With more than 30 movies to his credit, it's safe to say that Jet Li isn't an on-screen novice. But his latest movie, Hero, was a bit of a departure for the popular action star. It's the first time he's appeared in a movie where the martial arts take a backseat to the drama. "This film isn't just action, action, action," Li explains to TV Guide Online. "It uses martial arts to tell a story that teaches that violence is not the only solution."
That's not to say that Hero (now in theaters) is completely devoid of the awesome fisticuffs fans have come to expect from Li. In fact, it contains some of the most spectacular martial-arts battles ever captured on film, including a balletic sword fight over a lake and a showdown that takes place amid hundreds of swirling, golden leaves. As usual, Li was very involved in the choreography of the sequences — and he's got the bruises to prove it.
"Of course I get hurt," he laughs. "I also hurt other people on set. We hurt each other all the time. Usually they're more scared about hurting me, because then they get fired! I remember when I worked with Mel Gibson on Lethal Weapon IV, the first thing the director warned me was 'You can't hurt Mel!'"
When it was released in Asia in 2002, Hero proved an immediate box-office smash, earning more than $100 million in China alone. But despite its record grosses — and an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film — Miramax dragged its heels releasing the film stateside, leading eager fans to seek out the movie via other means, including bootleg DVDs. "I worry that a lot of people may have already seen it," Li laments, "but I hope they go to the theater to see it again, because it's more powerful on the big screen."
Li also has a more personal reason for wanting Hero to flourish. "This is the kind of movie I want to make now," he says. "If Hero is successful, maybe I can make other kinds of martial-arts films. My fans [wonder] why I made Cradle 2 The Grave? And [then I ask myself], 'Why did I make that film?' I can do a better job, but I don't have the chance. It's better I slow down and find the right film and the right director. If you spend three years making one good film, it's better than making two commercial movies every year."