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September 2006
JET LI’S FEARLESS: An Interview With Jet Li

JET LI’S FEARLESS: An Interview with Jet Li
By Wilson Morales

After many years of displaying his martial arts skills on the big screen from “Fist of Legend” to “Hero”, action star has decided to stop fighting in films with “Fearless” being the last one. It reunites him with producer Bill Kong and action choreographer Yuen Wo Ping and director Ronnie Yu. Jet Li plays martial arts legend Huo Yuanija, who became the most famous fighter in all of China at the turn of the 20th century, forever defining the true spirit of martial arts. At the age of 43, father time is catching up. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Jet Li spoke about his reasons for doing this film and addressing his long-awaited film with Jackie Chan.

How did this movie come to you?

Jet Li: The movie was in the making for a long time already. Later, when I would see an action film, a Bruce Lee movie, it was about him and his students. Ten years ago, I made “Fist of Legend” and it about him and his students. So, I would always think if I would make a movie about him, but not really, until 2003, when I heard very bad news in China. That there were a quarter million suicides in one year. Plus I feel very close to this character. I keep his beliefs and philosophy. Martial Arts is my life. Everything I know is from martial arts philosophy, so I wanted to make a movie to talk about it. We’ve made a lot of action movies and usually people focus on the fighting, physical fighting, violence against violence. That’s the only message you would get out of it – beat, beat, beat. I think the Chinese word – wushu, has been translated to martial arts to mean “Stop war”. A lot of people only talk about war and fight and nobody talks about stopping. I wanted to find a story that has room to tell about this character’s philosophy, physical and mental.

Do you feel people who are practicing martial arts come to a position where they understand the essential nature of it. That it is a spiritual practice and that it is for mental peace.

JL: I think it really depends on the cults who learn different kinds of martial arts. In the beginning like myself, the first three to five years, I only knew the physical part. I only learned how to do the physical move. But after awhile, when you think about life, why do men complain about women and why do women complain about men. They shouldn’t complain, they should teach. It’s like the ying and yang philosophy. I will always have both sides and they have their own opinion and that’s why it causes them to fight; and starting there, you need to learn. A lot of teachers are teaching that. A lot of people are learning martial arts. When we talk about the gun, it doesn’t mean good and evil. It really depends on who uses it; so if you’re in a martial arts cult, the most important teaching beforehand, is why you need to learn martial arts.

You talked about films that you wanted to make that don’t have any martial arts…

JL: What we talked about is that violence is not the only solution. Now you ask me to show you how to do it and what I’ll try to show you is the angle to see life.

When you want to go away from martial arts, how far do you want to go in the next film you want to make because you talked about a couple of films you had under way?

JL: I think this film gave me the room to talk about my beliefs in the past, physical, mental, everything. That’s why I say that this is the last wushu movie for me. There are some movies that I will still make like Lionsgate’s film, Rogue, where I play an FBI agent and the mafia and there are some sequences where they beat up each other and I never know if this is Chinese part, or American cake, or Japanese apple. I think if you’re human to have two arms, two legs, and physically beat up each other to tell that story, there’s no philosophy there. It’s straight fighting.

What’s the possibility of a romance film coming out for you?

JL: Romance? I want to know myself because no studio offers me those roles. I never have a chance to prove to the studios that I can make a movie without action.

Would you like to do that?

JL: Every actor wants to change. Every actor wants to do it, but in the movie business, no one will give you to opportunity to make that film.

Unless you make it yourself?

JL: Yes. You would have to try and make it yourself.

Is there any point in your career where you took advantage of skills and you didn’t realized what they were for? Within the film, your character just wanted to fight, fight, and fight and didn’t understand that there was more to it.

JL: That’s why I did this. I was a 5-time champion in China. I had to try my best. I had to prove it many times, but I didn’t say anything, until one day I make a movie and I become a well known actor in Asia, then suddenly a lot of people hung on to you and want to make money and they try to make me selfish. It becomes an ego thing and that’s the normal life. If you don’t know how to control that part, you will lose, you will make a mistake, because you don’t want to listen to your mom, you ignore your coach. I want to do this. I want to do that. That’s the point where I bring my personal feelings out there; and of course, the film is made bigger and the worst thing that happens is that he dies.

What are your thoughts on Tony Jaa? He’s the new martial arts guy on the scene with “Ong Bak” and “The Protector”.

JL: He’s very good. A few years ago, my friend, Luc Besson, called me and told me that he bought a new movie starring this new guy and suggested I watch it. I have a home theater and watched it and he’s pretty good. I’m very happy. Every generation needs new blood to come to this genre. I think it’s great.

Your last few films have been very dramatic including this one and “Hero”. Have you been out there looking for better scripts?

JL: That’s what I said before. If you have to do something different, you need to prove yourself to the studios with “Hero” and “Unleashed”. No one wants to make a movie about our beliefs. They only want to focus in on the violence. In “Unleashed”, my character was like a dog, with no feelings, they only wanted him to fight. At the end of the movie, Morgan Freeman brings him back to normality. I wanted to show deeper angle to show that violence is not the only solution.

Was there a love scene in the film because it seemed that there was more there but was deleted?

JL: No. There was none. The Chinese culture is different from the American culture in that the American people want love and warmth in the films and the Chinese don’t.

Is there any truth to the rumor that you and Jackie Chan will finally make a film together?

JL: Always there's rumors, rumors, rumors, for 15 years, but now… it's true! Next April, we're going to make a movie. Everybody's waiting for the producer and the director to announce.

You can’t give out a little hint?

JL: Don't be selfish! Let them tell the world!

Can you talk about shooting in China now?

JL: In China, we can control the schedule, money, everything. With this movie, we have 90 days to shoot, but there were 60 days of fighting. In the United States, with “Romeo Must Die” and “Cradle 2 The Grave”, we had a good producer, but we had only 4 days of fighting. We you want to see the big movement of fighting, you need time.

We have never seen you work with so many weapons than we do in this movie and obviously, this is something that you have practiced all your life. Can you talk about fighting with the weapons in this movie and showing that side of yourself?

JL: A long time ago, I talked to Yuen Wo Ping and I told him I wanted to make a movie where I use 18 kinds of weapons. I wanted to show them in one movie. I thought it was quite cool. With this movie I had at least 3 or 4 weapons.

Have you considered producing other martial arts films where you are not in it and also producing subjects that you are interested in but not in the film as well?

JL: I always treat the films as part of my life. I started a foundation in China. There are 10 million people facing depression so I feel I really need to something and through my life experiences, I can find some money to find some doctors worldwide to tell them how to deal with it. I’m spending a lot of time doing that.

There’s not a lot of editing in the film. What’s the longest scene you did where there’s no editing?

JL: I remember there were 17 movements non-stop.

Were there more scenes that were cut from the film?

JL: The director’s cut is 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Wasn’t Michelle Yeoh in the film?

JL: Yes. She was in the film. I have to explain that wushu means “stop fight”, but in the beginning of the film it was the news as a sport for the 2008 Olympics because of the competition. A reporter would ask why wushu because we see it in a lot of action movies where people beat up each other and there’s a lot of blood. Why is it a sport? Michelle Yeoh was to introduce wushu and say that it has gone from this to worst. A hundred years ago we had a master who turned this idea into a sport.

Do you believe this film will show other directors how to film martial arts films in the future?

JL: I always believe to do your best.

FEARLESS opens on September 22, 2006





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