Famous in the early ’90s and into the first decade of the new millennium for his youthful looks and acrobatic moves in action movies, Jet Li is a film actor and producer in both the Chinese and Hollywood film industry; he is also a champion of martial arts. Follow us as we unveil all you’ve always wanted to know about your favorite action film star.
Jet Li – Biography
He was born Li Lian Jie in Beijing, China, on April 26, 1963. Before becoming one of the most electrifying martial arts actors in the world, Jet Li was a sportsman in wushu.
In 1972, he enrolled in the Beijing wushu team winning his first national championship in the Chinese Wushu Championship at 11. Jet then traveled to the United States in 1974 – as part of winning the championship – to give a martial arts demonstration to President Richard M. Nixon.
In no time, he became the All-Around National Wushu Champion; a title he held for five consecutive years – even while fighting in the adult league. The fame he gained in sports brought him into the movie industry; leading to his immediate retirement from wushu at 17.
His stage name, Jet Li, was given to him in the Philippines in the year 1982 when an advertising company stated that his real name was too complicated to pronounce: a PR specialist comparing Li’s successful career to a skyrocketing aircraft.
Li then made his film debut in Shaolin Temple in the same year; becoming a star in his native country. He then moved to Hong Kong, instantly becoming involved in the martial arts film scene. There, he starred in Once Upon a Time in China (1991) and its two sequels.
In 1998, Jet Li landed his first English-language role, playing the villain in Lethal Weapon 4 with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. This made him relocate to Los Angeles for the film, where he underwent intensive language training to prepare for his role as a Chinese crime boss.
In 2000, he teamed up with rapper DMX and now-deceased-singer Aaliyah for Romeo Must Die a hip-hop-meets-martial-arts story on the classic tale of young love, where Li and the hip-hop star played star-crossed lovers from two warring crime families.
In 2001, Jet Li co-starred with Bridget Fonda in Kiss of the Dragon. That same year, Jet starred in the convoluted science fiction tale, The One. There, he played the two main characters: an unsuspecting California sheriff and a ruthless killer who travels through parallel worlds to eliminate the other versions of himself.
In 2003, he again worked with rapper DMX; and martial artist Mark Dacascos in the movie Cradle 2 the Grave. And in 2005, Li starred in Unleashed: a film which featured him as a man raised in tough conditions.
In his next film, Fearless (2006), Jet Li starred as the famed Chinese martial arts master Huo Yuanjia. He then played a lethal assassin in War (2007).
The same year, Jet Li returned to China and starred in a Hong Kong film – The Warlords – directed by Peter Chan. The main emphasis of the film was not martial arts, but dramatic components; and for this role, Li won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actor.
2008 gave Li the ‘rare’ opportunity of working with another leading martial arts star, Jackie Chan, in the adventure film The Forbidden Kingdom. It was the first time both stars would come together for a joint role in their amazing careers. In the same year, he starred in the Hollywood action sequel The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008).
Taking a break from the big screen, Li returned in 2010 with a supporting role in The Expendables: uniting with such stars as Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Mickey Rourke. Between 2012 and 2014, he starred in the subsequent installments of the popular franchise – The Expendables 2 and The Expendables 3.
In 2017, a short film – Gong Shou Dao – was released; the film featured Jack Ma: the founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, Wu Jing, and Jacky Heung.
Though Li was planning to star together with Vin Diesel in an adventure action film in 2017 – XXX: Return of Xander – the role was given to Donnie Yen. He is also believed to be prepping for a role as the emperor of China in Disney’s live-action production of Mulan, which is currently scheduled to arrive in theaters in 2020.
Interested in charitable causes, Li has been involved in philanthropy since 2006: serving as an ambassador for the Red Cross Society of China. In partnership with the organization, the superstar founded his own non-profit foundation in the spring of 2007 called The One Foundation; which supports international efforts for disaster relief and suicide prevention to the people of China.
Jet Li is a naturalized Singaporean (since 2009), an American from 2003–2009 (he renounced his earlier granted US citizenship to favor Singapore), and is Chinese (by birth).
Wife and Daughter
Jet Li got married to Huang Qiuyan in 1987. Huang, also being a Kung Fu star herself, met with Li at the age of 13 as a member of the Beijing Wushu Team; with the pair gradually becoming childhood sweethearts.
They both made several films together as teenage actors such as Kids from Shaolin and Martial Arts of Shaolin. However, the couple got divorced in 1990. With Huang Qiuya, Jet had two daughters – Si and Taimi.
Since 1999 though, the actor has been married to Nina Li Chi (a Shanghai-born as Li Zhi). She is an actress based in Hong Kong. Together they share two daughters – Jane and Jada, bringing the number of LI’s daughters to 4.
Li is from a very poor family. At the age of two, he lost his father; and the family faced hardship. When he began learning wushu, his family realized his talent in the martial arts and sent him to continue his studies at a special school: where he rose to become a national champion and an international film actor.
With two elder brothers and two elder sisters, Jet Li is the youngest of five children.
Jet Li is relatively small in stature, a physique that comes in handy in martial arts and stunts. He stands at a height of 168 cm: weighing 60 kg.
Where Is He Now; Is He Dead?
Rumors of the star actor’s death have spread as much as his fame. The superstar has been plagued by injuries and near-death experiences since his teenage days: suffering his first major injury at 18, and sustaining a serious back injury at 23.
In 2004, Li was in the Maldives when a massive tsunami earthquake hit the Indian Ocean. Believed to be dead by the media, the actor only suffered a minor foot injury while he was guiding his then 4-year-old daughter Jane, 1-year-old daughter Jada, and nanny to safety.
Years later, Jet Li then revealed that he has battled hyperthyroidism and spinal problems: the former being a condition that alters a person’s metabolism and heart rate, causes fatigue and induces weight loss.
The actor said he had been diagnosed with an overactive thyroid in 2010; and although he took medication, the condition kept coming back.
In 2013, he said he was uncertain if he could continue working or being able to perform stressful physical activities due to his condition; stating clearly that doctors said he could end up in a wheelchair if he continued making physically demanding action films.
A picture of Li went viral in 2007, allegedly showing him as a frail and unrecognizable figure. The picture which was taken at a temple in Tibet raised questions about the health of the martial art hero.
But Li’s manager refuted the rumors; stating that it’s a condition the actor has been dealing with for almost 10 years and that it’s nothing life-threatening.
Jet Li himself weighed in on the hot topic after a long absence from the public eye. Dispelling rumors that his illness was worsening and that he needed a wheelchair. He declared during a charity dinner at One Foundation that he’s doing great and feeling great.