With the New York Asian Film Festival starting July 1, we here at Team Unwinnable thought it time to pick the best Kung Fu star around. That has now devolved into a point/counterpoint piece. Enjoy!
Jet Li is the greatest Asian action star of our time. He may not top the pop culture status of Bruce Lee, who broke Kung Fu in the West. Nor is he the filmmaker that Jackie Chan became, who reinvented physical language in cinema with his slapstick choreography. No, Jet Li is just what you expect him to be – an action star.
When you think modern action movies you think Jet Li. He’s done cliché Hollywood action with rappers (Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave), but he’s also made arthouse films (Hero), and earlier in his career he starred in the most classic fantasy wuxia of all time (Kung Fu Cult Master).
His body of work speaks for itself. Watch the final fight from Fist of Legend – a ten-minute battle unparalleled in cinematic violence. Also check out Swordsman 2, Tai Chi Master and the amazingly epic Once Upon A Time in China series, which redefined the heroic doctor Wong Fei-Hung for a whole new generation.
Jet Li brings humor, intense drama and his amazing Wushu skills to every role. He can be the goofy, drunken swordsman, the naïve Shaolin monk or the grim assassin. He choreographs characters with their own style and approach to martial arts. It’s been said that his movements are too fast for the camera to capture.
And when Jet Li decided to retire from acting, a Buddhist monk, a high holy man, told him not to. The monk advised Li that through acting he could continue to entertain, enlighten and make an impact upon the world.
It makes me almost forgive him for doing The Expendables.