JET LI Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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One of the world’s biggest action stars, Jet Li Lian Jie was born on April 26, 1963 in the outskirts of Beijing, China in a town named Heibei. At a young age, he developed an interest in wu shu (the dominant martial art in Mainland China, favored by the government because it promotes movement rather than force) and enrolled in an academy. The school’s teacher, Wu Ben, took an immediate interest to Li, seeing his natural talent. Over the years, Wu and Li would develop a father/son relationship, which was made all that much stronger since Li’s own father died when he was two years old. Wu would often single out Li and give him extra tasks to do; Li at first felt bad about this, but in later years, he realized that Wu saw something in him and was only trying to bring it out. Li’s skills developed quickly, and he eventually won many competitions and even performed in front of US president Richard Nixon at the White House as part of the Chinese/US cultural exchange during the 1970’s.


When Li was 19, he appeared in his first film, Shaolin Temple. Li was already regarded as a national hero for his athletic accomplishments, and the film (the first modern kung-fu movie made in China) shot him to superstardom in China. Fans flocked to various temples, hoping to imitate their hero. Li – a quiet and shy man – felt uncomfortable with his fame. He ventured into films with the idea of bringing interest of wu shu to the populace, not to become a star. Nevertheless, he continued to appear in a series of popular Shaolin films, such as Martial Arts of Shaolin (1986) and also directed a film, Born to Defence (also 1986).


Wishing to find a wider audience for his work, Li moved to America and appeared in 1988’s Dragon Fight. The film failed to find an audience, but Li seemed determined to stick it out. Eventually, he hooked up with noted producer/director Tsui Hark and the two – using some of their own money – created The Master in 1990. This time, the film (which had a miniscule budget and looked cheap even comapred to many US B-movies) didn’t even reach a distributor; it was shelved until 1992. But Tsui and Li had formed a bond and Tsui convinced Li to come with him back to Hong Kong.


It was with Tsui that Li found international stardom. 1991’s Once Upon a Time in China, which had Li taking on the role of Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hung, was a huge hit and is now regarded as one of the best martial arts movies ever. The following two sequels were also very popular, so it was quite a surprise when Li quit the series. Rumors abounded of everything from money disputes to Triad “involvement.” At any rate, Li moved away from Wong Fei-Hung – at least temporarily. After Swordsman II (1993), Li starred in another movie about a Chinese folk hero, Fong Sai Yuk (also 1993). The movie was again a huge hit, but perhaps more importantly, this was the first time he worked with Corey Yuen Kwai. Yuen would go on to work in some capacity on almost all of Li’s next films, either as director or fight co-ordinator.