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Rodrigo Medeiros

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Some of Jet Li’s most famous movies.

     
 

More topics:

Jet Li the martial artist

Jet Li the film star

Jet Li explains Wushu

 

Kiss of the dragon.

The One

 

 
 
 

Shaolin Temple

 
 
His first movie was "Shaolin Temple." This made him famous as it was China's first modern Kung Fu movie. This introduced Shaolin's Wu Shu to the world. There were hundreds of youngsters who visited the remains of the original Shaolin temple, hoping to train in the same manner as Li's character in the movie.
Jet as national Wu Shu Champion starred in this movie along with some of the other wushu practitioners. Not being professional actors, they didn't know how movies were made. And there were no action choreographers. Instead, the director told them the basic story, and they took what they had learned in class to design their own fight scenes. They would show the director what they had come up with, and he'd say, "Well, in this scene, you have the advantage" or "Your character should be more vulnerable. Make the villain stronger." And they would go back and change it. Come back for more feedback. Go back and change it again. Before the movie even began shooting, they had already choreographed all of their fight scenes. It's not like most Hong Kong movies, where you create the action on the set, on location. They didn't know any better and they had no experience, so they made up most of it themselves. It was a good learning experience.

The worst part of making the movie was not physical. Shooting for 10 hours a day was not a problem. But Hunan in December is very chilly, and they had to shoot by the Yellow River - the river where ice floes drift downstream in the winter. There was a scene in the movie which called for their characters to fall into the river, climb out and then start fighting. The act of willing yourself to jump into that icy river, wearing only a thin set of clothes was frightening. Never before - and never since - has he experienced such intense coldness. He jumped into the water and by the time he surfaced, he was frozen. His whole body was numb. He was already past the point of being able to feel pain. There was nothing. The only sensation he had was that something was throbbing in the water...boom boom boom...and that it was probably his heart.
So they thought that they only had to endure this once - for maybe 5 minutes - and then it would be over. Ha! Little did they know that the fight scene on the riverbank would take another week to shoot. For the purposes of continuity, it had to look like they'd just crawled out of the water. So every morning, they had no choice but to take a bucket of that icy water and pour it over themselves. Agony! Not so much an agony of the body than of willpower. The rest of the cast and crew were standing by wearing thick overcoats, but the actors had to douse themselves with ice. Sure, they tried hot water, but it would be freezing by the time it hit the body. In the movie, that fight scene probably lasts two minutes, but the process of shooting it took them about 3 or 4 days. That was hard. And back in those days, they had no protective clothing. Nowadays, they have thermal this and waterproof that. Back then, they didn't know about these things, and anyway the budget wasn't very large. The only thing they could afford was their own stamina. After the fourth day of shooting though, Jet couldn't extend his fingers anymore. His striking palm had shrivelled up into a claw. It took a week of Chinese medicinal treatment to regain the full use of his hands. He guesses the tendons had shrunk from all that repeated freezing and thawing!
 
 

Shaolin Kids

 
The genesis of the storyline for Shaolin Kids was the wushu students’ own youthful mischief. The writers asked the actors about their experiences and they told them about what it was like to grow up in a wushu school. They took these anecdotes of playfulness and friendship, of teasing and tricks, and fashioned them into a narrative and set it in ancient times - boys representing Shaolin, girls representing Wudang. Actually, although the setting of the film is historical, it's not based in any particular historical period; this is fitting, because the stories themselves are timeless: about girls and boys training together and growing up together. Jet likes to think that the film conveys that feeling of camaraderie and joviality.

The movie took about 10 months to film, which means the cast and crew experienced all the seasons again. And again, probably the most memorable thing about the movie was the weather. Shaolin Temple may have been too cold, but Shaolin Kids left him with his worst memories of heat. There's actually a rule in China that when the weather gets too hot, businesses and schools shut down. If the temperature exceeds 40 degrees Celsius (102° F), people have the right not to go to work. They were filming the movie in Hangzhou. One day, the weather forecast was 42° C. Everything else in the city had shut down, but they had to continue filming.

The weather was so blisteringly hot that even ordinary activities became hazardous. They soon found that whenever any of them took a fall and put a hand to the ground to push himself up, the heat of the ground would take off a layer of skin. So the crew had to water the ground constantly. Right before a take, they sprayed water all over the area to be filmed. They would shoot a scene, and as soon as it was over, they'd start watering the ground again. Too hot. Imagine what it was like with the sun directly overhead. By his own reckoning, it must have reached 45° C (111° F) on some occasions. During fight scenes, it was not uncommon for one of them to go into shock from the heat. They would be fighting, and suddenly somebody would topple over. Someone would revive them and then they had to shoot the scene again. He does not think there was a single one of them who didn't have that experience.
 
 

 Shaolin Temple 3: Martial Arts of Shaolin

 
Jet didn't really want to make a third Shaolin movie, but for various reasons, he had to. Unlike the first two films, none of them in the cast had much creative participation on Shaolin Temple 3, because the studio had hired Lau Ka-leung, a big Hong Kong director. In fact, this movie engaged a lot more people from Hong Kong for both the crew and the cast. On the previous two movies, everybody had been a mainlander. Now they were even bringing in stunt doubles from Hong Kong to help out with the shoot. Soon the mainland Chinese actors started to notice certain discrepancies.
For Shaolin Temple, all of them had been paid 1 yuen/day. For Shaolin Kids, the cast and crew received 2 yuen/day. At the time, he hadn't thought too much about it; Jet didn't have a very clear concept of money. By the third movie, though, because he was a little older, he had a more mature perspective on things. He was starting to notice the existence of inequality in the world. If they were living in a society which is organized along systematic lines to ensure that the distribution is completely equitable, Jet had no basis to dispute it. But if they bring in people from another system (in this case, Hong Kong) who are earning 150,000 yuen/month to his 3 yuen/day -- and they don't actually do anything -- then he started to notice the social inequity.
There were many people on the set working very hard for next to nothing, simply because they were from China. The contradictions started to pile up in his heart as he realized that others perceived them and their work as less valuable. He started to think: "Just because I'm a mainlander, I'm supposed to expect this kind of treatment?"
Don't get him wrong: it wasn't all about money. They were separated by more than their salaries. The two crews even ate differently. They ate their simple mainland lunches, and the Hong Kong crew ate Cantonese food, which was provided to them via special catering.
As a result of these conditions, his heart wasn't into the actual filmmaking. Instead of devoting himself to the act of making the movie, he was constantly resisting the circumstances under which the movie was being made.
So many problems cropped up during the making of that film. The set was brimming over with complex struggles; it really opened his eyes to issues of power and class. It was certainly the most tension-filled film he has ever worked on. 
 
 

Once Upon a Time in China

 
 
Jet considers Once Upon a Time in China (OUATIC) the second turning point in his movie career, not just because it was successful, but because it gave him a new sense of what makes a good action movie. The lessons he learned on that set forever changed the way he viewed fight scenes.
OUATIC, the first of the Wong Fei-hung movies, gave him the chance to work with Tsui Hark, an outstanding director with an impressive history of martial arts movies. A few weeks before they started filming, he told Jet to come by his house to work out the action sequences. As Jet sat down, Wong popped a tape into the VCR and told him to watch. To his surprise, it was a nature documentary.
First, they saw a lion contemplating its next meal, stalking to and fro in the long grass. At every sound, it would tense and press its body to the ground; pause for a few seconds, then take a few more steps. Crouch again. With agonizing slowness, the lion crept out of the grass...then sprang out, creating a panicked stampede in the herd. The lion chose one antelope, pursued it relentlessly and ran it down.
As Jet recalls, it didn't leave much of an impression on him. What was happening on screen was pretty thrilling, to be sure, but he had seen nature documentaries like this before.
Tsui Hark said to him, "You know, the action in a martial arts movie is a display of physical skill. But capturing the disturbing tension of the moment just before a battle - that's pretty important, too."
Only then did Jet realize that the documentary they had just watched might have some relevance to the movie he was about to film.
"Play it again," Jet said. And this time they sat and carefully watched how the lion hunted down and killed its prey. He began to see the details: the lion as it begins to feel hunger in its belly, and the expression in its eyes as it stealthily starts to seek out its victim. And the antelope, how intensely it scans the area, and the fearful feeling as it returns to its drinking. … Long before anything violent happens, the viewer is already feeling very anxious. You're watching intently, imagining yourself in the position of the antelope or the lion, and the suspense can be pretty nerve-wracking. When the lion finally makes its move -leaping out and wrestling down the antelope - it's over very quickly. But the tension generated beforehand is very important. Same thing with OUATIC. Look at the two main characters right before they begin fighting. Circling each other, the wind, the fire, the expressions in their eyes. You know that a fierce battle is already underway. And the inspiration for that scene came from the nature documentary! That's how he learned to view fight scenes from a different perspective. No longer were they just a series of physical movements: this strike, that block, etc. You had to take a step back and see the emotions.
He learned a lot from Tsui Hark ... OUATIC kicked off a great era for Hong Kong action cinema.
 
 

Fist of Legend

 

 

"Fist of Fury" (a.k.a. “Chinese Connection”) was remade as "Fist of Legend" starring Jet Li, in 1994. It seemed to many that the remake was better than the original, but maybe that was because the remake had a better soundtrack, better story, better cinematography and better dubbing. I personally prefer the original but this was a good remake.
Revenge and Honor: These are words that most would use to describe this film. A loving homage to the 1973 Bruce Lee kung fu classic CHINESE CONNECTION updated with increased production values - a ROMEO AND JULIET style romantic subplot and a more temperate view of the Japanese enemy. Jet Li stars as Chen Zhen, who returns home to China to pay his respects to his slain kung-fu teacher. Set in the 1930s, Chen finds that his homeland has been taken over by the Japanese and that his school is in disarray. It does not take long for the former student to suspect that a rival school was involved in the death of his teacher. Following a confrontation with the rival school’s students, Chen is banned from his own school for having a Japanese girlfriend. The two move out to the countryside into a small shack, as Chen continues to investigate his master’s death.
While this may seem to follow the typical you-killed-my-teacher-now-I-must-kill-you plot, “Fist of Legend” digs deeper. This film demonstrates some pretty impressive storytelling techniques. It has an interesting political sub-plot and by the end, the character of Chen Zhen is legendary. What begins as an individual pursuit of vengeance evolves into a crusade when the student learns that those responsible for his master's death are Japanese imperialists who are establishing their dominance over China.
Jet Li's "Fist of Legend" is not a simple remake of the Bruce Lee classic; rather, it is an extension of the Chen Zhen legend. Most viewers will quickly notice that unlike "Chinese Connection," the Japanese characters in this film are not all evil, vicious, and decadent. Yet, the re-definition of the Japanese in the film speaks to a larger theme. Here, resistance against the enemies is no longer simply the activity of one heroic individual; instead, it is the collective actions of many. Jet Li's Chen Zhen is clearly the center of this film, yet his heroic actions are framed by the equally heroic activities of others.
These two films are, after all, ferocious fighting films designed to showcase the talents of their stars, and viewers looking for great choreographed fights will not be disappointed. Several scenes deserve mention. Near the end of "Chinese Connection," Bruce Lee defeats a seemingly invincible Russian opponent. In the second half of "Fist of Legend," Jet Li battles two different Japanese opponents. The first is a karate master who is his senior in both age and experience. This fight is characterized by honor. At one point, Chen Zhen blindfolds himself so as not to take unfair advantage of his opponent who was blinded by a dust storm. The duel between the two masters ends without a winner, although through this experience Chen Zhen learns from his opponent that he will need to develop both a defense and offense to defeat the Japanese enemies. This knowledge prepares Chen Zhen for the climactic fight in the film, his battle with the sadistic Japanese general.
Only rarely does amazing kung-fu action meet up with a solid story in the same film. Normally, this kind of film shows a whole lot of kicking and crowing, with little else in the way of plot. But “Fist of Legend” is a wonderful film to watch. The gravity-defying fight scenes are virtually non-stop, but what makes this film stand out from other kung-fu flicks, is that the story is pretty good.
But even with the interesting storyline, the main reason why you are going to want to see this film is for the impressive fight scenes. Much of the time, his hands and feet launch ahead so quickly, there is no way to see how Li pulls off many of his moves. The final fight scene is arguably one of the best of all time. Fights were choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping, action director of THE MATRIX. This movie is a must-see for fans of martial arts films - a kung-fu classic.
 
 

Black Mask

 
An ex-super soldier (Jet Li) turned vigilante crimefighter discovers that other super soldiers from his former squad are out to take over the crime world. With the assistance of a local police officer, he is forced to battle his former colleagues in a fight to the finish.
This is a very stylish movie. The producer of this film, Tsui Hark, has a tendency to exaggerate a lot by using wires but has always created exciting fighting scenes. Woo Ping is the fight choreographer.
While the humor made famous in many Hong Kong action flicks is present, the Jet Li movie has more horrific elements than say, a Jackie Chan movie. There's a lot of blood in this movie, and it works well. Jet is very vicious and powerful in this movie and uses very modern mixed martial arts moves.
Like everything in Black Mask, the gore is highly stylized. Punches bring large gobs of blood that fly from the characters’ mouths towards the camera. Characters are stabbed and great amounts of blood pour out.
 
 

More topics:

Jet Li the martial artist

Jet Li the film star

Jet Li explains Wushu

 

Kiss of the dragon.

The One

 

 
     

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