Up close with Jet Li

By CHOW HOW BAN, The Star, July 17, 2007

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Here is an excerpt of an interview with Beijing-born Jet Li, who began studying martial arts at the age of eight. Li won his first national wushu championship at 11, and represented China in competitions held in over 45 countries. Now, he is one of the most famous Chinese kung fu superstars.

There are rumours that you play two characters and you only have about 50 lines in this movie. Is that true?

Two characters ... Hmm ... About three years ago, the producer (Casey Silver) and I worked on a story. At that time, I wanted to make a family movie because I have a daughter. I didn’t want to be limited to R-rated films (only for those above 17 years old). 

When the producer came to me with the story, I suggested to him that we not make a film based on the original martial arts novels, which are already known in Asia. 

We wanted to tell the story of a young man’s dream or journey, so that there is room for imagination. I still can’t answer whether there is one or two characters. 

On the second question, my character is a Silent Monk who doesn’t speak a lot. Furthermore, I have spoken a lot when I was promoting The One Foundation. There is an old Chinese saying, which when translated means ‘a word is worth a thousand gold’, so I don’t speak a lot in the film. 

Do you think your character in this movie is similar to your own personality?

I am very familiar with this character (Silent Monk) and it feels like me, especially when I wear the costume. I feel like I have done in the past what my character is doing. 

If you were given the chance to switch movie characters with Jackie Chan, would you do it? 

I don’t think I will because I don’t drink (Chan acts as a drunken kung fu master) and I don’t think I can act as a beggar well enough. You can say this is a commercial film for the summer. It’s about a young man’s journey and through it, he learns about himself, and that the enemy within himself is actually fear and anxiety. 

For example, the young actors today may face problems reading the script in English and acting alongside with some so-called reputable actors (referring to himself and Chan). But after you overcome these fears, you will be successful. 

Can you tell us how it felt when you fought Chan on the set?

It was within my expectations. We had talked about working together more than 15 years ago and finally we had the chance to collaborate. I treasure this opportunity and it’s very meaningful. He always spoke about fighting, but I would talk about things not related to fighting.

You wouldn’t imagine how caring Jackie Chan is. Not only can he be regarded as “Big Brother”, but also “Big Sister”. One day, I was bitten by mosquitoes and Jackie came up to me with mosquito repellent. 

Jackie has said that you are into Buddhism. Did you impart any of your own thoughts and ideas in this movie?

No, not much. The screenwriter is a good friend of mine and we have been sparring partners for the past three years. I was among the first to get hold of the story and later we were joined by Jackie and others. 

The screenwriter and I discussed how to turn the story into a fantasy and dream-like film. He is a superb screenwriter and has been learning Chinese martial arts for more than 10 years. 

He has roughly put across in the film some of my basic understanding of martial arts and principles of Buddhism.