When watching Chinese martial arts films, many foreigners would be attracted by the charm of some famous martial arts masters. Among these famous stars, who is the best? In many people' eyes, Jet Li has become the king of Kungfu in China.
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From Shaolin Temple, to the series of Once Upon a Time in China, to the recent Danny the Dog and Fearless, Jet Li is a name closely connected with action movie, kungfu, and Wushu (or martial arts).
Jet Li has achieved splendid success, whether as a Wushu practitioner or as an action star. His handsome appearance, fortitude, and resoluteness, as well as brilliant martial arts movements, have attracted a large audience for him. Known as the "Gene Kelly of the action film," Jet Li is part of the wave of new Asian stars taking Hollywood by storm. Jet Li has kicked and punched his way out of the cult-film underground and into global mainstream superstardom, making the world crazy for him.
Shaolin Temple: where the legend started
Shortly after retiring from the sport at the age of 17, Jet Li was offered many starring roles and subsequently began his film career with director Zhang Xinyan for Shaolin Temple. Based on the Shaolin folklore and the true story of how Shaolin monks saved the Tang emperor, this film marked the debut of the national Wushu champion as an inexperienced film star.
The Legend of a Wushu Genius
As a child, he was a quiet and meek boy who was not allowed to do any risky activities such as swimming, skating, or even riding a bicycle. It was quite a haphazard that Jet Li took up wushu training when he was eight years old. At that time he had no idea what wushu was. Yet Jet was selected out from more than 1,000 children by Coach Wu Bin, who believed Jet was born with limitless talents in wushu.
The year 1974 saw Jet Li's perfect debut in the national Wushu competition, on which he was the all-round youth champion. After winning the national championship, Jet Li was selected as a member of China Wushu Team. As part of a world tour the same year, he also had the honor of performing a two-man fight for President Nixon on the White House lawn. In all, in the following years, Jet Li would travel to more than 40 countries with the team doing demonstrations of Wushu.
Golden Age in Hong Kong
Frustrated and dejected, Jet Li decided to go to the United States, where he met Tsui Hark, who had already established himself as one of Hong Kong's leading new wave directors. Tsui Hark then cast Jet in the historical martial arts film Once Upon a Time in China in 1991. Jet got the opportunity to show off his blistering martial-arts skills once again as he played the legendary Wong Fei-Hung, who fought for China's rights against the Western colonial powers moving into China in the late 19th century. The film was a massive global success with critics and fans, so much so that it spawned two successful sequels, both starring Li. In the following years, Li starred in another film series about a Chinese folk hero, Fong Sai Yuk. The series was again a huge hit.
Establishing a Reputation in Hollywood
After his huge success in Hong Kong, Jet Li decided to try himself at Hollywood. In 1998 he made his Hollywood debut alongside Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon IV, in which he had to play the villain. The film turned out to be successful and paved the way for future projects, including Romeo Must Die, Kiss of the Dragon, The One, and so on, making Jet Li become quite popular among American audiences along the way.
In 2002, the film Hero starring Jet Li was released in the US market. This film was both a critical and commercial success. Later, Jet took a big risk with the 2005 action drama, Danny the Dog, in which he portrays an adult with the mentality of a child who has been raised like an animal. It was a somber film with more depth than had been previously seen in Jet's films.
By then, Jet Li had already established himself in Hollywood, and was accepted as the king of Kungfu stars after Bruce Lee.
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