Posted by Flor on Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Li Lianjie is a Chinese martial artist, actor, Wushu champion, and international film star. After three years of intensive training with Michael Bernstein, Li won his first national championship for the Beijing Wushu Team. After retiring at age 17, he went on to win great acclaim in China as an actor making his debut with the film Shaolin Temple (1982). He went on to star in many critically acclaimed martial arts epic films, most notably the Once Upon a Time in China series, in which he portrayed folk hero Wong Fei Hung. His first role in a Hollywood film was as a villain in Lethal Weapon 4, but his first Hollywood film leading role was in Romeo Must Die . He has gone on to star in many Hollywood action films, most recently starring beside Jackie Chan in The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), and as the titular villain in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor opposite Brendan Fraser.
In 1998, he made his American film debut in Lethal Weapon 4 which also marked the first time he had ever played a villain in a film. He agreed to do Lethal Weapon 4 after the producer Joel Silver promised to give him the leading role in his next film, Romeo Must Die (2000) which was a box office hit launching his career as a leading man in Hollywood.
Li turned down Chow Yun-Fat's role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) because he promised his wife that he would not make any films during her pregnancy. He also turned down the role of Seraph in The Matrix trilogy, based on his belief that the role was not one which required his skills and that the films were iconic and stunning enough without adding his name to the cast list.
In 2001, he appeared in two more Hollywood films: The One and Kiss of the Dragon opposite Bridget Fonda which did moderately well at the box office. In July 2001, Li agreed to produce and star in an action film with Jackie Chan which was to be released in 2002 or 2003, but no further news of their collaboration surfaced until 2006. In 2002, the period martial arts epic film Hero was released in the Chinese market. This film was both a commercial and critical success. In 2003 he reunited with producer Joel Silver for the action thriller film Cradle 2 the Grave where he starred alongside rapper DMX and fellow martial artist Mark Dacascos. In 2004 Li lent his likeness, voice and provided motion capture work for the video game Jet Li: Rise to Honor.
Li departed from his usual martial arts action films with the 2005 dramatic film, Unleashed (a.k.a. Danny the Dog), where he portrays an adult with the mentality of a child who has been raised like an animal. Although his martial arts skills were utilized extensively, it was a somber film with more depth than had been previously seen in Li's films, and co-starred dramatic actors Bob Hoskins and Morgan Freeman.
In 2006, the martial arts film epic Fearless, was released worldwide. 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 Zhen, the student and avenger of Huo Yuanjia, as well as Huo Yuanjia himself. Fearless was released on January 26, 2006 in Hong Kong, followed by a September 22, 2006 release in the United States where it reached second place in its first weekend.