Jet Li, (or Li Lianjie) started training in wushu at the age of eight and went on to become a Chinese national champion and sporting hero. Along with many other wushu athletes, he was recruited in 1979 aged just sixteen for the Chinese martial arts movie “The Shaolin Temple”. The film was a box office smash in China and across Asia and the action star Jet Li was born!
Two sequels and a string of martial arts film roles followed throughout the 1980’s. It wasn’t until 1991 that Li was truly cemented as one of Asia’s leading box office stars after appearing as Wong Fei Hung in the “Once Upon a Time in China” series of movies.
After making his Hollywood debut as the villain opposite Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in 1998’s “Lethal Weapon 4”, Li became a worldwide star. He has since gone on to star in Chinese epics such as “Hero”, “Fearless” and Hollywood hits “The Forbidden Kingdom” and “The Expendables”.
Li has a reputation for being extremely fast in terms of both learning fight choreography and performing it. In addition to having some excellent fist and foot skills, Li is also highly skilled with many traditional martial arts weapons, which has given us a great variety of entertaining fight scenes over the years. He has also grown as an actor delivering some exceptional performances in his latter movies, most notably in “Unleashed”, “Fearless” and “The Warlords”.
For many of Li’s films you could pick three or four fight scenes from just one of them and quickly populate the entire list, instead,for Top 10 Jet Li Fight Scenes we’ve gone for a diverse variety drawn from ten of his best movies (presented in descending order)…
10. My Father is a Hero/The Enforcer – Final Fight
This film saw director Corey Yuen revisit the father-son duo of Jet Li and child actor wushu kid Mo Tse/Xia Mao from “The New Legend of Shaolin”, but in a contemporary setting. Although there is the inevitable use of wires, there are plenty of impressive genuine physical abilities on display here, not least from Xia Mao!
9. Forbidden Kingdom – Jet Li vs Jackie Chan
It came perhaps just a couple of years past both their peaks, but even so the dream match-up of Jackie Chan and Jet Li came true in 2008’s “The Forbidden Kingdom”. In a great nod to some of their best work, Jet Li plays a monk who takes on Jackie Chan’s drunken beggar!
8. Once Upon a Time in China 2 – Jet Li vs Donnie Yen
For the sequel to his 1991 hit, Tsui Hark upped the ante by casting fellow Hong Kong wuxia heavyweight Donnie Yen as Jet Li’s opponent. After an exhilarating initial encounter, the final battle sees the pair going head-to-head using pole and whip chain techniques!
7. Kiss of the Dragon – Jet Li vs The Twins
After some negative murmurings from fans about the excessive use of wires and special effects in the Hollywood films “Romeo Must Die” and “The One”, Jet Li teamed up with Luc Besson’s French production team. Li came up with the story and recruited his old friend Corey Yuen to make the fight action more grounded and realistic than his previous couple of pictures. The end fight with The Twins is a high spot and also shone a light on the talents of French action performer Cyril Raffaelli, who would go on to appear in the movies “District 13” and “Die Hard 4.0 – Live Free or Die Hard”.
6. The Shaolin Temple – Four Seasons Training Scene
Not so much a fight scene, but a demonstration of a young Jet Li possibly at the peak of his abilities performing some the forms that made him an all-round national wushu champion. We see Chanquan (longfist) in the summer, San jie gun (3 section staff) in the autumn, Qiangshu (spear) in the winter, and Daoshu (broadsword) in the spring. The whole sequence is a joy to behold, with some great use of slow-motion photography to emphasise Jet’s precision.
5. Unleashed/Danny the Dog – Jet Li vs Mike Lambert
In 2005, Jet Li opted to make what you might think was a strange choice of movie. A modest-budget, gritty story with a heart, set in Glasgow, Scotland and co-starring Bob Hoskins and Morgan Freeman. It turned out to be one of Jet’s best English-language acting performances and featured some great action scenes that included the likes of Scott Adkins and Silvio Simac. The fight choreography was much more grounded and brutal than you might expect from a Jet Li movie and delivered one of his most entertaining finales opposite martial artist and stuntman Mike Lambert as “The Stranger”.
4. Once Upon a Time in China – Fight at the Opera
The film that truly made Jet Li a Hong Kong box office star features a whole host of great fight scenes. Memorably, Jet Li has a barnstorming fight wielding his umbrella as a weapon. It was Kwan Tak Hing who first introduced this to the Wong Fei Hung character, but Li truly made it his own trademark with this scene. There is a great brawl in a restaurant with the militia and a beautifully filmed duel in the rain against Yen Shi-kwan. The end fight in the warehouse is also a highlight. However, the fight at the opera is a well-paced and delightfully shot demonstration of the high standards of choreography and physical skills that are prevalent throughout the film.
3. Fearless – End Tournament
In 2006 Jet Li wanted to make a film with a story that carried his philosophy of martial arts. He took the legend of the real life Chinese martial arts hero, HuoYuanjia to deliver a message that a person should not train in martial arts for one’s own glory, but for the betterment of themselves and others. Giving one of his best acting performances and collaborating once more with Yuen Woo-ping, the movie stands up as one of Jet Li’s finest. The extended tournament finale gives Li and Woo-ping an opportunity to display their skills at all ranges, from fists and feet to various weapons, including swords, spears and the three-sectional staff!
2. Hero – Jet Li vs Donnie Yen
There are very few fantasy match ups that actually live up to their promise. For director Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” however, we are treated to two stars at the top of their game in a beautifully choreographed and filmed sequence. Both Jet and Donnie trained extensively in wushu weapons and they put their skills to stunning use with Li wielding his Jian/sword against Yen’s superb Qiang/spear work.
1. Fist of Legend – Jet Li vs Billy Chow
We could’ve actually just listed all the fight scenes from “Fist of Legend”. Considering this is a remake of one of Bruce Lee’s most popular films, choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, surpassed himself to deliver some of his best scenes with Jet Li. From the fight in the Japanese school, to Jet’s fight with Chin Siu-ho, or the blindfolded duel with Yasuaki Kurata, it’s hard to pick a “best” one. But for the sheer ferocity, speed, genuine physical skills and minimal use of wires, the final battle with real life kickboxing champion Billy Chow is an excellent example of the work in this movie.