Top 10 Jet Li Films

Jet Li has dozens of films under his belt, most of which were released in China and Hong Kong. Li didn’t garner international acclaim until a good decade into his showbiz career, long after he had become a household name in Chinese-speaking households for his roles in Shaolin Temple and Once Upon a Time in China.

Films he is probably best known for in the West are Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die, Fearless, and the Expendables franchise. But the truth is, any fan of martial arts movies in general, or Jet Li in particular, will dig deeper into Li’s repertoire and list some more obscure Chinese-language films as his best work, Jet Li films generally considered to be among the best martial arts cinema ever made.

Here is a list of some of Jet Li’s best films, by no means authoritative, but useful for those interested in bingeing on fantastic Kungfu on a slow Sunday evening.

jet li films

Top 10 Jet Li Films

Once Upon a Time in China (1991)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103285/

The nigh unanimous choice across the web for the best Jet Li films ever made. This film takes his martial arts to a more refined level than the previous films he made during the 1980s. Many of which are entertaining as much for their absurdity as for anything else.

In this film, the absurd is made plausible, and for many Jet Li fans, is one the greatest things about the Wushu star: making the viewer believe that, yes, that ladder fight could have really happened.

jet li films once upon a time in china wong fei hung
jet li films once upon a time in china poster

Fist of Legend (1994)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110200/

This politically charged martial arts polemic against Japan’s wartime aggression features one of the most epic ending fight sequences in martial arts history. Li plays the dedicated student returning to Shanghai to honor his fallen master, martial arts legend Huo Yuanjia. When he learns the Japanese poisoned and murdered him, Li’s character takes it upon himself to deal out retribution.

jet li films fist of legend poster
jet li films fist of legend

Hero (2002)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0299977/

This was one of the most important films to come out of Mainland China in the last decade. The visuals are intense, punctuated by judicious and compelling use of surreal slow motion shots and angles. Although the storyline may not have been as in depth as previous incarnations of the “assassination of the Qin Emperor” storyline, the sheer spectacle of many of the scenes in this film, and Li’s portrayal as the main protagonist, make this film a must see.

jet li films hero
jet li films hero poster

Shaolin Temple (1982)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079891/

The film that started it all. In this re-telling of an ancient Shaolin legend, Li saves the emperor after a rogue general betrayed him. The fight scenes are raw and rough around the edges. Jet Li puts on the performance that would lead him to international stardom as the headstrong young monk who convinces the temple to act.

jet li films the shaolin temple poster
jet li films shaolin temple

Unleashed (2005)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0342258/

A British-French collaboration written by Luc Besson, this film pulled a lot of Jet Li. Instead of the martial artists beating up everyone and delivering the requisite kungfu lines, Li was forced to dig deeper to pull off the childlike, oppressed, and tortured person of Danny the Dog. The soundtrack helps make this movie amazing.

jet li films unleashed
jet li films unleashed poster

Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0122151/

For many in the West, this was the first look at the kung fu master who would redefine the Chinese badass stereotype after years of Jackie Chan’s more comedic characters. As an almost unstoppable assassin, Li introduced the fast-paced, aggressive, relentless martial arts style that sets him apart from many of his contemporaries. Fighting through a pole through his chest underwater, is also pretty cool.

jet li films lethal weapon4
jet li films lethal weapon 4 poster

Swordsman II (1992)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103295/

A classic wuxia flick, this film has the epic Hong Kong-style cinematics that make the wuxia genre breathtaking. Li takes on an evil clan led by a male villain turned female sword master. Scrolls, snakes, swords, sexual tension. This film has everything a wuxia nerd needs.

jet li films swordsman 2 poster
jet li films swordsman 2

Fearless (2006)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0446059/

This is a biography of legendary Chinese martial artist Huo Yuanjia, the spiritual godfather of the Jinwu association. It was ushered in a kungfu renaissance in Nanjing and around China during the first decades of the 20th century.

jet li films fearless
jet li films fearless poster

Once Upon a Time in China II (1992)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105839/

In the sequel to Jet Li’s big hit, Wong Fei Hong must take on the White Lotus society, a fanatical cult that will stop at nothing to restore themselves to power

jet li films once upon a time in china 2 poster
jet li films once upon a time in china 2

The Warlords (2007)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0913968/

An often overlooked film, Warlords follows three sworn blood brothers during a chaotic time of war and betrayal.

jet li films the warlords
jet li films the warlords poster
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