Profile of Jet Li

Name: Li Lian Jie (Mandarin), Lei Lin-Git or Lee Lin-Kit (Cantonese). Better known by his stage name Jet Li.
Date of Birth: (born April 26, 1963)
Height: 1.68 cm / 5’6″
Weight: 66 kg / 145.5 lbs
Birth sign: Taurus
Country: China (Beijing)

The Early days

Better known by his stage name, Jet Li, is a martial artist, actor, film producer, wushu champion, and international film star who was born in Beijing and has taken up Singaporean citizenship.

Born in Beijing on 26 April 1963, Li grew up the youngest of five children, with two brothers and two sisters. His father died when he was just two years old, which left his family in poverty. Li became involved in Wushu when he was eight years and his great talent was quickly apparent to his coach Wu Bin, who began to put him through more rigorous training than his peers, and even bought food for Li’s impoverished family to keep the rising young athlete in strong health.

Training background

Jet was trained in old style wushu. In Jet’s day, they had to learn all of the Eighteen-Arms, internal styles, external styles, everything. The Eighteen-Arms consists of: sabre, spear, sword, halberd, axe, battle axe, hook, fork, whip, mace, hammer, talon, trident-halberd, cudgel, long-handled spear, short cudgel, stick, and meteor hammer. Everybody had to compete in broadsword, spear, straight sword, cudgel, and empty-hand forms.

If one word could summarize Jet Li’s training, it would be “bitter”. He and thirteen other students training under the same coach would awaken every morning at 6am , training for up to eight hours a day. If Li or the other students complained that they had injured their arm, their coach was quick to respond with, “Hmm. You’re right. You shouldn’t overwork your arm. Why don’t you work on leg exercises instead.” At one point, he even found out he’d been training on a broken foot for two whole days!

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However painful his training was, there was plenty of gain that came out of it. Li’s talent in Wushu was such that he often found himself competing against adults. His winning first place in the National Games caused quite a sensation, because he was so young. He was only 12 years old, and the other two medalists were in their mid- to late twenties. During the awards ceremony, as he stood on the top step of the podium, he was still shorter than the 2nd and 3rd place medalists. It must have been quite a sight as the national anthem began to play. As he stood there, listening, he began to feel overcome with emotion. He hadn’t really realized the impact of winning a national title the year before, when he was 11. This time, though, he suddenly wanted to start crying.”This medal is for you, mom! You didn’t raise me in vain! Without your sacrifices, I couldn’t have made it to this point!”, he thought.

The events of the last few days – the injury, his mom’s reaction, competing against the adults – all started swimming in the ocean of his mind and his eyes filled with tears. Jet says he doesn’t remember ever feeling that way again, standing on a podium but he certainly did that time. He won a total of five gold medals in the national championships for 5 consecutive years, from 1974 to 1979. In 1979, Li received his highest achievement in martial arts when he was crowned Gold Champion at the Chinese National Martial Arts Competition. To this date no other man has won more titles. During this stage of his life, he acquired the nickname “Jet” for his blazing speed.

Movie career

Jet’s wushu skills attracted the attention of Chinese filmmakers, who cast him in the leading role in the 1982 film “The Shaolin Temple”. Overnight, Jet Li became a national superstar and the film sparked an explosion of interest in the Shaolin Temple among the Chinese people. Reports stated that many children who saw the film ran away from home to the Shaolin Temple in the hopes of learning kung fu at the legendary monastery. The film was followed by two sequels, “Kids from Shaolin” and “Martial Arts of Shaolin”, the latter marking his only collaboration with the famed kung fu filmmaker Lau Kar-leung (aka Liu Chai-liang). After the success of the “Shaolin Temple” films, Jet tried his hand at directing with “Born to Defend” in 1986, but the film ultimately found little success. He would step in front of the camera once more in the high energy actioner, “The Master” in 1989, which featured kickboxing champion Jerry Trimble as its main villain.

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However, it was in the early nineties that Jet found his niche in the iconic role of the legendary Chinese folk hero and Hung Gar master Wong Fei-hung in the acclaimed “Once Upon A Time in China” series. When the first film was released in 1991, it turned Jet Li into one of the biggest action stars in all of Asia. “Once Upon A Time in China II” was released two years later and was even more well-received and featured Jet in his first onscreen duel with the future king of Hong Kong action movies, Donnie Yen!

Jet would portray the famed Confucian scholar one more time in “Once Upon A Time in China III” before taking a break from the character, making films such as “Tai Chi Master”, in which he played the fabled creator of Tai Chi, Zhang Sanfeng, and playing another famed Chinese folk hero in the two “Fong Sai Yuk” films, which combined wire-driven action with lots of hilarious comedy. In 1994, Jet would star in what many fans consider his best film, “Fist of Legend“. A remake of Bruce Lee’s classic “Fist of Fury“, the film featured less wirework than most Hong Kong martial arts films of the time and under the watchful direction of Yuen Woo-ping came to be a classic example of poetry in motion with impactful, surprisingly brutal fights.

Jet would return to the role of Wong Fei-hung twice more, once in the film “Last Hero in China”, a goofy comedy unconnected to the “Once Upon A Time in China” films, before assuming his signature role one last time in 1997 in Sammo Hung’s “Once Upon A Time in China and America”, which featured Wong in the Wild West! Afterwards, Jet would make his journey to the West in “Lethal Weapon 4”, his first Hollywood film in which he portrayed the villainous kung-fu master, Wah Sing-ku. Audiences were blown away by the speed and power Jet displayed that was unlike anything they’d seen before in an American film and everyone agreed he was easily the best thing about the film. The success of “Lethal Weapon 4” also saw one of Li’s Hong Kong outings, “Black Mask” given a commercial release in the English-speaking world (complete with regrettably the worst English ever produced and a notoriously obnoxious hip hop soundtrack to boot!).

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Following his Hollywood debut in “Lethal Weapon 4, Li landed his first English-language lead in the film “Romeo Must Die”. However, many fans thought there was too much wire work in the film, so Jet decided to take the “Fist of Legend” approach with his next film, “Kiss of the Dragon” in 2001. The Paris-based thriller eschewed the wire work and would pit Jet against a then-unknown stuntman-actor Cyril Raffaelli (“District 13“). While filming their climactic battle, director Chris Nahon had to tell both men to slow down, as they were going too fast for their movements to be captured clearly by the camera! That same year, he would star in the sci-fi martial arts thriller “The One”, in which he portrays both the hero and the villain and has a climactic fight scene against himself!

Several of Jet’s next few movies are among his personal favorites. He returned to China in 2002 to make “Hero”, a wire-driven wuxia drama in which he would play a nameless assassin who recounts his supposed defeat of the Emperor’s enemies during the Warring States Period. The film became even more popular among fans when Donnie Yen joined the film, leading to his and Jet’s second onscreen match-up!

Later, Jet would return to Hollywood to make what many consider his best American film, “Unleashed“, released in some countries as “Danny the Dog”. The film told the story of a martial arts expert raised from birth to be the personal rottweiler of a vicious loan shark, and who slowly begins to rediscover his humanity. The film featured major Hollywood stars such as Morgan Freeman and the late Bob Hoskins, as well as a who’s who of martial arts masters, including Michael Lambert, Silvio Simac, and even future action supremo, Scott Adkins! Afterward, Jet would return to China to film what was billed as his final Wushu epic, “Fearless“, a retelling of the famed Chinese folk hero, Mizong kung fu master and co-founder of the famed Chin Woo Athletic Association in Shanghai, Huo Yuanjia. The film is an inspiring epic of a man who learns the true power and meaning of martial arts over the course of his life, and who would go on to become one of the most inspirational heroes in Chinese history.

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After “Fearless”, Jet would scale back his involvement in movies, directing more of his attention towards his charity group The One Foundation, which he created after his firsthand experience in the Asian tsunami of 2004, along with promoting the art of Tai Chi through his organization Taiji Zen. However, he would still find time to make great martial arts films, finally fighting alongside (and in one scene, against) Jackie Chan in 2008’s “The Forbidden Kingdom“! That same year, he would also appear as a villain for the third time in his career in the film “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”. In 2010, he would also be seen in “The Expendables”, midst a gathering of action movie icons such as Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Gary Daniels, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film was a major success, spawning two sequels with Li returning for both!

Over three decades after his debut in “The Shaolin Temple”, Jet Li remains one of the greatest and most inspiring martial artists to ever grace the silver screen. In the words of famed action director Yuen Woo-ping, “He has a very good control of the strength of every fist and kick. In the past, he used too much strength, those that get hit would be in great pain. He’s the archetype of power. Yes, he’s still the best.”

Did you know…?

According to Li, once, as a child, when the Chinese National Wushu Team went to perform for President Richard Nixon in the United States, he was asked by Nixon 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!” which earned him much respect in his homeland.

Li acquired his screen name in 1982 in the Philippines when a publicity company thought his real name was too hard to pronounce. They likened his career to an aircraft, which likewise “takes-off” as quickly, so they placed the name Jet Li on the movie posters. Soon everybody was calling him by this new name, (which coincidentally also happens to be based on the nickname, “Jet,” given to him as a young student) due to his speed and grace when training with the Beijing Wushu team.

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Jet was offered the role of Li Mu-bai in the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“, but turn it down. He later explained that he had done so because his wife Nina Li-chi was pregnant at the time, and he had made her a promise that he would not work at all during her pregnancy.

Jet would lend his voice and likeness to the 2004 video game “Rise to Honor”, which drew inspiration from many of his films. In the game, he portrays the Hong Kong cop Kit Yun, and performed motion capture for his character’s fighting moves.

After the release of his film “High Risk” in 1995, Jet would issue a public apology to Jackie for his involvement with it. The film, directed by Wong Jing, features a character named Frankie, an action movie star who erroneously claims to perform all of his own stunts. The character was an obvious jab at Jackie Chan, whom Wong had worked with and not gotten along with on his previous film, “City Hunter”.

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“I never say to myself I’m the best fighter in the world. If someone learns martial arts solely to pick fights on the street, to lean on it as a keystone weapon in conflicts, to use it to bully and intimidate others – then that person, in my opinion, cannot be considered a true martial artist.”

“You can beat me up, but don’t touch my hair, I will kill you!”

“The biggest enemy is yourself” – Quote from DVD interview of “Kiss of The Dragon“.

“We are a global family. The religion is different, the languages are different but we are human beings and we need to help each other.”


Selected Filmography

2014The Expendables 3
2013Badges of Fury
2012The Expendables 2
2012New Dragon Gate Inn
2011The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate
2010The Expendables
2010Ocean Heaven
2009The Founding of a Republic
2008The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
2008The Forbidden Kingdom
2007The Warlords
2007War (aka Rogue)
2005Unleashed (Danny the Dog)
2003Rise to Honor (voice)
2003Cradle 2 the Grave
2001The One
2001Kiss of the Dragon
2000Romeo Must Die
1998Lethal Weapon 4
1998Hitman (aka Contract Killer)
1997Once Upon a Time in China and America
1996Black Mask
1996Dr. Wai in the Scriptures with No Words
1995The Enforcer (aka My Father is a Hero)
1994Fist of Legend
1994The Bodyguard from Beijing (aka The Defender)
1994Legend of the Red Dragon
1993The Evil Cult
1993Tai Chi Master (aka Twin Warriors)
1993Fong Sai Yuk II
1993Claws of Steel (aka Last Hero in China)
1993Fong Sai Yuk
1993Once Upon a Time in China III
1992The Master
1992Once Upon a Time in China II
1992Swordsman II
1991Once Upon a Time in China
1989Dragon Fight
1988Shao Lin Hai Deng da shi
1986Shaolin Temple 3 (aka Martial Arts of Shaolin)
1986Born to Defense
1984Shaolin Temple 2: Kids from Shaolin
1982The Shaolin Temple

From the earliest days of childhood, Brad Curran was utterly fascinated by martial arts, his passion only growing stronger after spending time living in the melting pot of Asian cultures that is Hawaii. His early exposure developed into a lifelong passion and fascination with all forms of martial arts and tremendous passion for action and martial arts films. He would go on to take a number of different martial arts forms, including Shaolin Ch'uan fa, Taekwondo, Shotokan Karate and remains a devoted student, avid and eager to continue his martial arts studies. Brad is also an aspiring writer and deeply desires to share his love for martial arts and martial arts movies with the world!

1 Comment
  1. Reply
    Jahnouse Alonso February 17, 2022 at 1:29 pm

    That is an interesting biography of Jet Li

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