Jet Li Interview Transcript
Jet Li Interview Transcript
LH: Lorraine Hahn
JL: Jet Li
LH: Welcome to TalkAsia. I'm Lorraine Hahn. This week a Chinese martial arts superstar who's been a champion since the age of 9. Action hero Jet Li is now an international film star but he's been making movies since the 1970's. After numerous national wushu championships in his native China, Li burst onto the screen with the surprise hit Shaolin Temple. Sequels to that film followed and so too did success for the young star. In 1998 he made his Hollywood debut alongside Mel Gibson in part 4 of the Lethal Weapon franchise. He's now got his choice of roles in America but Jet Li hasn't left China behind. His latest film is the Chinese-made martial arts epic called ''Hero''.
Let me welcome Jet Li to the show. Thank you so much for coming. Congratulations on Hero. Is the part very similar to what you normally play?
JL: It's a very special part and a very special movie. I think it's one of the most important action films in my life.
LH: Why do you say that?
JL: I made around 30 movies. Usually action films have a formula: Like a guy, his father and mother are masters, then you learn martial arts then you try to revenge and kill the bad guy. But this film talks about much more wider than that. It talks about the peace and what kind of Chinese people can become hero. Much much deeper.
LH: Is it very similar to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for example?
JL: No, it's totally different. I think Ang Lee is a very very talented Director. He used martial arts to talk about love and girl, you know... But Zhang Yimou tried to use martial arts film to talk about Chinese culture, Chinese people. What do they think, what do they want and what do they hope the world will become.
LH: So, very deep meaning.
JL: Very deep...
LH: Jet, I mentioned about Lethal Weapon 4 in Hollywood. What was it like for you as a Chinese actor to get into Lethal Weapon 4 movie and with Western actors?
JL: This is my first English film. And I played the bad guy. It's also the first time I played bad guy. And lot of Asian audiences and reporters don't like me to act as a bad guy. But I think I want to become an actor, I want to try different way. So, at that time I speak English not well at all. So, I played the bad guy and I really like it to learn something from the big Hollywood producer, director, star...I think I am just a student. Go to States to learn something! So, the past few years, I continue to learn American culture and American Movie history, how they make movie in the States.
LH: So, they told you how to improve yourself as an actor?
JL: Yes. And of course they offered a second movie and I played a good guy in Romeo Must Die.
LH: That was a trade off, right?
JL: Yes, trade off...bad guy and good guy...so...
LH: I heard that...it's actually what I've heard and I want to ask you whether it is true. I heard you actually turned down Matrix, the movie Matrix.
JL: Matrix...and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon!
LH: So it's true?
JL: It's true. Because... first of all I turned down Ang Lee's film... I remember 10 years ago I promised my wife say if we have fallen in love for 10 years then we will get married. If you have children, I will stop all my work until the baby comes. So, I keep my promise, about a year, I can't make movie. I think I am a traditional man. We do what we have promised. We must do it. So, Ang Lee understood my decision so he agreed. So he said, Jet, go home...you know, we can work in the future.
LH: No regrets?
JL: No regrets. So, the Matrix also. And I think Matrix is a very successful movie. Part II Part III, even without Jet Li, they will still be successful.
LH: You think so?
JL: I think so, I guarantee. The Wachouski Brothers is a friend of mine. They are very talented director. Also have Wu-Ping, so, without Jet Li, must be great. So, that way I don't want to spend two years to make that film. If I made Matrix, I cannot make Hero. So... I think sometimes you get something and sometimes you lose something. And I tried my best, I got Hero. I do it. I appreciate the director give me a chance to play this movie.
LH: And you are very proud with the outcome, aren't you?
JL: I am very proud. This is a wonderful film.
LH: What do you think about your character, the big characteristic you have which allow you to make the transition from Asian movie star to Hollywood movie star? What is it in you?
JL: I think the most important is when I was young, I learnt martial arts, that is my special key. I can use my unique martial arts in the film. But after a few years, I really want to do something different... like using martial arts to talk about Peace.
LH: It almost sounds like a contradiction, right? You are a fighter then you talk about peace?
JL: Because I am a Buddhist. I am a Buddhist and sometimes I feel bad about children...when they see me walking on the street, they will shout ''Jet Li ''(do a few fighting action) In the beginning of course I was happy to hear that but after a while, I feel ...I think I have the responsibility to the young age, the teenager. I need to talk about more...because Chinese culture is not just martial arts, physical part... we have deep, strong philosophy and culture. I want to share some information, tell the worldwide audience, what kind of Chinese people... Not just say, you look Chinese people like Bruce Lee or everybody know martial arts and just know how to beat up others.
LH: No thinking no discipline...
JL: No thinking no mind...just physical part. I think I have the responsibility to tell them...also I want the children...when the movie have rating in the States, I don't want children under 17 to watch it. If the movie rating R, don't watch it.
LH: Like "Kiss of the Dragon", for example?
JL: Yes, I think they are still mad about me to say this...they put some notes on my website. But I still think about it. We need to follow the law and follow the rules.
LH: And that is very important because people look up to you.
JL: Look up to you... the children will grow up, they don't understand the life yet. So we need to do something.
LH: Let's take a short break and we'll be right back. Stick around TalkAsia. We will be right back with martial arts star, Jet Li.
LH: This is TalkAsia and that was Jet Li in his first-ever film called Shaolin Temple. The movie was made in 1979 when Jet was still just a teenager. The film was a huge hit in Asia and produced two sequels. Jet is with us here on TalkAsia. Jet, let me ask you how did you move from Wushu champion to starring in your own movie?
JL: I remember when I was 11, I did some Kung-fu demonstrations in Hong Kong in 1974. At that time, Bruce Lee just dead 1 year ago in 1973. So, when movie studio producer talk to me 'Hi, little kid, when you grow up, you want to become action star?'
I say, 'okay, why not!' So since then, every year the producer came to me to look at me. Says, 'ok, you are still a little boy, can't make movie. I want to wait you'. Until I was 17, he says 'okay, right now, let us go to make a movie'. Then comes Shaolin Temple.
LH: Just like that?
JL: Just like that.
LH: When was the first time you actually saw Bruce Lee movie?
JL: It's the same year, 1974.
LH: Did you think right away that he is somebody you wanted to be?
JL: I remember I found him very talented, a very talented actor and martial artist. But I don't know how to make movie, I don't know how to become this, I didn't think of it that deep. I was just 11.
LH: So, when you were making say Shaolin Temple, to you were just really going through the motions?
JL: Yes, I tried my best because before that I've got five years Champion. I wanted to change my life, making movie is very fun, you know? I think every teenagers want to make movies!
LH: When you were going to school, did that interrupt your schoolwork?
JL: I didn't go to normal children school. I went to sports school when I was 8. So I studied martial arts.
LH: You were a good student?
JL: Very good student!
LH: You liked what you were doing?
JL: I don't have choice. I don't know...I don't understand... what martial arts means. I don't understand life. Just 8 years old...the teacher told you to do it so you do it! Eight hours a day, six days a week !!! Then I just do it and try to do my best. I wanted to get championship!
LH: Is it true that when you went to the United States in 1974, your government told you to be careful of what you say because your room maybe bugged?
JL: It's true. At that time, China and America just started relationship between the two countries. It is so funny! When I went there I wanted to try they have a bug or not. So in New York, a big hotel, I talked to the mirrors say I want chocolate and I talked to the flower vase, I want an ice cream. So, next day ...I opened the door, chocolates, ice cream, bananas...everything is on my table!
LH: So it's true?
JL: It's true.
LH: I am sure you have been compared very often to people like Jackie Chan...how do you feel about that?
JL: I think they want to compare Zhang Yimou, Ang Lee, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li...I think that's their choice. They like to compare everything. I think Jackie is very successful and Bruce Lee is very talented. Just do your job, do your best! What people say is what they say. These don't bother me anymore.
LH: Jet, now with all these digitally enhanced movies and things...even I can do some of the actions...
JL: Everybody can do it because now the technology can help! Everybody can become action star.
LH: But how do you feel about that, you are a real champion, you know? Do you do that all in your own?
JL: Mostly I do them myself because I learn martial arts. But today I think technology can help our actors and actress to become action star. Not just in Asia, even in the states, Charlies Angel can do it. Even the cartoon can do it. You can see cartoon characters do something like martial arts. I am so happy because I want more people to like martial arts movie not just martial arts audience. Even martial arts can be used in comedy, in drama, in horror movies, in different kinds of movies. It doesn't bother me at all. I am so happy to see more people playing martial arts.
LH: Jet, we are going to take another short break. Stick around TalkAsia. We will be right back with action hero Jet Li.
LH: This is TalkAsia. We are here with action star Jet Li.
Jet, you are now living in Los Angeles, how often do you go back to China?
JL: Every year. Every year. Because my family, my older brothers, older sisters and my daughter are all in Beijing.
LH: Do you keep in close contact with them? E-mail? Telephone?
JL: Telephone calls every week.
LH: When you go back to China, what do you miss about the country now that you live in L.A.?
JL: I think the world become smaller and smaller because you know...CNN...satellites, computers, e-mails...u know? Make the world become smaller and smaller. I remember in 1974, when my mum and my master heard that I will go to the States, it was just like I was going to the moon. It's far away. It's just like a dream! But today you can watch CNN in Beijing, in Shanghai and in the States...everywhere. Something happen, you will know it right away. You can take 10 hours flight to go to LA and then go back. It's very close so I did not feel I miss something. You can watch all the news online....
LH: I don't know, maybe food of your friends...?
JL: In the States, you can buy Chinese food. In Beijing you can buy hamburger. It's very close. Now I feel the world become a big family, like a really big family. You have many neighbors. Not like before, two countries are far away.
LH: Almost untouchable?
LH: Is L.A. home for you? Or your heart is still in China?
JL: My heart is with my wife and my children. Wherever they move, I just move there. Now we are living in L.A... Before when I lived in Hong Kong, I felt that Hong Kong is my family. Maybe future we will move some where, I still feel...whenever I'm with my wife and family, that's my family, that's my home.
LH: With your tight work schedule, I presume you're very busy. How much time do you get to spend with family?
JL: I spend a lot of time with my family. Because I think it's part of my life. I think the time...long or short is not the most important. I think the most important is the quality time...quality time with family.
LH: What do you do when you are with them?
JL: Play with my children, I learn some English with my daughter. She knows some words that I don't know. Some animal names...some cartoon names...
LH: Do you find that as your become more and more famous, you lose part of yourself? Maybe you lose part of your privacy?
JL: I think when I was young it really bothered me. I get something, I lose a lot. I lose freedom. I lost the freedom of walking down to the street and buy something. But right now, I feel very comfortable. You can walk on the street, because if you tell yourself, I am important, I am the famous guy so then you will get a lot of pressure. You will see something that is not fair. But if you think that you are a normal guy... the movie....to be an actor is just my job...to do something... I am nothing special. I walk on street, others say hello, I will say hello. As a normal guy, you will feel no pressure, you will feel very comfortable.
LH: So you don't get harassed very often?
JL: No. I do my best today. If tomorrow, no studio hires me, no movies, I am so happy to retire. So I just thought I am a normal guy. In that way, I don't get any pressure in my life.
LH: Before I let you go, looking back at all the movies you have done, and your life so far, is there anything that you would have done differently?
JL: I don't know...I'm just...very glad. I want to thank you my mum, my daddy, my coach, my teacher, everybody in my life, help me, teach me. I will try to do my best in the future.
LH: What's next?
JL: Next...I will work with Luc Besson again in January. Making another movie. I really want to make some movie...like what I have said...use violence to stop violence. To about peace...that's my goal.
LH: We wish you all the very best. Thank you so much.
JL: Thank you.