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August 2004
Hero: An Interview with Jet Li

Hero: An Interview with Jet Li

By Tonisha Johnson

Jet Li is certainly no stranger to the Silver Screen. His martial arts style has given him the opportunity to make many a successful film. With his new film, Hero, Jet Li now has the chance to not only give his eager audience the fight scenes they are so thirsty for but they also get a front row seat that continues to show Asians ever increasing development of films void of generic fantasy and filled with emotional substance and culture.

In a small upper New York office, just feet away from the luxurious Trump Plaza Health Spa, where bottles of water are adorned with Donald Trump's photo & logo, enters Jet Li as he's sits down to talk to blackfilm.com about his latest film, and what he did to prepare himself for the film as well as the hopes of making a film with Jackie Chan..

Are you now excited that this film is out?

JL: Yeah cause you know, we hoped one day we can see this movie in the theatre. American people love Hong Kong films. So, I do hope that American people will go see the film because it's very quite special movie. If you watch this movie in the theatre; you know, the way the songs, the color ...it's much better than DVD. Plus, its Chinese movie (lol).

I grew up on "traditional" Chinese films. But this one seemed very different in the way the story takes place. What makes Hero so different from some of the others?

JL: When I read the script I cried twice. First of all the character has very strong character, because the others trust each other to give their life in my hands because to kill the king. That kind of feeling is very strong where you didn't see a lot of stories, a lot of films like this. Second of all is, I make a lot of action films already. A lot of films are commercial action films, where the family got a problem or the area got a problem, where they go up to the mountain learn martial arts, come back down kill the family...(lol) usually that's the formula, that action formula. This film is the one that I've been looking for, for many years. The violence is not the only solution. There is a different way to solve the problem, didn't need to use violent movie to talk about a non-violent story. This movie you didn't find the bad guy in the film. It's only the people who have different opinions that you see a different kind of view in the whole story. In the last 40 minutes there is no fighting.

What is the nature of Heroism and what is this movie trying to say about that?

JL: I think this movie is made for a different kind of age that watches the film. In different culture they have different kinds of results. A younger audience, they just look at the picture, see fighting. But the people who have good education, they know more about Asian culture, the background, the loyalty, the friendship, the dying for the love. If you go to another level you can see what does the highest martial arts meaning? What is the Hero? The man and the woman love each other. They die for each other. That's a hero. The king is the hero. He unified the country, the writing, the calculations. It's the audience decision. The hero in my personal opinion...I don't want to see a hero in life. Cause when we need a hero we got a problem. The problem may be when two people hurt each other, two countries hurt each other, the nature makes problems: fire, water, earthquake...we really need a strong man to protect us...a hero. If everybody loves each other, very peaceful, then we don't have any problems. Then why would we need a hero? I mean, if bad things happen, then we need a hero. But, really I don't want to see. If we take longer to see the hero in the world, then that means we are at peace.

Has anything been cut from the American version of Hero?

JL: In the beginning they wanted to cut information. Looping from Chinese to English. But right now they kept it the original way.

How did you prepare for this role?

JL: I spent 6 months in China. I worked with the whole crew and the director to discover this character. My character is the only character in the whole story that grew up. The other characters...just there they are just straight forward. From beginning to end it's just the same way. My character, his parents died, his country, his drive for the king, he learned martial arts to try to kill the king. But through this journey he met a few new friends. At the end of the movie he still didn't decide to kill or not. He grew up, this character. We learned a lot of things, a lot of details from the beginning. Like how to walk. 2000 years ago, we had to learn how to walk. They don't move. They're fast. The way they run. How to smile. How to reach for our swords.

In regards to the warring states period to the birth of China, during the making of this film, did you already know the history of the story or did you learn it from the making of this film?

JL: I think the director and the writer did a lot of research. For example, they read the history books and talking about king dynasty's...that they liked black. So that's why we had over 500 horses of different color. And then the director said I want them black. They spent several days dying the hairs. They did a lot of research. 2000 years they were very general. Everybody respects. That culture they keep in Japan, but not in China (lol).

In the film, during one of your fight scenes...You would sort of "fight" in your mind with your opponent. What did this signify?

JL: This guy goes in front of the king to tell the story about why he is coming there. But he really made a story and then another story inside that one. The king figures this is a lie and said no I think it's this. I know a guy who can play chess with 9 other people at the same time. He plays very well. He remembers moving here to there, because he is good enough. So, that make me think that when two guys, who understand the martial arts very well, don't really need to fight, we can just stand there and look at each other. I already know your higher then me. So, I've already won before the fight even starts. We talk about the martial arts having three levels in this film. The first level is sword, its part of your body, if your skill is good enough its part of your body. The second level is without a weapon. Your heart becomes a weapon. If you are good enough, you stand there, the people already scared of you. Language is your imagination but with your heart you can scare them and they run away. Between two countries maybe we can use this conversation to stop before the war starts. It's with the second level that we can solve the problem. But the third level is love. Now we are talking about the religion level. Its many religions in the world, whether we are talking about Buddhism, Jesus...if you hit this side or this side (aiming at chest) because I am never angry, I will give you love. The highest martial arts level is curved to religion. All the religion in the world is talking about love. It's the most powerful thing.

Most people when they think of martial arts they thinking of fighting, hate and killing the other person. And you're saying that the highest marital arts level is love and showing love to the other person.

JL: Yeah, because...you think about it...it's getting involved with some people who have already fought saying I don't want to fight with you. Because they know the skill very well. It's already at the second level. But if right now I show you I love you while you hate me. Your beating and I still love you. Why are you beating me? I will return. Change yourself. Whatever you're good or bad, change to a different person. That's the way about martial arts.

It makes for a very different type of martial arts movie, existing on the third level and show people love instead of choreographed fighting and so forth. Is that something you're hoping for?

JL: Yeah. I want to see one day this kind of film, but its difficult right now, cause people will laugh...(ha ha ha). You have to find the right way to do the right thing. Only the love can change you. Forget angry. Forget everything. That's the most powerful.

You said earlier that you wish we didn't need a hero. Do you see yourself as a hero to kids all around the world as being an international action star?

JL: No, I'm really not a hero. I'm just a guy (lol) filled with love. But I play some character. The character maybe like a tough man. I always smile, I never want to. I never think of using my martial arts in my real life. A lot of people say what about if someone what to beat you up and you want to take them down? I say you can take me down in a few seconds because I never want to take revenge.

Do you get that? Guys wanting to prove that they are tough. Tougher than you?

JL: It never happens because I never say I'm the best fighter in the world. I say I'm an actor (lol).

In your 6 months of training what was the hardest part on your body, physically doing what?

JL: In some locations it's really difficult to make this film. Like on the lake. The director wants to see the lake like a mirror. Sometimes the lighting comes in and you can't shoot. So we lose a whole day. That type of situation it's difficult to control the nature. The weather.

What style of martial arts was used?

JL: No special style.

Did you want to work with Zhang Yimou?

JL: We've know each other for many years. We talk about it before maybe 8, 10 years ago. I said can I work with you someday? He look at me and say no. when I look in your face, it's like a baby face. You are not a man yet. I need to see a lot of pain and experience on your face. So 6 years later, he showed me the script. He said I see a lot of pain your face. Now it is time, now you're a man (lol).

Do you still want to continue doing Chinese movies and American movies at the same time?

JL: A lot of people like to ask that question. The movie that I make in China or in the states is no difference. It only wants to show to this audience a world wide movie. Everybody is trying to make a world wide movie. I think I need to find a balance. The way Americans think about Jet Li making this kind of film. In Asia and Europe I have more space to control my movies. I can do this that kind of way, this kind of way. Like Hero, if I show the script to the studio, maybe nobody want to make it. They don't understand. The film is already finished. I need proof. But in Asia it's already successful and in Europe it's good. I still need to prove in America.

Here in America, Asian films are very big. America is remaking a lot of these films. Do you think they should just import the original or do you like the idea of remaking them?

JL: It's really difficult for us to make the decision. Like, I go to Europe and make a film. I come back, show it to the studio...they love it. But they don't know how to market this film. Is action movie? Or drama movie? How to crack the border and say drama, but action in it. You need both audiences to come in and see the film. It's a typical action film. It's very easy to come in say this is an action film. You need the audience to determine how to promote a film.

In regards to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, there are very many similarities: the drama, the fighting, Chinese cast...Do you feel that Hero would not have been released here in America if it were not for the success of this film?

JL: Mmmmmmm. I think so. I think that they still would have made it in China but it wouldn't have been that much money to make it. Right now they spent $30 Million US dollars to make this film.

How would you compare the two films?

JL: I think its two different kinds of director's ways to use martial arts to talk about the love. It's a different kind of picture. It still uses martial arts, but a different kind of picture.

Do you think we will ever see you in a movie with Jackie Chan?

JL: We tried to make a movie 10 years ago in Hong Kong. Something happened, we didn't make it. A few years ago, the studio wanted to make the film again. Something happened; we didn't make it (lol). I can't guarantee. I don't know.

If you could have one super hero power, what would that be?

JL: I would take all the suffering from the people.

Did you grow your own hair for the part or did they put it in?

JL: Yes (laughing). They put it on top of my head.

What was it like working with Aaliyah?

JL: Aww. Its great experiences working with her. At that time, she's young, has energy. Everyday she comes she happy, smiles, sing songs. Very lovely girl. When I was making Hero, is when I heard of her passing.

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