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Jet Li is a champion martial artist and Chinese film actor. He starred in the Once Upon a Time in China film series and in the critically-praised, international hit Hero.
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Born in Beijing, China, on April 26, 1963, Jet Li is an actor and martial artist. At the age of 11, Li won his first national championship in wushu. Li retired from the sport when he was 17 and made his film debut in Shaolin Temple, making him a star in his home country. Since 1994, he has gone back and forth between Chinese and English-language films, starring in Hollywood's Romeo Must Die, Kiss of the Dragon and The Forbidden Kingdom.
"I was from a very poor family and we didn't have enough money for a good school, so sports-school was good; it gave me good food and an opportunity out of China."
Born Li Lian Jie on April 26, 1963, in Beijing, China, Jet Li is the youngest of five children. When Li was only 2 years old, he lost his father. At age 8, he began learning wushu, a form of martial arts. Noting his talent, his family sent him to continue his studies at a special school. "I was from a very poor family and we didn't have enough money for a good school, so sports-school was good; it gave me good food and an opportunity out of China," Li later explained to Muscle & Fitness magazine.
At the age of 11, Li won his first national championship. As a result, he traveled to more than 45 countries as part of the Bejing Wushu Team. In 1974, Li traveled to the United States and gave a martial arts demonstration for President Richard M. Nixon. He became the All-Around National Wushu Champion that year, a title he held for five consecutive years.
Li retired from the sport when he was 17. Working with director Chang Hsin Yen, he made his film debut in Shaolin Temple (1982). The film helped make Li a star in his native country, and spawned several sequels. By the end of the 1980s, Li had relocated to Hong Kong, where he became involved in the martial arts film scene. In Once Upon a Time in China (1991) he played Wong Fei-hung, a legendary hero who fights against foreigners in this 19th century tale. The popular film had two sequels.
In 1994, Li landed his first English-language role, playing a bad guy in Lethal Weapon 4 with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. He relocated to Los Angeles for the film, where he underwent intensive language training to prepare for his role as a Chinese crime boss. This action film, especially the scenes with Li, delighted movie audiences.
Li teamed up with rapper DMX and singer Aaliyah for Romeo Must Die (2000) a hip-hop-meets-martial-arts take on the classic tale of young love, Romeo and Juliet. Li and Aaliyah played star-crossed lovers from two warring crime families. The film scored big at the box office, earning roughly $100 million. In 2001, Li co-starred with Bridget Fonda in Kiss of the Dragon directed by Luc Besson. He helped develop the story for the film, which tells the tale of a wronged intelligence officer out to clear his name with the help of a prostitute (played by Fonda). A critic for The New York Times praised parts of the film, writing "his action sequences are like an oil fire, spilling from one room into the next and lighting the interiors with heat and wreckage. Mr. Li and his fisticuffs choreographer, Corey Yuen, have set a new standard for action here."
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