Interview: Jet Li Is Fearless

Usually when movies claim to be the last of anything, it’s just a publicity stunt until the next sequel, which becomes some variation on “A New Beginning.” But Jet Li promises that Fearless will indeed be his last martial arts movie, as ads proclaim. But, pay close attention to his definition of “martial arts movie.”

“It’s the last Wushu movie,” he saus. “That’s it, because Wushu has many levels. Just to make it easy to understand, maybe three levels. First level is the physical contact. Use your physical skill against your enemy. That’s most action films doing this kind of genre. The second level is use your knowledge, languages, strategy, everything you could before physical contact to stop your enemy. Third, use your honor, belief, your love, show to your enemy. Turn your enemy into your friend. I tried to share those three levels in the movie. Everything I believe, the physical part, the mental part, I put everything in the film. That’s why I say this is my last wushu movie.”

That means that if you see Jet Li kicking ass in another movie, he’ll still be true to his word as long as he’s not trying to make friends with them. “In the future, I will continue to do acting or do some kind of movie. Like a few months ago I did a movie [Rogue], FBI, cops, fight with mafia gangsters. Of course, this kind of genre, you have a car chase, gunshots, people fighting on the street but I never know if this is a Chinese punch or American punch. Or the leg is Japanese or something. Just two arms, two legs, physical contact. It doesn’t mean martial arts because I think it’s just action in the film to develop the character, to help the story.”

Based on the true story of Huo Yuanjia. Founder of the Jin Wu Sports Federation, Huo turned martial arts away from killing the opponent to make it a more family friendly sport. The dramatization suggests that Huo had a crisis after he killed an opponent in a fight.

Li admits to believing his own hype early on in his career. Fortunately, it did not take a tragedy to turn his philosophy around. “If you’re successful very early, then you go to the bottom and you made a mistake. For sure it’s not because your whole family died. That’s a movie drama. It kind of hurts, then go to the bottom, recover, learning life. Then know that a movie is teamwork. Either with the writer, costar, director, everything, marketing, the right way, the movie will be successful. Not just you, yourself. Then appreciate the people who work with you and listen to different good opinions in your life.”

Perhaps it is time for Li’s final martial arts film, because the more he makes, the more damage his body accumulates. Fearless shot for 90 days, 2/3 of which were fight scenes. “Of course I get hurt. It’s the human body, you know. I need to fight with my old injuries all the time.”

Fearless opens Friday.

Josh Tyler