On the surface, there’s a lot of similarities between this movie, Fearless, and your early work; fights on scaffoldings, avenging family honor, and so forth. What do you feel separates this from those earlier, historical films?

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The locations and situations are similar to my early movies, but I think that the story is very different. Before, we were much more focused on the physical fighting, but this time it’s more spiritual. Most of the action films that 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. Based on those movies, I think when people see me walking down the street, they only think, “Jet Li knows how to kick somebody.” That’s the only message they see. 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) I feel very close to the character in this film. You know, he studied martial arts all of his life, just like me. Now I’m 42, and it seems more important to show people the real purpose of martial arts. People talk about how a gun isn’t good or evil, how it really depends on how it is used. Martial arts are the same. The message that I want to show is that to be able to kick ass is cool, but what’s cooler is to share love between your family and friends.

The character in Fearless is an inspirational folk hero to many people in China. Do you feel any added responsibility playing a real life figure?

Yes, definitely. The main reason I created this movie is because of his message, which I think is important for martial arts fans to see. You know, because of me and Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, many people think that the average Asian man just knows how to beat up somebody (laughs). I wanted to show the spiritual side, as well. Everybody needs peace, I think. Audiences want to see violence, violence, violence, but I wanted to show them that there is another element. That’s the main point of this movie, and my reason for making this my final wu shu film. Wu shu, our term for martial arts, 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 wu shu 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.

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So if the director of Hero or Once Upon a Time in China approached you with a role in this historical area, would you pass?

Well, I don’t think they’d make a wu shu movie. They might make a film with action elements, but not one that focuses on the martial arts themselves. I think this movie is unique because it follows a true martial artist. You know, at the beginning, he is a normal action guy, who doesn’t care about the broken arms of the other fighters, but only concentrates on the physical concerns, and being number one. Usually this kind of movie stops there, with him killing the bad guy. With this story, the character goes beyond that. He goes to nature, and discovers new ideas, and then comes back and opens a school to teach people what he’s learned, which is that the biggest enemy is yourself, internally.