Personal detailsName: Jet Li
Born: 26 April 1963 (Age: 51)
Where: Beijing, China
Height: 5' 6"
Awards: No Major Awards
All about this star
Making his Hollywood breakthrough as the sinister Triad boss Wah Sing Ku in Lethal Weapon 4, Jet Li seemed set fair to follow in the footsteps of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Indeed, given his outrageous flair, his inspired melding of many martial arts and, above all, his genuine acting ability, he looked likely to outdo them both. Briefly losing himself in hi-octane, FX-packed actioners, he would at last begin to reach his potential with Yimou Zhang's classic Hero, a huge Asian hit which, after two years in distributor hell, eventually made Number One in America. Finally a household name, Li could now begin to spread his wings.
Born in Beijing on April 26th, 1963, Li Lian Jie (his Mandarin name - in Cantonese it's Li Nin Kit) has two brothers and two sisters. His father died when he was only two, and he was consequently heavily influenced by his teachers, becoming a devoted and disciplined student. By the time he was 8, his PE teacher at the Changqiao Primary School noted his extraordinary agility and grace, and recommended he be sent to Beijing's Amateur Sports School for formal training in Wushu, the Chinese national sport and a kind of martial arts performance style, rather than a mode of fighting. Here he fell under the tutelage of Wu Bin, studying academics by day and, by night, practising bends, presses, somersaults, all the tools of the prospective Wushu master.
Wu Bin quickly spotted the boy's determination and ambition, and gave him extra training. Yet still there was no power in Jet's kicks or blows. Studying his pupil's diet, the teacher discovered a fatal deficiency. Years before, Jet's grandmother had fallen ill through eating meat and had been advised by her doctor to give it up. The whole family had followed suit, partly for health reasons, partly because they were so poor. In order to boost Jet's protein intake, Wu Bin would deliver food to the family for years. His star pupil strength quickly increased.
After three years of schooling, Jet had made massive bounds. At 11, he won gold at the Chinese national championships, a feat he would perform on five consecutive occasions. He was taken on to Beijing's professional Wushu team and, over the next five years, performed in 40 countries across the globe, one of his early shows being before President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger on the White House lawn. The martial arts cognoscenti appreciated his intelligent combination of many styles - monkey boxing, chanquan, taichiquan, gun boxing, tongbeiquan. He was superb with both sword and spear.
Jet himself is quick to point out that this mastery did not come easily - he HATES to be called a prodigy, believing the term ignores his years of toil. Wu Bin, he recalls, was kind to his team-mates, allowing them rest when they needed it, but extremely harsh with Jet himself, pushing him to ever-greater extremes. Wu Bin has admitted as much. Recognising Jet's ability and ambition, he followed the stone-hearted adage "a resounding drum must be struck with a heavy hammer", forcing Jet to undergo three times as many exercises as his peers. Many times Jet wavered, nearly gave up like so many of his schoolmates, only for Wu Bin to drive him forward again.
Beyond the training, there was constant research and philosophical study. Jet would seek out and question all the old masters gathered in Beijing, also gleaning information from opera actors and dancers. Like Bruce Lee before him, he would take from any style and was very conscious that, once a new move or routine was performed, it was inevitably copied. The need for constant change and improvement was paramount.
While still in his teens, Jet became national Wushu coach. He also turned his eye towards the cinema, and caused an immediate sensation. Shaolin Temple had been a hit back in 1976. Now, in 1982, it was remade, with Jet in the role of the youngster who, his father killed, learns kung fu and both revenges himself and saves the Emperor. The film was partly shot at the real-life Shaolin monastery in the Song mountains of Henan province and, with Jet already a national hero due to his Wushu exploits, it was a nationwide smash, causing a new martial arts craze in China. Two immensely popular sequels followed, the first involving Jet being pushed to marry the supposedly lesbian daughter of a rival family.
Despite this initial filmic success, the mid-Eighties proved a difficult time for Jet Li. His directorial debut, Born To Defend was a failure and his other pictures were fairly unsophisticated efforts. Furthermore, his marriage to Huang Qui-Yan, a fellow member of the Beijing Wushu team who bore him two daughters, fell apart. Rumours flew that a third party had been involved, and Jet was said to be involved with buxom actress Nina Li Chi, his co-star in the San Francisco-set romp Dragon Fight. Nina had been Miss Asia Pacific in 1986, and later starred as a sexy spook in A Chinese Ghost Story 3, as a nubile menaced by a 7-foot Komodo dragon in Stone Age Warriors, as an evil witch in A Kid From Tibet and as a very confused girlfriend in Jackie Chan's Twin Dragons (a parody of Jean-Claude Van Damme's Double Impact). She would retire from movies in 1992 then, having reportedly lost $10 million in property deals, would reappear in 1999, as Jet Li's new wife. The couple had clearly enjoyed a long relationship but, perhaps due to Jet not wishing to taint his heroic reputation, had seldom been seen together. They now have a daughter, named Jane.