Instead, he stayed at home with his wife and soon-to-be newborn daughter as promised. Come to think of it, this whole experience is probably what inspired the plotline of Kiss of the Dragon (2001) a year later.
Kiss of the Dragon may have been written and produced by French filmmaker Luc Besson, but it’s based on a story pitched by Jet Li. In the film’s early stages of development, he proposed an idea to Besson: a movie about a man’s promise to a woman, and how he would be challenged to keep it as the character develops, even if it goes against his job and his country. Sound familiar? And a year later, a promise becomes the film’s premise yet again in Hero (2002).
Jet Li in Hero
I’m going to try really hard not to give away any spoilers for this one either because Hero is one of my favorite films. If you haven’t watched it yet and are a fan of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, then you really need to. But don’t take my word for it, just read what the late Roger Ebert had to say in his signature “two thumbs up” review of the film:
A film like “Hero” demonstrates how the martial arts genre transcends action and violence and moves into poetry, ballet and philosophy. It is violent only incidentally. What matters is not the manner of death, but the manner of dying: In a society that takes a Zen approach to swordplay and death, one might win by losing. There is an ancient martial arts strategy in which one lures the opponent closer to throw him off balance, and yields to his thrusts in order to mislead him. This strategy works with words as well as swords. One might even defeat an opponent by dying — not in the act of killing him, but as a move in a larger game.
Wow. So, without giving away any spoilers, and to sum it up as simply as I can in the context of promises, the film begins with a promise between three warriors to assassinate the king, and ends with that promise changing, transcending from mere individual desire to the greater good of tianxia, literally “under heaven,” a cultural concept that basically describes everything under the cosmology of China.
Several hundred years after the time of Confucius, in a foundational text called Records of the Grand Historian, Sima Qian wrote one of the most famous Chinese idioms, “A promise is worth a thousand ounces of gold.”
If you make a promise, you’d better keep it like our man Jet Li.
Principle is prioritized over self-interest throughout his cinematic universe—and many martial arts movies in general, particularly in the wuxia subgenre—but promise takes precedence over principle, for promise is just as much the premise in Jet Li’s personal life, too.