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Deep Philosophies in a Martial Arts Film? Jet Li Really Is ‘Fearless’

Hollywood.com mustered up it’s courage to face down martial arts master Jet Li just in time for his new film Fearless—and our fingers were still functioning well enough to put together this story by the end of our encounter.

Hollywood.com: The character you play and the message of the film was very important to you. Was this something you felt a personal connection to?
Jet Li:
I think this master died at 42 years old. He learned martial arts through his life journey and also, I made the film when I was 42. In my life, [I also spent] 34, 35 years with martial arts. This is my life journey—I just made the two become one. Like the first 30 minute is probably my personal feeling: I got five years of being a champion and famous, then suddenly I make a movie and become a well-known actor in Asia. Then you have a lot of people around you, you feel very good and then you become selfish, aggressive, you don’t want to listen to mom, friends, co-stars—You don’t want to listen. You think “I’m the one, I can make everything happen.” If you’re successful at a very early age, you have that feeling and you make a lot of mistakes at that point. I see a lot of actors in Asia, they go through the same journey. If you’re successful very early, then you go to the bottom and you made a mistake. It kind of hurts, then go to the bottom, recover, learning life. Then know that a movie is teamwork…Not just you, yourself. Appreciate the people who work with you and listen to different good opinions in your life.

HW: What helped you recover from the bottom?
JL: I think strong feeling of the philosophy in martial arts. People usually are just used to standing at one point in life. But martial arts teaches you that you have yin and yang. You have two angles to see life. You can use the philosophy from very small things and go to worldwide everything. I would have people stand their own point of view to see life. You always have your strong opinion. You believe it’s right. But the other side looks at you, and maybe it’s not 100% right. Just different angles to see life—you understand more about different culture, different religion, different things that make yourself really come to understand each other. That’s better than to just always argue: always put your opinion on the other shoulder.

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HW: Describe how this philosophy behind this film differs from most martial arts movies.
JL: In the past, we only give that kind of message: who’s physically strong, who’s technique has skills, who’s the tough guy, who beats up the bad guys…that’s the only message we give in the past movies, a lot of action films. So I didn’t say it’s wrong—I just said it’s not good enough, because it’s a part of martial arts. I want to share more different angles, different levels. You never want to be teaching someone. I only can share what I believe, because the audience I face to is all over the world. Different ages, different educations, different religions, different things. No matter how hard I try to teach them, the answer still is different. Somebody may just say, ‘Oh, it’s a cool movie.’ Somebody may say, ‘No, you still beat up somebody.’ Even the reporters I see today say, ‘Oh, you beat that guy hard.’ So you cannot change people’s mind. I can only share what I believe. Even if somebody gets the idea, I’m happy. If not—even if I’m God, I cannot change people’s life. I did my best. Just do your best. It’s good enough. That’s what I believe.

HW: Did you have to see a lot of work done on the script to make sure your ideas made it through the action?
I feel sorry to a lot of writers. I fired 10 writers around the world. I have a very strong feeling about the first part and third part. I didn’t feel right in the middle of the story, how the character goes to the bottom and how to recover. Finally, Ronny Yu, the director, had the solution to make those things happen. I think it’s perfect, but a lot of writers they write, write, write the story and then it goes back to the normal action film. Not 100 percent of them understand what I really want to show to the world, what I believe and the journey. Even I think in the first 10 days shooting, we’re still working on the script.

HW: You’ve said one of the main reasons you wanted to make this movie was to inspire Chinese youth.
JL: Yes, because a lot of teenagers commit suicide in the past few years. That’s one of the big motivations for me to make the movie, to try to share different angles about life. First of all, maybe their life’s too easy, too good. If they’re a single child family, when they grow up, they become the center of the family. But when they go to school, a lot of things you need to deal with yourself. You don’t know how to handle it because you’re not the center. Everybody is the center, and then they have a lot of trouble there. Also I think the media, news and magazines, everything they can get is only showing the shiny part about a lot of people’s success. Like singers, athletes, actors—they’ve got a house and beautiful woman, this, this, very easy because you are there. Then they believe it’s not fair: “I cannot get the chance to have that.” But they never show the other side about these kinds of people. Like Jet Li, you need to fight with injuries in your body, have a hard time. Everybody has a hard time on the other side. But they don’t know, so that’s why I made this film, to show even this successful hero in the past century, the other side of this life, is also struggling, painfully. I just want to try to do my best to share some different opinions about life.

HW: It’s been said that this is your last martial arts movie—Is that really true?
It’s the last Wushu movie. That’s it, because Wushu has many levels. I just make it easy to understand. First level is the physical contact: use your physical skill against your enemy. That’s most action films in 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: 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 in the film. That’s why I say this is my last Wushu movie. But in the future, I will continue to do acting. A few months ago I did a movie: FBI, cops, fight with mafia gangsters. Of course, in 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. Usually they’re just confused: martial arts movie, gung fu movie, action movie—they mix it up together.

HW: What’s next for you?
I will make a movie with Jackie Chan next April. Finally.

Reporting by Fred Topel

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