(courtesy of HKMDB.com)
I can remember the first time I saw Jet Li’s debut film Shaolin Temple. It was around 1991 and it was in my good friend Sifu Shannon Roxborough’s house. We had just come from Evergreen Supply, a Chinese grocery store in Southfield, Michigan. We rented a ton of movies one being Shaolin Temple. I could barely read the subtitles and kept asking Shannon who speaks fluent Mandarin what they were really saying which no doubt got on his nerves. When the action sequences happened I shut up and just watched. There was the star,this Li Lian Jie, whom I never heard of and in my mind I was comparing him to Gordon Liu, Ti Lung, Phillip Kwok, and some of the other Shaw Brothers stars I grew up watching. Shannon explained to me that Li Lian Jie was the famous Wu Shu prodigy of Mainland China and won several championships in that sport. Well since I didn’t know what Wu Shu was I was not impressed. That is until I saw Li Lian Jie’s Wu Shu in action (in Shaolin Temple). My goodness! As the movie progressed I became more and more impressed with Wu Shu, the rest of the cast (who were Wu Shu players), and Jet Li. His form was unmatched, his speed rivaled another famous martial arts actor with the same surname ( although romanized to Lee), and he came off as the confused, loyal, and angry son of a rebel turned Shaolin monk. I became a Jet Li fan half-way through the movie. I was no longer comparing him to my favorite Shaw Brothers stars I just wanted to see more of his movies!
At the time I didn’t realize how important Shaolin Temple was to Mainland Chinese Wu Shu movies ( I differ them from Kung Fu movies as the main art in the Mainland movies would be Contemporary Wu Shu), the real Shaolin Temple, and the career of not only Jet Li but many of his co-stars as well. After we finished the movie and I picked up my jaw off the floor, Shannon explained to me how important Wu Shu was to Mainland China( and the rest of the world) and the impact that Shaolin Temple had on THE Shaolin Monastery. In my mind Jet Li was the man and I made it a point to view Kids From Shaolin and Martial Arts of Shaolin Jet’s collaboration with director Lau Kar Leung. Martial Arts of Shaolin stands out in my mind as one of the best of Jet’s earlier movie efforts. Lau Kar Leung brought a “kung fu” sensibility to the beautiful Contemporary Wu Shu moves and Jet and company look beauty and deadly in their fight scenes. After I saw Martial Arts of Shaolin I became more and more of a Jet Li fan and then…
I discovered ( about 1994 or 1995) Once Upon a Time in China. I was not familiar with Tsui Hark, but when I saw Jet’s face on the cover I grabbed this movie and quickly arrived home. I was again blown away by Jet and was impressed that his acting improved and he really got into the Wong Fei Hong role. The fights took some getting used to due to the wire-work but I liked the movie and even did a paper on it for an intro to film class I had a year later ( by the way a got an A on the paper). I searched for more information on Jet Li saw films such as This is Kung Fu , ordered VHS tapes of Wu Shu themed championships, rented more Jet Li movies, and am to this day a big Jet Li fan. I told my friends that Jet Li coming to America would change the way we viewed martial arts movies, the actors, and the fight scenes we were used to viewing. Behold Lethal Weapon 4 debuts and my friends (many who never saw Jet prior to this) finally agreed that Steven Seagal, JCVD, and other Western martial arts stars were going to have to step up their game. Jet is one of the few actors to produce good work in Wu Xia movies, modern action movies, as well as the traditional Kung Fu type genres. He is truly a bridge between the Old School and the New School martial arts themed movie eras.
Jet Li has starred in over 35 films, directed Born to Defence, and is a worldwide star. He also comes off as an extremely nice guy and has done charitable work for years through his One Foundation. He continues to spread messages about love, peace, and health through his Taiji Zen website. I admire and respect Jet Li for his work ethic, accomplishments, and his commitment to higher ideals. Thank you, Jet for all your contributions to the martial arts, Wu Xia, and action movie industries. We look forward to seeing more from you in the future.
The Dojo Care Taker.