Jet Li is a Chinese film actor, producer, martial artist, and Wushu champion who has a net worth of $250 million. He is known for enjoying a successful career both in China, as well as in the West.
Early Life and Martial Arts Career:
Li Lianjie, better known by his stage name Jet Li, was born in Beijing, China, on April 26, 1963. He was the youngest of four children in the family, two boys and two girls. His father passed away when he was two years old, and the family subsequently struggled and lived in poverty.
While attending a summer course at school when he was eight years old, his talent for Wushu was noticed. He subsequently joined the Beijing Wushu Team, where he was taught by renowned coaches Li Junfeng and Wu Bin. Wu Bin would even help Li’s family by buying food for them, since they could not afford to buy meat. When he was not even a teenager, he competed at adults in the Chinese Wushu Championships, winning fifteen gold medals and one silver medal.
Li has mastered several styles of Wushu, specializing in Chángquán (Northern Longfist Style) and Fānziquán (Tumbling Fist). Other arts and styles he has studied include Baguazhang (Eight Trigram Palm), Taijiquan (Supreme Ultimate Fist), Xing Yi Quan (Shape Intent Fist), Zui Quan (Drunken Fist), Ying Zhao Quan (Eagle Claw Fist), and Tanglangquan (Praying Mantis Fist).
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Thanks in large part to his fame brought about by his martial arts success, Li began a career as a martial arts film star in China. His on-screen debut came in 1982 with the Hong Kong-Chinese film “Shaolin Temple”. Prior to this film, all martial arts films had been made in Hong Kong, so this was the first of its kind to be made in mainland China.
“Shaolin Temple” was wildly successful, selling an estimated 300 million tickets at the Chinese box office, which translates to a gross of around US$85 million. It also established Li as the first mainland Chinese star of Hong Kong, and later Hollywood. Furthermore, it spawned to sequels, also starring Li: “Shaolin Temple 2: Kids from Shaolin” (1984) and “Shaolin Temple 3: Martial Arts of Shaolin” (1986).
Other notable Chinese projects of his include the “Once Upon a Time in China” series, about the legendary Chinese folk hero Master Wong Fei Hung. This series included a total of six films and a television show, all released between 1991 and 1997, although Li only starred in the first three films, as well as the final one. He also starred in “Fist of Legend” (1994), which is a remake of Bruce Lee’s 1972 film “Fist of Fury”; and the two films “Fong Sai-yuk” (1993) and “Fong Sai-yuk II” (1993).
Li made his American film debut in 1998, with the film “Lethal Weapon 4”. This film was also the first time in his career that he played the role of a villain; in all of his previous Chinese films he was the leading hero. Although he spoke little English at the time, Li’s performance was widely praised. He had agreed to do “Lethal Weapon 4” because the producer Joel Silver promised to give him the leading role in his next film. This is how Li starred in the film “Romeo Must Die” (2000) alongside late singer Aaliyah. Other American films he appeared in during this time include “The One” (2001) and “Kiss of the Dragon” (2001).
Li returned to the Chinese market in 2002 with the period martial arts epic film “Hero”, which was a huge critical and commercial success. It grossed a total of $177.4 million worldwide, and became the highest-grossing motion picture in Chinese film history at the time. He has since continued on with both Chinese and American projects such as “Cradle 2 the Grave”(2003), “Unleashed” (2005), “Fearless” (2006), “War” (2007), “The Warlords” (2007), “The Forbidden Kingdom” (2008), “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” (2008), “The Expendables” (2010), “The Expendables 2” (2012), “The Expendables 3” (2014), and the live action remake of “Mulan” (2020).
Li married his first wife, fellow Beijing Wushu Team member and “Kids from Shaolin” co-star Huang Qiuyan, in 1987, before divorcing in 1990. Together, they have two daughters, Si and Taimi. He then married actress Nina Li Chi in 1999, and they also share two daughters, Jane and Jada.
He held Chinese citizenship until 2003, and from 2003 to 2009 he held US citizenship, which he received after years of living and working in the United States. However, he renounced his US citizenship in 2009, when he became a Singaporean citizen. Reportedly, he chose to take up Singaporean citizenship because of the country’s education system, in consideration of his two younger daughters.
Li has served as a “philanthropic ambassador” for the Red Cross Society of China since January 2006. Then, in September 2010, he was appointed by the International Red Cross as their first Good Will Ambassador. Additionally, after a harrowing experience in the Maldives, when he came close to dying during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, he set up his own non-profit called The One Foundation.
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This organization supports international disaster relief efforts in conjunction with the Red Cross, and has helped with recovery efforts in disasters such as the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan in 2009. It is notable for being the first Chinese NGO to be unaffiliated with the Chinese government or any government-sponsored organizations and agencies.
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