The Jet setter

Li tames his own biggest enemy in ‘Fearless’

One of the world’s biggest movie stars for over 15 years, Jet Li is currently at the top of his game, having enjoyed some of his best reviews and biggest worldwide box office with his latest films “Hero” (2004), “Unleashed” (2005) and “Fearless”; the latter opens Friday in the Bay Area.

Yet rumors have flown that Li, 43, is retiring. Not true; he has only stated that “Fearless” will be his last martial arts epic in which his own fighting style, wu-shu, is the subject.

Li says he will continue making action films, but only films in which martial arts may be used to tell some other story.

“Martial arts are just like the car chase in the cop movie,” he said during a recent San Francisco interview. “You need the car chase; you need to fire the gun. That’s just the material to talk about the real story. You can use martial arts to tell a love story, or a sci-fi story.”

Meanwhile, “Fearless” should please any breathless Li fans looking for some incredible moves. He plays Huo Yuan-jia, a real-life, turn-of-the-century figure who overcame his own arrogance to become the nation’s hero, fighting representatives from four countries to defend China’s honor.

Li first came across Huo’s story at the movies, in the Bruce Lee film “Fist of Fury” (1972), released here as “The Chinese Connection.” In that film, Lee played Huo Yuan-jia’s student who must avenge the death of his master. Years later, Li played the same character in the excellent “Fist of Legend” (1994).

Now at 43, Li is about the same age as Huo when he died. Li says he has been rolling the story over in his mind for 10 years, but the real impetus for making the film came when he heard a 2003 news report that more than a quarter-million people in China committed suicide in one year.

“I am Buddhist; I feel great suffering,” he said. “Today’s economy is very good in China, much better than 20 years ago. So why do people commit suicide? Some young people don’t understand life yet. They just give up.”

He hopes that “Fearless” will inspire more people to turn within as Huo Yuan-jia did, and discover that their greatest enemy is really themselves.

Though many will thrill to Li’s incredible artistry, this message still comes through clearly. Even the word “wu-shu” holds the key.

“Wu-shu is from two words: stop war. Stop fighting. That’s the main idea. But more people are focused on the fighting. They forget the stop,” Li said.

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