15 Best Jet Li Movies Ranked – Screen Rant

Jet Li is one of the best martial arts actors of all time, with a filmography far deeper than his English movies alone. Here’s Jet Li’s best 15 films.
The best Jet Li movies are comprised of some of the greatest martial arts-driven action films released at the turn of the century. Moreover, though it's uncommon, Li also has several dramatic roles under his belt. Alongside his fellow movie stars Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh, Jet Li is widely considered to be one of the greatest martial artists and actors of all time. His English-language filmography alone is certainly impressive, but this doesn't represent his full body of work. When looked at in full it's clear that Jet Li's movies have earned him a place in cinema history, and few save for maybe the aforementioned or legends like Bruce Lee can match his presence in the Kung Fu genre.
As amazing as it may seem today, Jet Li didn't enter the world of martial arts until age 8 which, as many practitioners will tell you, is relatively old compared to some (Jackie Chan was 6). Born in 1963, Jet Li began his martial arts training in 1971 after he was randomly assigned to a wushu class. Jet Li became an award-winning wushu practitioner at the age of nine, toured the US and met President Nixon for his achievements in 1974, and retired from the sport in 1979. In 1982, after the release of Jet Li's first movie — The Shaolin Temple — the distributors in the Philippines deemed his real name too difficult to pronounce. They then gave Li Lianjie his now-iconic screen name, Jet Li. Since then, Li has starred in a number of cornerstone movies in the action genre.
Related: Jet Li's (English) Movies Ranked, Worst To Best
Lethal Weapon 4 was the film that truly put Jet Li on the map in Hollywood, and it's undoubtedly one of the best Jet Li movies. As the villainous Wah Sing Ku, Li dazzled North American audiences with his frightening portrayal of a Chinese triad member who ends up going toe-to-toe with Murtaugh and Riggs in the final act. The fight scene is as spectacular as it is brutal, with Li kicking the living tar out of both at the same time before he suffers a brutal death, while going down fighting all the way. From there, Jet Li would star in a string of Hollywood films, while simultaneously making movies in his homeland.
Unleashed tells the story of a Chinese man snatched from his mother when he was a boy, trained to fight and obey commands like a dog. Featuring Morgan Freeman, Danny the dog (Jet Li) found peace and freedom and didn’t want to return to his violent life. However, the gang that made him into their dog won't leave him be. Up to this point, Jet Li has had a few runs in Hollywood, but this movie is different as it arguably saw Li coming into his own as a dramatic actor, which is what makes Unleashed one of the best Jet Li movies. ​​​​​
Jet Li's first starring role came in 1982 with Shaolin Temple, a story that takes place in medieval China in between the Sui and Tang Dynasties. The movie went on to have a profound effect on Chinese martial arts films moving forward, and is considered an iconic hit with over 300 million tickets sold at the Chinese box office. It was also the first film to be shot at the Shaolin Monastery, which further fed its reputation as a major tourist destination. Adjusted for inflation, the film made about $250 million U.S., which was unprecedented in 1982, and remains competitive even against the best Jet Li movies in recent history.
Last Hero in China features Jet Li as popular Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hung, who has been portrayed several times by both Jet Li and Jackie Chan. In this film, Wong Fei-Hung dishes out as many laughs as he does punches when he opens up a martial arts school right next door to a brothel, and then becomes the target of a general who would rather see him hit the bricks than train new students. What makes Last Hero in China one of the best Jet Li movies is that it's actually a successful parody of the Once Upon A Time In China movies, from which the main premise is derived — and twisted for comedy.
After starring in The Legend, The Legend II sees Jet Li's Fong Sai Yuk joining the Red Flower, a secret organization determined to oust the Manchurian Emperor. A renowned martial artist at this point in the story, Fong Sai Yuk has difficulty coming to terms with what he must do. The sequel retains the comedic and action elements that made the original so great, all while expanding the original's plot and giving Fong Sai Yuk's arc a more compelling turn. However, while The Legend II is certainly among the best Jet Li movies, it didn't beat the original, which is higher up on this list.
The Warlords is one of the movies that proved that Jet Li isn’t just a fast and fluid martial artist, but is also an excellent actor. Set in the 1860s, when civil rebellions rampaged through China during the Qing dynasty, it tells a story of three sworn brothers played by Jet Li, Andy Lau, and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Their brotherhood and friendship didn’t end well as they disagreed on different matters, which led to multiple deaths. A shoo-in for any list of the best Jet Li movies, The Warlords won a total of 8 Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Actor for Jet Li.
Swordsman 2 is a wuxia genre movie based a Louis Cha’s book The Smiling, Proud Wanderer. Jet Li plays Linghu Chong, a martial artist who, alongside other members of the Mount Hua School, are planning to retire. However, when Dongfang Bubai — a master of the Sunflower Manual — plots to overthrow the Ming Empire with Japanese Ronin, Chong's retirement gets delayed. Swordsman 2 won Best Costume Makeup Design at the 12th Hong Kong Film Awards. That said, it was nominated for a total of seven, including best editing, art direction, and action choreography. Though underrated, Swordsman 2 is definitely one of the best Jet Li movies.
The Legend tells the story of a mischievous and ambitious young boy, Fong Sai Yuk, who is good with martial arts but dull in his studies. The film combines comedy with a ton of over-the-top kung fu fight sequences – and some impressive wirework which would later become a staple of the Chinese martial arts scene. Amid Fong Sai Yuk's fights and romantic entanglement, The Legend unveils an intricate political plot. Largely regarded as one of the best Jet Li movies, The Legend went on to win awards the Hong Kong Film Award and the Golden Horse Award for best choreography in 1993, and led to a sequel in the same year.
In martial arts, training isn’t complete without mastering both the internal and external martial arts. Tai Chi Master tells the story of two boys, Junbao (Jet Li) and Tienbo (Chin Siu Ho), who grew up in the Shaolin Temple under the tutelage of the same master. They later left the temple after a misunderstanding with one of the monks, each choosing radically different paths. Despite avoiding accolades and the spotlight in general, Tai Chi Master, which also features Michelle Yeoh, remains one of the best Jet Li movies.
Fist of Legend is a 1994 remake of the 1972 film by Bruce Lee, Fist of Fury. It tells the story of a young martial artist, Chen Zhen, who went back to Shanghai from Japan to find his master dead and his school being harassed by the Japanese. More than two decades after the original movie, Fist of Legend underscored the persisting problem of ultranationalism in Asian countries. Apart from being a loving tribute to one of Bruce Lee's most foundational movies, Fist of Legend ranks highly among the best Jet Li movies for boldly tackling contemporary racial issues – amid fights choreographed by the legendary Yuen Woo-ping.
Related: All 5 Bruce Lee Movies Ranked, Worst To Best
One of the best Jet Li movies that have stayed under the radar over the years, The Bodyguard From Beijing was released in the US as The Defender. Jet Li plays Allan, a veteran bodyguard who has prevented the assassinations of elite politicians. Allan gets hired by a wealthy Hong Kong businessman to protect his girlfriend, Michelle, who has witnessed a murder. Allan does a fine job, as usual, but Michelle and Allan also get increasingly attracted to each other. The Bodyguard From Beijing sees Jet Li engaged in a modern, star-crossed romance while navigating some of the most brutal fight choreography of his career.
Yuen Woo-ping won Best Action Choreography at the 12th Hong Kong Film Awards for Once Upon A Time In China 2, but that's not the only reason why it's one of the best Jet Li movies. The second movie is the most emotional and action-packed installment of the series, a story about politics, fanatics, and patriotism. Once Upon A Time In China 2 unravels much about what Chinese revolutionaries suffered, and even starred Donnie Yen as the main villain. Donnie Yen’s character (General Nap Lan) battles Li’s (Wong Fei Hong) in an electric fight between two masterful martial arts actors who studied under the same master.
Featuring a rare dramatic lead role for Jet Li, Ocean Heaven explores the love of a father and a child, and the difficulties that people with autism face. It tells the story of a man who has a terminal disease and an autistic son, but who worked tirelessly to make sure his son acquires the necessary surviving skills before he passes away. Though largely underappreciated, Ocean Heaven is decidedly one of the best Jet Li movies ever, especially because of the heartfelt performances of Jet Li and Wen Zhang, who plays his son Dafu.
No discussion about the best Jet Li movies would be complete with the Zhang Yimou epic, Hero. Famous for his love of color theory, Yimou pieces together the real and imagined stories of the heroic nameless protagonist played by Jet Li, an assassin whose exploits have granted him an audience with the emperor. However, both Nameless and the emperor have surprises in store for one another. In terms of cinematography, choreography, storytelling, and the performances of its cast, Hero may be the greatest wuxia film in history. Zhang Yimou won the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, while Hero won seven Hong Kong Film Awards.
A martial arts epic so intense that Jet Li promised never to take part in martial arts films again, Fearless ranks highly in any list of the best Jet Li movies. Fearless is about the life of Huo Yuan Jia, a great martial artist and the founder of the Jingwu Athletic Foundation. He openly challenged martial artists from around the world to restore pride and honor to the Chinese people, after suffering oppression from foreign countries. For his performance as Huo Yuan Jia in Fearless, Jet Li won Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society awards, with the movie itself winning several more accolades.
Adeniyi is an entertainment writer. He’s written on martial arts also. He is a contributor on smabloggers, a martial arts travel site, and Asian Persuasion MMA, a mixed martial arts pub.


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