Jet Li

Jet Li

By his official name Li Lianje, is a Chinese film actor, film producer, martial artist, and retired Wushu champion. He is a naturalized Singaporean citizen. After three years of intensive training with Wu Bin, Li won his first national championship for the Beijing Wushu Team. After retiring from Wushu at the age of 19, he went on to win great acclaim in China as an actor making his debut with the film Shaolin Temple (1982). He went on to star in many critically acclaimed martial arts epic films, most notably as the lead in director Zhang Yimou’s 2002 “Hero” and the “Once Upon A Time in China” series, in which he portrayed folk hero Wong Fei-Hung.

The youngest from a family with five children, Li Lianje’s father died when he was only two years old. Being the youngest, any risky activities were banned for his personal safety, so that only with the beginning of school, he had contact with other children of his age. At the age of 8 years old, he already was a great scholar, especially good at physical education, where he was used as an example for other pupils.

In the summer of 1971, he began practicing Kung-Fu, but he didn’t have any vocation for it at the beginning. While the school closed for holidays, in order to prevent young people to go out and to make disorders, the same school sent the scholars to what is now called Beijing Sports and Exercise School, the Beijing sports school. The boys were arbitrarily assigned to different sports and Jet accidentally was distributed to the Wushu classes, a set of martial styles, known outside of China by the name of Kung-Fu, which begins, in principle, with a soft and very choreographic version.

In 1972 in Jinan, Shandong Province, it was held the first Chinese national Wushu competition of the Cultural Revolution from the 1970’s. There were no categories of awards, but simply a single best performer award, which Li won at the tender age of 9 years. The same year in China, it was held the Table Tennis Championships (Ping-Pong): in those years of political awakening for China, every event was taken seriously. So for this occasion, there were organized demonstrations of the various Chinese arts: dance, Peking Opera and of course the Wushu and Wing Chun martial arts. Jet Li was found to be part of the Wushu team, and had to train relentlessly: a less than perfect execution wasn’t to be accepted.

The championship was held in the big stadium from Beijing, and there were several authorities present at the tournament, as the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Jet’s group also met the then Premier, Zhou Enlai, who complimented them for the excellent execution. From that moment, young Li was permanently transferred to the Beijing sports school, where he trained harder and harder every day. Since the school was also a tourist attraction, all the young people were always be prepared to offer demonstrations of Wushu to the tourists.

In 1974, after severe selections, Li became part of the group of the 30 best athletes of Chinese Wushu, which had to represent China (and the other 20 million Wushu athletes) in a demonstration tour in the United States, in the cities of Honolulu, San Francisco, New York and Washington. The group also performed at the White House, where young Li posed next to Henry Kissinger for the official photo of the event.

In 1975, in Beijing were held the Chinese National Games, the first edition after the Cultural Revolution: Li Liangje, at 12 years old, found himself competing against people in their twenties or even thirties. Preliminary selections were held in Kumming, in the Yunnan Province, and Li took the first place in all 5 races.

In 1979, Jet Li became famous with the movie Shaolin Temple (少林寺 or Shao Lin), of Chang Hsin Yen and Zhang Xinyan. The product was very successful in the Chinese Republic and some other countries (except for Taiwan, where it was banned). The film had two more sequels, Shaolin Temple 2: Kids from Shaolin (Shao Lin 少林 小子 or Xiaozi, 1983) and Shaolin Temple 3: Martial Arts of Shaolin (南北 少林 or Nan bei Shao Lin, 1986), directed by Hong Kong master Liu Chia Liang, whose relationship with Li will not be entirely rosy, since the director opposed to the use of stunt doubles, but the young star didn’t mind instead. Eventually the director’s judgment will change: “Do not harm the boy!”, he told the press.

After many failures, in 1991, Tsui Hark, one of the most famous directors and production in Hong Kong, called Jet Li to play the character of master Wong Fei Hung in the film “Once Upon a Time in China” (黃飛鴻 or Wong Fei-hung). The character of the physician and martial arts master Wong Fei Hung, who lived towards the end of the 19th century, is very dear to the Asian public, so the character became the star of more than 100 films shot in a few decades, played by actors like Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Vincent Zhao and Kwan Tak-Hing. Jet Li had a heavy burden to bear, but his performance remains among the best of the character.

Along Sammo Hung, he starred in “Evil Cult”. Another big name is Corey Yuen, who directed him in 6 films and choreographed him in 11 movies. Since the beginning of 2000, the two worked together constantly. In 2001, Jet Li played in “Kiss of the Dragon”, a Franco-American co-production, which saw him between producers like Luc Besson. The film enjoyed a great success in Europe, making Jet Li’s name even more known to the public. In the same year, he played in the movie “The One”, his first fiction film, but had a lukewarm reception at the box office. He returned to America in 2007 and played along with Jason Statham in “Rogue Assassin”, and the following year he again assumed a negative role in the film directed by Rob Cohen, “The Mummy – Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”, the third chapter of the saga that began in 1999 with “The mummy”.

Li is a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism. His master is Lho Kunsang. 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. Since 1999, he has been married to Nina Li Zhi, a Shanghai-born, Hong Kong-based actress. He has two daughters with her also, Jane, born in 2000 and Jada, born in 2003. In his free time he likes to play badminton and table tennis, ride his bicycle, read and meditate. He collects rare Tibetan beads. He claims that he never gets bored in his free time.

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