HERO - Q&A with Jet Li
Q&A with Jet LI (Nameless)
Jet Li is one of Hollywood's most accomplished martial arts actors who has showcased his talents in a multitude of demanding and diverse roles.
Li began training at the Beijing Martial Arts Academy at the age of nine. Just two years later, he captured the title of China's National Martial Arts Champion. This earned him a slot on the prestigious Beijing Martial Arts Team that would go on to tour America. As part of a world tour in 1974, he had the honor of performing a two-man fight for President Nixon on the White House lawn. By his mid teens, he was already a national martial arts coach. By eighteen, Li had earned the title of National Martial Arts Champion a total of four times (1975, 1977, 1978 and 1979) - a record no one has broken.
Li retired from competition at twenty and was immediately offered many starring film roles and subsequently began his film career with director Chang Hsin Yen for SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1979). Upon its release, Li was propelled into instant movie stardom, and he would go on to act on the two sequels that precipitated the kung-fu mania in 1980s China. Jet Li was bitten by the silver screen bug.
In the late 80s, Jet Li moved his career to Hong Kong where he played such martial arts icons as Huang Fei Hung in Tsui Hark's ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA (1991), Fong Shi Yu in THE LEGEND OF FONG SAI-YUK (1993), Zhang San Feng in THE TAI CHI MASTER (1993), Chen Zhen in SHAOLIN KUNG FU (1994) and Hung Hei-Kwun in THE NEW LEGEND OF SHAOLIN (1994). In homage to the great Bruce Lee, he remade Lee's FIST OF FURY, as FIST OF LEGEND, (1997). Li then expanded his repertoire to include comedy, drama and romance genres with BODYGUARD FROM BEIJING (1994) and MY FATHER IS A HERO (1995).
Despite his growing fame in Asia, Jet Li was still largely unknown in North America and Europe. This would all change when he took on the role of Mel Gibson's nemesis in the high octane block buster, LETHAL WEAPON 4. Li was quickly shaping up to be a global force to be reckoned with. Li built on his initial success taking a starring role in Joel Silver's explosive inter-racial take on Shakespeare, ROMEO MUST DIE (2000). In 2001, Li continued to challenge himself with the THE ONE, playing the Jekyll and Hyde police officer, Gabriel Yulaw. His latest success was KISS OF THE DRAGON (2001), where he played the starring role as well as donning writing and producing hats.
Li's future projects include a Joel Silver produced action-adventure film in the vein of INDIANA JONES. He has also teamed up with Mel Gibson's Icon Productions to produce a martial arts television series for TBS entitled INVINCIBLE. Jet Li's Kung Fu features have attracted millions of viewers worldwide. He has earned credibility from all sectors of society - from teenagers (nominated MTV Awards for Best Villain for LETHAL WEAPON 4 (1998) as well as Best Fight Sequence for ROMEO MUST DIE (2000)) to women (voted one of the Top 25 Sexiest Men in Showbiz by E! Online).
What is meant by this wushu genre?
Wushu is just Chinese pronunciation for martial arts, like a sport. Martial arts includes all kind of sports, all kind of styles: Japanese, Chinese, whatever. They are totally covered by wushu.
Was exactly is the historical context of the film?
We are talking about 2000 years ago. In China they had the first emperor unifying six small countries to become one and he did it very well. I think everybody knows that. He believed he was doing the right thing, other people look at it from a different point of view. My character is from a small country, his parents died, because the emperor destroyed my country so I want to learn martial arts to be able to kill him. At the end of the day the movie gives a different kind of message that violence is not the only solution.
Would you describe Hero as a martial arts movie?
I believe you can use martial arts to tell a different story. Ang Lee used martial arts to talk about love, between one man and two women. Zhang Yimou is one of the best directors on mainland China this is his first action film, but he has done his own story.
How difficult is it to put one of these fight scenes together?
We spent six months shooting in China, with post-production for another year. It is not so difficult in that we didn't have a time schedule when we were shooting, everybody supported the director: with the kind of martial arts needed to support a character, the kind of locations we needed, and so on. Everybody supported him. Thankfully he did a wonderful job.
How hard did you find it?
Martial arts, for me, is not very difficult. The other actors had to spend a few months training beforehand. Shooting the action sequences is normal, shot with only two breaks or three breaks, something like that.
Is it ever dangerous?
Not dangerous at all for me. It is okay, after the training for the other actors. For me it is not dangerous at all.
How easy is it to maintain character while executing martial arts?
I did a lot of this kind of movie before, with weapons, so it is not very difficult. When you work with a famous director you are under pressure in how you are going to act. He is a friend of mine, he said forget acting, what he didn't want was acting, just for us to do normal things in the movie.
What do you see as the themes of the movie?
The whole film is a unique action movie. Different colours talk about the different story perspectives, they have love with very beautiful scenes. The most important message is that violence is not the only solution.
Who is the hero in HERO?
I think the director leaves the question open for the audience. Different ages and different cultures have different opinions of who their hero is. There is no hero for the director or the actors, we left it up to the audience, whatever they believe.
What is Zhang Yimou like as a director?
He is very special, he is an artist. Sometimes we did only two or three shots a day because we were waiting for the sun. One location we worked on a lake, the water had to look like a mirror. That is really difficult to control, after two hours, say, a small wind comes and disturbs the water. Then we all go home. We would lose time, we would lose money, Zhang would just get what he needs. In the palace sequence, when I walked out, every soldier has to have the right coloured light on their shoulders. We would wait until four o-clock for the right shadow. We spent days waiting for the sun to come out. He is that kind of director.
Why has the film appealed to Western audiences?
I think it is not a real martial arts movie, it is not about violence, or the formula. It is not kick ass, it is not like Jackie Chan or a Jet Li movie. It talks about a much deeper thing, mentally, that is why I wanted to make the movie. It looks at something in a different way. It is about compassion.
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