In 1980, at a Wushu Martial Arts Tournament, a young, rosy-faced, talented 17-year old youngster won the championship role, and quickly became a major media star. Following his success, everybody wants to hire him, seeing the potential in this young man, but eventually it's a Chinese film studio, Chung Yuen Motion Picture Company, who convinced this talented young boy to take a stab in acting instead.
That young boy was Jet Li (born Li Lianjie (李连杰) on April 26th, 1963 in Beijing, China). The film was the first installment of The Shaolin Temple, which quickly became one of China's biggest blockbusters of all time with over 300 million tickets sold, spawning two sequels, and introduce to the world the new martial arts legend.
Wushu master and heir to Bruce Lee's crown as king of kung fu movies, Li spent some years as one of the world's most well-known exponents of Wire Fu, before making a move to more brutal fighting styles after heading east to try his luck in Hollywood.
His films include:
- The Shaolin Temple trilogy - Jet Li's film debut, when he was 18. All three movies were filmed and released back-to-back between 2-year intervals.
- Born To Defense - Li's sole directorial effort, starring himself
- The Once Upon a Time in China series as Wong Fei-hung, his Star-Making Role.
- The Expendables as Ying Yang, the sole Fragile Speedster amongst a party of Mighty Glacier warriors.
- Fearless (2006) as Huo Yuan Jia.
- The Forbidden Kingdom as the Silent Monk / Sun Wukong.
- High Risk as Kit Li.
- Hitman (1998) / Contract Killer / King of Killers as Fu
- The New Legend of Shaolin as Hung Hei-kwun
- Ocean Heaven: as Wang Xuechang. Jet Li's first and thus far only non-action or Martial Arts Movie: A heartwarming-drama about a single father aquarium technician diagnosed with cancer, who must find a way to take care of his mentally-retarded adult son, by spending quality time with him amongst the dolphins and turtles of his workplace (hence the title). Bring tissues, you WILL need them.
- Black Mask which was inspired by Manhua of the same name by Li Chi-Tak and Kato from The Green Hornet.
- Dr. Wai in "The Scripture with No Words" - In an Acting for Two role, Jet plays Chow Si-kit, a writer who writes about the adventures of the fictional Indiana Jones-knockoff Adventurer Archaeologist Dr. Wai, and Dr. Wai himself in the writer's numerous Imagine Spot while he writes out the story.
- Hero (2002) as Nameless.
- Lethal Weapon 4, his first Hollywood role, and his first major villain role, as Wah Sing Ku.
- The One as Gabe Law, Yulaw, and Lawless (it's that kind of movie).
- The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, as the Dragon Emperor.
- War (2007) as Rogue.
- Kiss of the Dragon as Liu Jian. Produced by Luc Besson.
- Danny the Dog as Danny. Another Besson production.
- Kung Fu Cult Master as Cheung Mo-Kei.
- Cradle 2 the Grave as Su.
- Romeo Must Die as Han Sing.
- The Sorcerer and the White Snake as Monk Fa-hai.
- The Fong Sai Yuk series (known in the US as The Legend) as Fong Sai Yuk.
- Fist of Legend as Chen Zhen.
- The Enforcer/My Father is a Hero as Kung Wei.
- The Defender/The Bodyguard From Beijing as Allan Hui Ching-Yeung/John Chang.
- Tai Chi Master - also known as Twin Warriors in the US.
- The Warlords as Pang Qing-yun.
- Flying Swords of Dragon Gate as Zhao Huai'an
- Mulan as the Emperor of China
Tropes applicable to his roles:
- Artistic License – Martial Arts: His fighting style on-screen is typically Bruce Lee-inspired, and like Lee himself did, Li actually dismisses it as Awesome, but Impractical. In fact, Jet has acknowledged that despite his wins in wushu tournaments (which are closer to dancing than fighting), he has zero real fighting experience, and that any of the MMA fighters he faces in Cradle 2 the Grave could beat him in seconds.
- Battle Amongst the Flames: More than one Jet Li film features this as the climax, including The One, Romeo Must Die, Cradle 2 The Grave, Dr. Wai and the Scripture with No Words, The Expendables (first movie only) and a few others.
- Chaste Hero: Most of his protagonists are either too honorable and/or too focused on the main plot to bother with romance.
- Ink-Suit Actor: For the Playstation 2 game Rise To Honor, Li gave his likeness, his motion-capture performance, and voice performance for his character Kit Yun.
- Lightning Bruiser:
- He's really fast, even when doing Tai Chi (as it is supposed to be; the slow version is for exercise), and he'll put just enough pressure behind it to make you feel it without injuring you. Brendan Fraser put it best in his The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor interview:"We got into position, then Action! I didn't even see it, his leg just went BOOM! *doubles up while holding his left ribcage* Not hard enough to knock me out, but enough to make me go whoof!"
- During filming of Lethal Weapon 4, Richard Donner had to tell him to slow down, as the cameras weren't able to register his moves. And they still ended up having to use some slow motion.
- He's really fast, even when doing Tai Chi (as it is supposed to be; the slow version is for exercise), and he'll put just enough pressure behind it to make you feel it without injuring you. Brendan Fraser put it best in his The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor interview:
- Shown Their Work: Despite the artistic license mentioned above, as a trained martial artist Li's moves have a real sense of weight and deadly force (pick any Jet Li movie and note how he doesn't over-extend himself, re-centers after every move, and doesn't present a weak spot to an enemy except as a Defensive Feint Trap); Jet Li movies that feature Wire Fu and the flashier (i.e. impossible in real life) stuff are explicitly set in fantasy or sci-fi settings.