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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.