Li Lianjie ( born 26 April 1963), better known by his stage name Jet Li, is a Chinese film actor, film producer, martial artist, and retired Wushu champion who was born in Beijing. He is a naturalized Singaporean citizen.
After three years of training with Wu Bin, Li won his first national championship for the Beijing Wushu Team. After retiring from Wushu at age 19, he went on to win great acclaim in China 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 as the lead in director Zhang Yimou’s 2002 Hero, Fist of Legend which is the best acclaimed Li movie by Rotten Tomatoes, and the Once Upon a Time in China series, in which he portrayed folk hero Wong Fei-hung.
Li’s first role in a non-Chinese film was as a villain in Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), and his first leading role in a Hollywood film was as Han Sing in Romeo Must Die (2000). He has gone on to star in many action films, including in French cinema with Luc Besson Kiss of the Dragon and Unleashed. He co-starred in The One (2001), The Forbidden Kingdom (2008) with Jackie Chan, all three of The Expendables films with Sylvester Stallone, and as the title character villain in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)
Early life and martial arts career
Li was born in Beijing, China, as the youngest of two boys and two girls. His father died when he was two years old, leaving the family struggling.
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 organised to perform martial arts forms during the All China Games. He was coached by renowned wushu coaches Li Junfeng and Wu Bin, who made extra efforts to help the talented boy develop. Wu Bin even bought food for Li’s family because they could not afford to buy meat, which was essential for the good physical condition of an athlete] 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, where, despite his young age, he competed against adults.
My winning first place caused quite a sensation, because I was so young. I was 12 years old, and the other two medallists were in their mid- to late twenties. During the awards ceremony, as I stood on the top step of the podium, I was still shorter than the 2nd and 3rd place medallists. It must have been quite a sight.
Jet Li China’s Internet Celebrity
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!”
Li is a master of several styles of wushu, especially Chángquán (Northern Longfist Style) and Fānziquán (Tumbling fist). He has also studied other arts including Baguazhang (Eight trigram palm), Taijiquan (Supreme ultimate fist), Xingyiquan (Shape intent fist), Zui Quan (Drunken fist), Yingzhaoquan (Eagle claw fist) and Tanglangquan (Praying mantis fist). He did not learn Nanquan (Southern fist), because his training focused only in the Northern Shaolin Styles. He has also studied some of wushu’s main weapons, such as Sanjiegun (Three Section Staff), Gùn, Dao (Broadsword), Jian (Straight Sword) and many more.
It is Jet Li’s authentic martial arts prowess that enabled his rise to domestic and international fame.