The man whose punches send shock waves on impact and kicks make any TV set shake! That is an overstatement, but Jet Li is actually a master of several wushu styles and an actual wushu champion. His authentic martial arts skills were the catapult for his fame as an action movie actor, allowing him to be the star of many martial arts movie, both in Hong Kong and American cinema.
Huo Yuan Jia (2006)
I have been a long time fan of Jet Li's movies before Fearless, and when I heard about this movie and had a peek at the trailer I couldn't help but become very excited at the sight of a possible martial arts masterpiece!
This movie tells the story of Huo Yuan Jia (1869-1910), a Chinese Martial Arts Master who was the founder and spiritual guru of the Jin Wu Sports Federation. Through the course of the movie we become familiar with this man's way of life and fighting values, as we learn of his big ambitions. As a consequence of his actions to prove his martial arts fighting superiority, a tragedy happens in Huo's life that will forever change his person, and launch him in a journey of self-redemption and self-discovery.
Fearless is a very complete and engaging story for a martial arts movie. There is the whole drama around Huo's story, we are shown a China that is losing its identity and watch as Huo's fighting and new-found vision will try to educate the "invading" westerns and bring China its traditional values back.
All of this in addition to the incredible diverse fights and the many intriguing individuals, each with their own fighting styles, that eventually came face-to-face with Huo, make Fearless an action movie with soul and one of the most interesting and entertaining martial arts movies to date.
Fist of Legend
Jing wu ying xiong (1994)
Don't ask me why, but this was one of the latest movies I picked up from this list, when it is considered by many of Jet Li's followers his best martial arts movie ever and a contender for having the best movie fight scenes of all time.
Fist of Legend is the story about Chen Zhen, a chinese student in Kyoto who returns to Shanghai in 1937, at the time under Japanese military occupation, after reading about the death of his master, Huo Yuan Jia (familiar name?), in a fight against the Japanese champion.
Chen Zhen's investigation of a possible poisoning that led to his master's defeat, takes you in martial arts journey with brutal and realistic fights, where the Chinese and Japanese prides are at stake, culminating into a Jet Li kicking festival! Not to mention that the direction of this movie is brilliant!
Although Fist of Legend has a different plot, the time of the movie is right after the time of the events from Fearless, so you can almost say Fearless worked as a prequel to Fist of Legend. In any case, both movies have great stories for martial arts movies and stunning choreographies. I would say that Fist of Legend has a slightly higher concentration of fight scenes than Fearless, thus this one might appeal more to hardcore fans of fighting scenes.
Danny the Dog (2005)
Unleashed, also known as Danny the Dog, shows us a very different Jet Li than what we are used too.
This movie tells the miserable story of Danny, a man who was enslaved by the mob since childhood and used to fight in to-the-death bet-fights. In a twist of events, Danny eventually escapes. He is found by a gentle girl who shows him more about life than just fighting, while helping Danny unveil new sides of himself, erstwhile hidden in a world of violence. As Danny tries to start a new life, his former "owner" becomes an obstacle, as he will not stop at nothing to get his prize fighter back.
If there's one thing that separates this movie from other Jet Li movies is the focus on Jet Li's acting more than the fighting itself. Sure, Jet Li was never a candidate for best performance, he knows his way around an action movie while providing great fighting scenes and that's it. That's what the audience generally seeks. However, Unleashed gave Jet Li the chance to show a different side of his acting in a role that demanded a little more than martial arts skills. In my opinion, he did manage to achieve a good performance, while keeping the same quality of his fighting scenes.
Granted, there are not many fight scenes for a Jet Li movie and the story is not without its flaws. Nevertheless, Jet Li is a fighting machine and the few action scenes that come by are brutal! They are incredibly violent, the camera work is great, letting us watch every detail and every move, and the sound effects only add to the brutality and realism of the fights. It all fits very well into the narrative.
Kiss of the Dragon
This might not be the best Jet Li movie ever made, but it still has a place on this list for the nostalgia value it gives me for being the movie that introduced me to the man.
Jet Li plays an intelligence officer who comes to Paris to apprehend a drug lord. However, the drug lord is killed and the main character is framed. He eventually meets a prostitute involved in the plot, who will help Li's character prove his innocence in this conspiracy, while getting protection in return.
The first movie where I first saw Jet Li was actually The Legend of the Red Dragon (1994). On the one hand I was not aware of who Jet Li was, nor was I exactly a fan of too much fantasy and wire-fu in my action movies. Kiss of the Dragon, however, provided me with an adequate story and incredibly fight scenes, and that I liked better!
There is nothing that particularly stands out in this movie, apart from the fight scenes. The story is interesting enough and Jet Li is the typical cool hero who has got a bigger enemy. I will never forget the first impressions of the fight between Jet Li and the twins, though!
Lethal Weapon 4
Tau ming chong (2007)
To finish the first half of this Top 10 Jet Li Movies, I'm picking Lethal Weapon 4, the movie that introduced Jet Li to western audiences... as a villain!
Lethal Weapon 4 follows the antics of our favorite buddy cop duo dealing with a Chinese crime lord trying to get his brother out of prison. Little did they know with whom they were dealing with...
We're talking about our favorite buddy cops in their late years, far from their prime physical forms, facing the trickiest and deadliest of the final bosses. And it shows in their final confrontation, where everything counts, far from the typical Hong Kong choreographies! The last fight of the movie is one of the most realistic, violent and epic showdowns in cinema history! Well at least in my eyes it was, as a fan of everything this movie has to offer!
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And that ends the first part of the more serious of Jet Li's roles. Check out the second part of my Top 10 Jet Li Movies, where I write about his movies that focus on more fantastic settings and extravagant kung fu fights, in an authentic non-stop martial arts fest selection!