Fearless, Jet Li's much-ballyhooed farewell to the historical martial arts genre, serves as a rousing reminder of the actor's glory days—when Li's unbelievable physical grace enraptured an entire generation of jaded video store clerks. A semi-fictionalized recounting of the life of Chinese folk hero Huo Yuanjia, Fearless' plot allows Li to revisit many of his old tropes. And while the presence of action choreographer Woo-ping Yuen (The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) ensures the film has plenty of dazzling choreography, a surprising focus is on the main character's interior journey from brash powerhouse to reflective man of action. If, as Li claims, this is his final historical go-around, he's chosen an appropriate sendoff. (Besides, if he really feels it's time to pack it in, who's gonna argue with him? You?)
During a recent press tour, Li expounded on his philosophical leanings, and his reasons for moving on.
MERCURY: What separates this from your earlier, historical films?
JET LI: Most of the action films I've done have a formula—you know, good guy has problem, learns martial arts, kicks bad guy's ass in revenge. It uses violence against violence. In my past three movies [Hero, Unleashed, Fearless], though, I've tried to show that this is not the only solution. Violence is part of the martial arts, but the real, true martial artists focus more on their philosophy. Fighting is only the first step. The highest level is to use your knowledge to turn your enemy into your friend.
That's gotta be the most difficult level to film.
It's very difficult. Very, very difficult [laughs]. To kick ass is cool, but what's cooler is to share love between your family and friends. That's the main point of this movie. Our term for martial arts, wushu, comes from two Chinese words meaning "stop" and "war." Over the years, people making action films focus on the war—they've forgotten about the stopping. So, with this movie and this character, I thought I could show what wushu means to me: the philosophy, as well as the physical. After this, I'll continue to do movies with action as an element, but this feels like the highest level I can reach.