Jet Li 李连杰
Li was eight when his talent for wushu was noticed at a summer course at school, and he began his practice there. After three years of intensive training with Wu Bin, Li won his first national championship for the Beijing Wushu Team. He went on to win fifteen gold medals and one silver medal in Chinese wushu championships, where, despite his young age, he competed against adults.
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). Li acquired his screen name in 1982 in the Philippines when a publicity company thought his real name was too hard to pronounce. They likened his career to an aircraft, which likewise “takes-off” as quickly, so they placed the name Jet Li on the movie posters. Soon everybody was calling him by this new name, which was also based on the nickname, “Jet,” given to him as a young student, due to his speed and grace when training with the Beijing Wushu team.
He went on to star in many critically acclaimed martial arts epic films, The Shaolin Temple series (1, 2 and 3), which are considered to be the films which sparked the rebirth of the real Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng, China; most notably the Once Upon A Time in China series, in which he portrayed folk hero Wong Fei-hung, and Fist of Legend (Chinese title: Jing Wu Ying Xiong), a remake of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury.
Li’s first role in a Hollywood film was as a villain in Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), but his first Hollywood film leading role was in Romeo Must Die (2000). He has gone on to star in many Hollywood action films, including Kiss of the Dragon and Unleashed. In 2002, the epic period martial arts epic film Hero was released in the Chinese market. This film was both a commercial and critical success and became the highest-grossing motion picture in Chinese film history at the time. In 2006, when the martial arts epic Fearless, was released worldwide, Li said that although he will continue to make martial arts films, Fearless is his last wushu epic. In Fearless, he played Huo Yuanjia, the real-life founder of Chin Woo Athletic Association, who reportedly defeated foreign boxers and Japanese martial artists in publicized events at a time when China’s power was seen as eroding. Together with the film Fist of Legend, Li has portrayed both Chen Jun, the student and avenger of Huo Yuanjia (aka Fok Yun Gap), as well as Huo Yuanjia himself.
He co-starred in The Forbidden Kingdom (2008) with the legendary Jackie Chan, as the title character villain in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) opposite Brendan Fraser and The Expendables (2010) with Sylvester Stallone. Li will appear in the sequel later this year, The Expendables 2.