Famous in the early 1990s and into the first decade of the new millennium for his youthful looks and acrobatic movements in action movies, Jet Li is a film actor and producer in both the Chinese and Hollywood film industry; he is also a master of martial arts. Follow us as we reveal everything you ever wanted to know about your favorite action movie star.
Jet Li – Biography
He was born on April 26, 1963, as Li Lian Jie in Beijing, China. Before becoming one of the most electrifying martial arts performers in the world, Jet Li was an athlete in Wushu.
In 1972 he enrolled in the Beijing Wushu team and won his first national championship in the Chinese Wushu Championship at the age of 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 achieved in sports brought him into the film industry, which led to his immediate resignation from Wushu at the age of 17.
His stage name, Jet Li, was given to him in the Philippines in 1982 when an advertising agency found that his real name was too complicated to pronounce: a PR specialist who compared Li’s successful career to an exploding airplane.
That same year, Li made his film debut in the Shaolin Temple and became a star in his home country. He then moved to Hong Kong and immediately became involved in the martial arts film scene. There he played the leading role in “Once upon a time in China” (1991) and its two sequels.
In 1998 Jet Li landed his first English-speaking role and played the villain in Lethal Weapon 4 with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. This prompted him to move 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 the now-deceased singer Aaliyah for Romeo Must Die: a hip-hop-meets-martial-arts story about the classic tale of young love in which Li and the hip-hop star play star-studded lovers from two warring crime families.
In 2001 Jet Li starred in Kiss of the Dragon with Bridget Fonda. In the same year, Jet Li starred in the intricate science fiction story “The One”. There he played the two main characters: an unsuspecting Californian sheriff and an unscrupulous killer who travels through parallel worlds to eliminate the other versions of himself.
In 2003 he worked again with rapper DMX and martial artist Mark Dacascos in the movie Cradle 2 the Grave. And in 2005 Li played the lead role in Unleashed: a film in which he was shown as a man who grew up under harsh conditions.
In his next film Fearless (2006) Jet Li played the leading role as the famous Chinese martial arts master Huo Yuanjia. Then he played a deadly assassin in War (2007).
In the same year Jet Li returned to China and played the leading role in a Hong Kong movie – The Warlords – directed by Peter Chan. The focus of the film was not on martial arts but on the dramatic component; for this role, Li won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actor.
In 2008, Li was given the “rare” opportunity to work with another leading martial arts star, Jackie Chan, in the adventure film The Forbidden Kingdom. It was the first time that both stars came together for a joint role in their amazing careers. That same year, he starred in the Hollywood action sequel The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008).
After a break from the big screen, Li returned in 2010 with a supporting role in The Expendables: he teamed up with stars like Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Mickey Rourke. Between 2012 and 2014 he played the lead role in the following episodes of the popular franchise – The Expendables 2 and The Expendables 3.
In 2017 a short film – Gong Shou Dao – was released, starring Jack Ma, the founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, Wu Jing, and Jacky Heung.
Although Li planned to star in an adventure action movie in 2017 with Vin Diesel – XXX: The Return of Xander – the role was given to Donnie Yen. It is believed that he is also preparing for a role as Emperor of China in Disney’s live-action production of Mulan, which is currently scheduled for release in 2020.
Li is interested in charitable causes and has been involved in philanthropy since 2006: He is an ambassador for the Chinese Red Cross Society. In partnership with the organization, the superstar founded his own charitable foundation in spring 2007, called The One Foundation, which supports international efforts to provide disaster relief and suicide prevention for the people of China.
Jet Li is a naturalized Singaporean (since 2009), American from 2003-2009 (he renounced his previously granted U.S. citizenship in favor of Singapore), and Chinese (from birth).
Wife and Daughter
Jet Li married Huang Qiuyan in 1987. Huang, who was also a kung fu star herself, met Li at the age of 13 as a member of the Beijing Wushu team; the couple gradually became childhood sweethearts.
Both made several films together as teenage actors, including Kids from Shaolin and Martial Arts of Shaolin. However, the couple divorced in 1990. With Huang Qiuya, Jet had two daughters – Si and Taimi.
However, since 1999 the actor has been married to Nina Li Chi (born as Li Zhi in Shanghai). She is an actress living in Hong Kong. Together they have two daughters – Jane and Jada – together, bringing the number of daughters of LI to 4.
Li comes from a very poor family. At the age of two, he lost his father and the family was in need. When he started learning Wushu, his family recognized his talent in martial arts and sent him to a special school where he was promoted to national master and international film actor.
With two older brothers and two older sisters, Jet Li is the youngest of five children.
Jet Li is of relatively small stature, a physique that proves useful in martial arts and stunts. He stands at a height of 168 cm and weighs 60 kg.
Where Is He Now; Is He Dead?
Rumors about the death of the star actor have spread just like his fame. The superstar has been plagued by injuries and near-death experiences since his teenage years: He suffered his first serious injury at the age of 18 and a serious back injury at 23.
In 2004, Li was in the Maldives when a massive tsunami earthquake shook the Indian Ocean. The actor, who was thought to be dead by the media, suffered only a minor foot injury, while he brought his then 4-year-old daughter Jane, his 1-year-old daughter Jada and his nanny to safety.
Years later, Jet Li revealed that he was fighting hyperthyroidism and spinal problems: the former is a condition that alters a person’s metabolism and heart rate, causes fatigue, and leads to weight loss.
The actor said that he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in 2010; and although he was taking medication, the disease kept returning.
In 2013, he said he was unsure whether his illness would allow him to continue working or perform strenuous physical activities; he clearly stated that the doctors said he could end up in a wheelchair if he continued to make physically demanding action movies.
A picture of Li spread in 2007, allegedly showing him as a frail and unrecognizable figure. The picture, taken in a temple in Tibet, raised questions about the martial arts hero’s health.
But Li’s manager refuted the rumors; he stated that it was a condition the actor had been dealing with for almost 10 years and that it was not life-threatening.
Jet Li himself intervened in the hot topic after a long absence from the public. He dispelled rumors that his illness was getting worse and that he needed a wheelchair. At a charity dinner at the One Foundation, he declared that he is doing well and that he feels great.