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Li Lianjie (born April 26, 1963), better known by his stage name Jet Li, is a Chinese martial artist, actor, wushu champion, and international film star who was born in Beijing, Chinamarker and who has currently taken up Singaporemarker citizenship. 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 age 17, he went on to win great acclaim in Chinamarker 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 the Once Upon A Time In China series, in which he portrayed folk hero Wong Fei Hung. His first role in a Hollywood film was as a villain in Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), but his first Hollywood film leading role was in Romeo Must Die (2000). He has gone on to star in many Hollywood action films, most recently starring beside Jackie Chan in The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), also with Mark Dacascos in Cradle 2 the Grave (2003) and as the titular villain in The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor (2008) opposite Brendan Fraser. He is set to star in the upcoming film The Expendables.

Early life and martial arts career

Li was born Li Lianjie in Beijing, People's Republic of Chinamarker. Li's father died when he was two, leaving the family to struggle on its own, with Li being the youngest of two boys and two girls.

Li was eight when his talent for wushu was noticed at a summer course at school, and he began his practice there. Li participated in the sport of wushu in the non-sparring event. He began his wushu on the Beijing Wushu Team, an athletic group organized to perform martial arts forms during the All China Games. As a member of the team, he received wushu training and went on to win fifteen gold medals and one silver medal in Chinese wushu championships. 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 is a master of several styles of wushu, especially Changquan (Northern Longfist Style) and Fanziquan (Tumbling fist). He has also studied other arts including Baguazhang (Eight trigram palm), Taijiquan (Tai chi), Xingyiquan (Shape intent fist), Zuiquan (Drunken fist), and Tang lang quan (Praying mantis fist). He did not learn Nanquan (Southern fist), because they're focusing only in the Northern Shaolin Styles. He has also studied some of wushu's main weapons, such as San jie gun (Three sectional staff), Gun (Staff), Dao (Broadsword), Jian (Straight sword) and many more.

Acting career

Chinese films

The fame gained by his sports winnings led to a career as a martial arts film star, beginning in mainland China and then continuing into Hong Kongmarker. 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 was also 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. He made his debut with the 1982 film Shaolin Temple. Some of his more famous Chinese films include: Li starred in the 1995 film High Risk, where Jet Li plays a Captain who becomes disillusioned after his wife is murdered by crime lords. Along the way, he pairs up with a wacky sell-out actor, Frankie (played by Jacky Cheung), and proceeds to engage in a series of violent battles in a high-rise building. The setting is similar to that of Die Hard and both their Chinese film titles. This movie is notable in that director Wong Jing had such a terrible experience working with Jackie Chan in Jing's previous film City Hunter that he chose to make Cheung's character a biting satire of Chan. Jet Li would later publicly apologize to Chan for taking part in it.

American films

In 1998, he made his American film debut in Lethal Weapon 4 which also marked the first time he had ever played a villain in a film. He agreed to do Lethal Weapon 4 after the producer Joel Silver promised to give him the leading role in his next film, Romeo Must Die (2000) which was a box office hit.

Li turned down Chow Yun-Fat's role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) because he promised his wife that he would not make any films during her pregnancy. He also turned down the role of Seraph in The Matrix trilogy, based on his belief that the role was not one which required his skills and that the films were iconic and stunning enough without adding his name to the cast list.

In 2001, he appeared in two more Hollywood films: The One and Kiss Of The Dragon opposite Bridget Fonda which did moderately well at the box office. In July 2001, Li agreed to produce and star in an action film with Jackie Chan which was to be released in 2002 or 2003, but no further news of their collaboration surfaced until 2006. In 2002, the period martial arts epic film Hero was released in the Chinese market. This film was both a commercial and critical success and become the highest-grossing motion picture in Chinese film history at the time. In 2003 he reunited with producer Joel Silver for the action thriller film Cradle 2 The Grave where he starred alongside rapper DMX and fellow martial artist Mark Dacascos. In 2004, Li lent his likeness, voice and provided motion capture work for the video game Jet Li: Rise to Honor.

Li departed from his usual martial arts action films with the 2005 dramatic film, Unleashed (a.k.a. Danny the Dog), where he portrays an adult with the mentality of a child who has been raised like an animal. Although his martial arts skills were utilized extensively, it was a somber film with more depth than had been previously seen in Li's films, and co-starred dramatic actors Bob Hoskins and Morgan Freeman.

In 2006, the martial arts film epic Fearless, was released worldwide. Although he will continue to make martial arts films, Fearless is his last wushu epic. In Fearless, he played Huo Yuanjia, the real-life founder of Chin Woo Athletic Association, who reportedly defeated foreign boxers and Japanese martial artists in publicized events at a time when China's power was seen as eroding. Together with the film Fist of Legend, Li has portrayed both Chen Jun, the student and avenger of Huo Yuanjia (aka Fok Yun Gap), as well as Huo Yuanjia himself. Fearless was released on January 26, 2006 in Hong Kong, followed by a September 22, 2006 release in the United Statesmarker where it reached second place in its first weekend.

Li has stated in an interview with the Shenzhen Daily newspaper that this will be his last martial arts epic, which is also stated in the film's television promotions. However, he plans to continue his film career in other genres. Specifically, he plans to continue acting in action and martial arts films; epic films deal more with religious and philosophical issues.

Li's 2007 Hollywood film, War, was released in August of that year, and re-teamed him with actor Jason Statham, who previously starred with him in The One, and action choreographer Corey Yuen. War raked in a disappointing $23 million at the box office, becoming one of Li's lowest grossers in America; however, it was a hit on video, accumulating nearly $52 million in rental revenue, more than doubling its box office take. With the exception of Romeo Must Die and the worldwide release of Hero, most of Li's American films have been only modest hits like Kiss Of The Dragon, The One, Unleashed, Cradle 2 the Grave, and the worldwide release of Fearless.

In late 2007, Li returned again to China to participate in the China/Hong Kong co-production of the period war film The Warlords with Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro. This film with its focus on dramatics rather than martial arts netted Li the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actor.

Li and fellow martial arts veteran Jackie Chan appeared together onscreen for the first time in The Forbidden Kingdom, which began filming in May 2007 and was released to critical and commercial success on April 18, 2008. The film was based on the legend of the Monkey King from the Chinese folk novel Journey to the West. Li also starred as the lead villain in the fantasy action film The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor with actors Brendan Fraser, Isabella Leong and Michelle Yeoh.

After an one-year hiatus from filmmaking, Jet Li returned to acting in 2009, portraying a mercenary in the film The Expendables, teaming up with action stars Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Mickey Rourke.

Personal life

Li is a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism. His master is Lho Kunsang of the Drikung Kagyu lineage of the Kagyu school.

In 1987, Li married Beijing Wushu Team member and Kids from Shaolin co-star Huang Qiuyan, with whom he had two daughters. They divorced in 1990, Since 1999, he has been married to Nina Li Chi (born Li Zhi), a Shanghai-born, Hong Kongmarker-based actress. He has two daughters with her as well, Jane (born 2000) and Jada (born 2002).

Li was in the Maldivesmarker when a tsunami hit during the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquakemarker. Although it was widely reported at the time that he had died during the disaster, he only suffered a minor foot injury, caused by a piece of floating furniture, while he was guiding his 4-year-old daughter Jane to safety. The two were by the pool and slightly above the beach when the wave came ashore.

In 2009, Li, who previously had American citizenship, after years working in the United States, is thought to have renounced his American citizenship and taken up Singaporean citizenship, although no official confirmation has been provided by Singapore authorities. On July 28, 2009, the chairman of One Foundation (the Charity fund of Jet Li) announced that Jet Li had indeed become a Singaporean citizen. He was said to have chosen Singapore for its education system for his two daughters. By moving to Singapore Jet Li is following in the footsteps of Chinese actress Gong Li.

In an interview, the actor silently acknowledged his new Singapore citizenship, "Compared to other cities, Singapore is a lot cleaner. The security is a lot better and the weather is hotter. There is a warmer climate in Southeast Asia too. A bilingual education system, a mix of cultures with some western influences. These are the main aspects that attracted my attention."


Li has been a "philanthropic ambassador" of the Red Cross Society of China since January 2006. He contributed 500,000 yuan (US$62,500) of box office revenues from his film Fearless to the Red Cross' psychological sunshine project, which promotes mental health.

In April 2007, touched by his life-shaking experience in the Maldives when he was close to dying during the 2004 tsunami, Li formed his own non-profit foundation called The One Foundation. The One Foundation supports international disaster relief efforts in conjunction with the Red Cross as well as other efforts, including mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Since the starting of the foundation, Li has been involved with recovery efforts in seven disasters, including the 2008 Sichuan earthquakemarker.


Year Title Role Notes
1982 Shaolin Temple

(少林寺 Shao Lin Si)
Jueh Yuan

1983 Kids From Shaolin

(少林小子 Shao Lin Xiao Zi)
San Lung

1986 Born to Defence

(中華英雄 Zhong Hua Ying Xiong)

Jet Li's directorial debut
Martial Arts of Shaolin

(南北少林 Nan Bei Shao Lin)
Zhi Ming

aka "Shaolin Temple 3: Martial Arts Of Shaolin"
1988 Dragon Fight

(龍在天涯 Long Zai Tian Ya)
Lap/Jimmy Lee

1989 The Master

(龍行天下 Long Xing Tian Xia)

1991 Once Upon a Time in China

(黃飛鴻 Wong Fei Hung)
Wong Fei Hung

Swordsman II

(笑傲江湖之東方不敗 Xiao Ao Jiang Hu Zhi Dong Fang Bu Bai)
Ling Hu Cong

1992 Once Upon a Time in China II

(黃飛鴻之二男兒當自强 Huang Fei Hong 2: Nan er dang zi qiang)
Wong Fei Hung

1993 Tai Chi Master

(太極張三豐 Tai Ji Zhang San Feng)
Zhang Sanfeng

aka Twin Warriors (USA)
Fong Sai Yuk

(方世玉 Fong Sai-yuk)
Fong Sai-yuk

aka The Legend
Fong Sai Yuk II

(方世玉續集 Fong Sai Yuk Juk Jaap)
Fong Sai Yuk

aka The Legend 2
Kung Fu Cult Master

(倚天屠龍記之魔教教主 Yi tian tu long ji zhi mo jiao jiao zhu)
Zhang Wu Ji

aka The Evil Cult

Lord Of The Wu Tang

aka Kung Fu Master
Last Hero In China

(黃飛鴻之鐵雞斗蜈蚣 Wong Fei-Hung zhi tie ji dou wu gong)
Wong Fei Hung

aka Claws of Steel

aka Deadly China Hero
Once Upon A Time In China III

(黃飛鴻之三:獅王争霸 Huang Fei Hong 3: Shi Wang Zheng Ba)
Wong Fei Hung

aka The Invincible Shaolin
1994 The Bodyguard From Beijing

(中南海保鑣 Zhong Nan Hai Bao Biao)
Allan Hui Ching-yeung/John Chang

aka The Defender

aka Zhong Nan Hai bao biao
Fist Of Legend

(精武英雄 Jing Wu Ying Xiong)
Chen Jun

The New Legend Of Shaolin

(洪熙官之少林五祖 Hong Xi Guan Zhi Shaolin Wu Zu)
Hung Hei-Kwun

aka Legend Of The Red Dragon
1995 High Risk

(鼠胆龍威 Shu Dan Long Wei)
Kit Li

aka Meltdown
My Father Is a Hero

(給爸爸的信 Gei Ba Ba De Xin)
Kung Wei

aka The Enforcer

aka Letter To Daddy
1996 Black Mask

(黑俠 Hei Xia)
Michael/Simon/Tsui Chik/Black Mask

released 1999 in US
Dr.Wai In "The Scripture With No Words"

(冒險王 Mao Xian Wang)
Chow Si-Kit

aka Adventure King

aka The Scripture With No Words
1997 Once Upon A Time In China And America

(黃飛鴻之西域雄獅 Huang Fei Hong Zhi Xi Yu Xiong Shi)
Wong Fei Hung

aka Once Upon A Time In China VI
1998 Lethal Weapon 4

(致命武器4 Zhi Ming Wu Qi 4)
Wah Sing Ku

(殺手之王 Sha Shou Zhi Wang)

aka The Hitman

aka The Contract Killer
2000 Romeo Must Die

(致命羅密歐 Zhi Ming Luo Mi Ou)
Han Sing

2001 The One

(最後一強 Zui Hou Yi Qiang)
Gabe Law/Gabriel Yulaw/Lawless

Kiss Of The Dragon

(龍之吻 Long Zhi Wen)
Liu Jian

2002 Hero

(英雄 Ying Xiong)

Released 2004 in US
2003 Cradle 2 The Grave

(同盜一擊 Tong Dao Yi Ji)

2004 Jet Li: Rise To Honour (Playstation 2 video game) Kit Yun (voice, motion-capture actor) released 2004 in US
2005 Unleashed

(不死狗 Bu Si Gou)

aka Danny The Dog
2006 Fearless

(霍元甲 Huo Yuan Jia)
Huo Yuanjia

2007 The Warlords

(投名狀 Tou Ming Zhuang)
Pang Qing Yun


(玩命對戰 Wan Ming Dui Zhan)

aka "Rogue Assassin" or "Rogue"
2008 The Forbidden Kingdom

(功夫之王 Gong Fu Zhi Wang)
Sun Wukong the Monkey King/Silent Monk

The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor

(盜墓迷城3 Dao Mu Mi Cheng 3)
Emperor Han

2009 The Founding of a Republic

(建國大業 Jian Guo Da Ye)
Chen Shaokuan (Kuomingtang naval admiral) (cameo)
陳紹寬 (國民革命軍海軍一級上將)

aka Jian Guo Da Ye (lit. The Great Cause of China's Foundation)

aka Founding of the Nation

aka Lofty Ambitions of Nation Building
2010 The Expendables Bao Thao
Ocean Paradise

>(海洋天堂 Hai Yang Tian Tang)

See also


Further reading

  • Ducker, Chris, and Stuart Cutler. The HKS Guide to Jet Li. London: Hong Kong Superstars, 2000.
  • Marx, Christy. Jet Li. Martial Arts Masters. Rosen Publishing Group, 2002. ISBN 0823935191.
  • Parish, James Robert. Jet Li: A Biography. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002. ISBN 1560253762.

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