Li Lianjie (born 26 April 1963), better known by his English stage name Jet Li, is a Chinese film actor, film producer, martial artist, and wushu champion who was born in Beijing. He is a naturalised Singaporean citizen.
After three years of intensive 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 the Once Upon A Time in China series, in which he portrayed folk hero Wong Fei-hung.
Li’s first role in a Hollywood 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 Hollywood action films, including 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) opposite Brendan Fraser.
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.
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 Changquan (Northern Longfist Style) and Fanziquan (Tumbling fist). He has also studied other arts including Baguazhang (Eight trigram palm), Taijiquan (Supreme ultimate fist), Xingyiquan (Shape intent fist), Zuiquan (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), Gun, 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.
Li is a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism. His master is Lho Kunsang.
In 1987, Li married Beijing Wushu Team member and Kids from Shaolin co-star Huang Qiuyan, with whom he has two daughters, Si and Taimi. They divorced in 1990. Since 1999, he has been married to Nina Li Chi (born Li Zhi), a Shanghai-born, Hong Kong-based actress. He has two daughters with her also, Jane (born 2000) and Jada (born 2003).
Li was in the Maldives when a tsunami hit during the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Although it was widely reported at the time that he had died during the disaster, he only suffered a minor foot injury, caused by a piece of floating furniture, while he was guiding his 4-year-old daughter Jane and the nanny holding his 1-year-old daughter Jada to safety. The four of them were by the pool and slightly above the beach when the wave came ashore.
In 2009, Li, who previously had US citizenship after years working in the United States, renounced his US citizenship. He was thought to have taken up Singaporean citizenship, although Singaporean authorities did not initially provide any confirmation of this. On 28 July 2009, the chairman of One Foundation (the Charity fund of Jet Li) announced that Jet Li had indeed become a Singaporean citizen. He was said to have chosen Singapore for its education system for his two daughters.
In 2009, Li launched his own fitness program that he named “Wuji”. The programme consists of elements of martial arts, yoga and pilates; Adidas launched a special clothing line for it that bears the initials of “JL”.
In 2013, Li revealed that he suffers from hyperthyroidism and has been dealing with the issue for the past three years. Since his heart rate can hit 130~140 at normal, Li takes medication to control his heart rate and has been advised not to do any sort of exercise.
In his free time he likes to play badminton, table tennis, ride his bicycle, read and meditate. He collects rare Tibetan beads. He says he is never bored in his free time.
I never say to myself I’m the best fighter in the world. If someone learns martial arts solely to pick fights on the street, to lean on it as a keystone weapon in conflicts, to use it to bully and intimidate others – then that person, in my opinion, cannot be considered a true martial artist.
Li as a Buddhist believes that the difficulties of everyday life can be overcome with the help of religious philosophies. He thinks that fame is not something he can control; therefore, he does not care about it.
According to Li, everything he has ever wanted to tell the world can be found in three of his films: the message of Hero is that the suffering of one person can never be as significant as the suffering of a nation; Unleashed shows that violence is never a solution and Fearless tells that the biggest enemy of a person is himself. Li thinks that the greatest weapon is a smile and the largest power is love.
About Wushu, Li said that he believes the essence of martial arts is not power or speed but inner harmony and considers it a sad development that today’s Wushu championships place greater emphasis on form than on the essence of being a martial artist. He believes Wushu now lacks individuality and competitors move like machines, whereas according to his views Wushu should not be considered a race where the fastest athlete wins. He would like to see Wushu as a form of art, where artists have a distinctive style. Li blames the new competition rules that, according to him, place limitations on martial artists.
Li believes that Wushu is not primarily for self-defense and instead of trying to play the hero people should think about peaceful resolutions of conflicts and call the police if necessary: “A gun outdoes years of martial arts training in a split second. Like I’ve said many times before, it is important to differentiate between movies and reality. The hero in movies may be able to knock the gun off his opponent and save the day, but in real life – probably that is not the case.” He has also stated that he has never had to use his martial arts skills in a real life fight and he does not wish to, either.