaa is a lot like Ting. Born Panom Yee-rum in the small Thai province of Surin, Jaa grew up watching martial arts movies and training in martial arts. His early film favorites included Chan's "Police Story," Lee's "The Way of the Dragon," "Fists of Fury" and the Thai action flick "Born to Fight." Jaa says initial influences were Chan and Thai action star Phanna Rithikrai, who wrote, directed, produced and starred in "Born to Fight."
Jaa's father took him to meet Rithikrai when the star was working on a movie. The Thai movie star and stuntman took Jaa under his tutelage and trained the young teen in kung fu and stunt work. Rithikrai was a martial arts and stunt choreographer along with Jaa on "Ong-Bak."
"I first got to know him [Rithikrai] by watching his films, the fact that he was a death-defying stuntman," Jaa said. "To me, he is like family. He is like my brother, he is like my father. He has taught me so many things — from Buddhism for the spirit to the things you should live for. We both had the same goal of making Thai films for the world to see."
Jaa studied tae kwon do, swordplay and gymnastics, and, ultimately, Muay Thai. He gave demonstrations in northeast Thailand and China. He worked as a water boy, cook and crewmember on movie sets until he got his first break in the movie industry when he served as a stunt double for actor Robin Shou in the 1995 movie "Mortal Kombat." Ultimately, Jaa got the attention of director Prachya Pinkaew, who was so impressed with his work on "Mortal Combat" and tapes of his various martial arts demonstrations that he wrote "Ong-Bak" especially for the budding star.
"With stunt work, I saw that you're only behind the scenes and people never get to see your true abilities," Jaa said. "So I finally got a chance to put together a project with my master and present it to the director and now you have 'Ong-Bak.' "
No Special Effects Needed
"Ong-Bak" was a success overseas, becoming the highest-grossing Thai film in 2003 and leading the box office in Hong Kong. Jaa's martial arts performance generated a buzz at various film festivals and on the Internet, leading to its debut in the United States. It has won over fans such as director Quentin Tarantino and the RZA of rap's Wu-Tang Clan.
Don't look for any special effects reminiscent of "The Matrix" trilogy in "Ong-Bak." Jaa, like Chan in his early movies, does his own stunts and fight scenes. "Ong-Bak" is not Oscar-caliber drama like "Million Dollar Baby," but it is a lot of fun to watch for action flick aficionados. There is one flame fight scene where Jaa gives new meaning to the term "hot-steppin'."
Jaa said he does not worry too much about hurting himself or his crewmates during film projects.
"Yes, you are afraid but we take a lot of safety precautions," Jaa said. "Everyone should know about the heart and dedication that went into making the film. So any fear of injury [in a given film], that just passes with the dedication you have toward making the film."
Jaa has the swift-footed, breath-taking pugilistic grace of Lee and the agility of Li. Though "Ong-Bak" has some comedic elements, Jaa lacks the comic charm of Chan. Still, his bronze physique and chiseled facial features arguably give him greater Hollywood leading man potential than Lee, Li or Chan ever had.
Dedication to Homeland and Muay Thai
Jaa doesn't seem to be feeling the weight of his growing U.S. stardom or the martial arts film legacy of his forefathers. Sitting in a suite at a Grand Hyatt hotel overlooking New York's Park Avenue, he has an easy, ready smile and greets his visitors with a bow and a double-clasped handshake. Despite his posh surroundings, Jaa doesn't seem to have the guarded demeanor many Hollywood stars ultimately develop.
His eyes slightly puffy after awaking from an afternoon nap, Jaa conceded his promotional tour for "Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior" — which has included interviews and martial arts demonstrations — sometimes has been a "workout in itself." And he wasn't quite accustomed to New York City's chilly 31-degree weather in February. Still, Jaa was enjoying his first trip to the Big Apple and new fame and fans.
"It's been very, very exciting, seeing my poster on the street," Jaa said. "The other day, I walked out of the car, and somebody recognized me and said, 'Ong-Bak! Ong-Bak!' "
Jaa's family still lives in his native Thailand. His relatives avoided the tragic tsunami in December because they live outside of the areas affected by the giant, deadly waves. Jaa — who is single — remains close to his family as his career blossoms.
'They are proud of me. They pray for me, wish me luck," Jaa said. "They miss me and want me to come home."
After he completes his promotional tour, Jaa will resume filming his second movie, "Tom Yum Goong," a sequel to "Ong-Bak." He said he hopes to work with Li someday. But for now, Jaa wants to continue to follow in his martial arts masters' footsteps and educate the public about Muay Thai and Thailand.
"I want to present Muay Thai the same way Bruce Lee presented kung fu — through the art of film," Jaa said. "I've always wanted to do this, ever since I saw my heroes Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Jet Li. With me having Muay Thai, I want to show the people of Thailand through film and develop more interest in Thailand and Muay Thai. That's my hope for the future."
Jet Li's 150M yuan action movie
Well-known Chinese action star Jet Li's new blockbuster ‘Huo Yuanjia Biopic' is set to begin shooting next month in Shanghai.
The crew has recently been in Shanghai choosing scenic spots for the 150 Million Yuan movie.
The production crew have been brought in from Hollywood, and co-producers, Columbia Pictures are investing about 19 million U.S dollars in the project.
Jet Li's character, Huo Yuanjia was a legendary martial arts master and Chinese patriot during the foreign invasions of 1868 and 1910.
Japanese actress Noriko Sakai will play his love interest.