The 5 Best Jet Li movies
When it comes to martial arts films one name that almost immediately comes to mind for fans of the genre, is Jet Li. As an actor, writer, director, and producer Li is one example of a Chinese actor making the successful crossover from the Asian film market onto the international stage. Known for his extremely fast hand and footwork, Li is one of the most famous and respected martial artists in film history. From traditional style epics such as Hero and Once Upon a Time in China to contemporary actions like Romeo Must Die, Li has had a very full and exciting career that excites dedicated and new fans.
Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
The first in the Once Upon a Time film series, Once Upon a Time in China is about the famed Chinese martial-artist and folk hero Wong Fei-Hong (Li) who fights back against European and American forces when he sees the havoc being wreaked on China. As he and his apprentices come up against western fighters and weapons, Wong questions if traditional martial arts like Kung-Fu can win against guns. Known for his confidence as a fighter, Li is given a chance to be endearing in the scenes where Wong’s shyness during his interactions with Yui Swi-Kwan (Rosamund Kwan) whom he has a crush on.
In Zhang Yimou’s Chinese epic, Li plays Nameless, a defense officer for the King of Qin. Having survived an attempt on his life, recounts the battles between him and his foes, Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Leung), and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). With gorgeous cinematography and beautifully choreographed fight scenes, Hero is one of Li’s most critically acclaimed films and was the first Chinese language film to become No. 1 in American box-offices at the time of its release.
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Romeo Must Die (2000)
Li stars as Han Sing, Li not only performed as the stellar martial artist fans knew him to be, but he was also the romantic interest of Trish 0’Day played by Aaliyah, a role he hadn’t stepped into since his film debut in 1982’s The Shaolin Temple. Though the film is the typical action film about revenge, it had comedic elements that allowed Li to play a more light-hearted role than seen in previous films (or since), which came out through his scenes with Aaliyah thanks to the great chemistry they had. With fight sequences choreographed by Corey Yuen, the film is packed with great fight sequences, including the final battle between Sing and his nemesis Kai (Russell Wong) which had what is probably one of the most memorable kill shots at the end.
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Fist of Legend (1994)
For this remake of the Bruce Lee’s classic Fist of Fury, Li stars as student Chen Zhen, who after learning of the death of his master, returns to China during the Japanese occupation in 1937. He finds his country and the city of Shanghai brimming with racial tension between Chinese citizens and the Japanese forces. As Chen searches for the truth about his master’s death he himself becomes a part of the fight against the occupation. Chen is one of Li’s most iconic roles, and lead to him playing the character’s teacher in Fearless. Directing sibling the Wachowskis were so impressed by the fight scenes in Fist of Legend they hired choreographer Yuen Woo-ping to work on their film The Matrix.
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Loosely based on the life of martial arts legend Huo Yuanjia who founded the Jin Wu Sports Federation. As Li’s last action film using the fighting style of Wushu, Fearless, directed by Ronny Yu (The Bride with White Hair) is probably one of the few films that gave Li a character that had a full arc, story-wise. At the beginning of the film, Yaunjia (Li) is an arrogant, stubborn young man who only cares about winning fights, but after a devastating loss, he leaves home to return again years later a much wiser and grounded man which was reflected in the fight choreography.
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