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For decades, Jet Li wasone of the most beloved martial arts stars in the world. But the actor has largely stepped away from the business in recent years to focus on his health. Still, his daughters convinced him to return for one small but pivotal role. Li has previously turned down major movies before, but this one felt different. Here’s why he signed on for one 2020 release.

Jet Li is an action movie legend

Jet Li and daughters Jane and Jada pose in front of a backdrop featuring the "Mulan" logo
Jane Li, Jet Li, and Jada Li attend the World Premiere of”Mulan” I Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

Li is the kind of movie star with a filmography so deep that he’s ultimately turned down bigger movies than most actors could ever dream of. He made his film debut in 1982’s Shaolin Temple and went on to build a reputation for starring in a string of popular martial arts period epics. These include the Once Upon a Time in China series, Fist of Legend, Zhang Yimou’s Academy Award-nominated Hero, and 2006’s Fearless.

With 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4, Li transitioned into Hollywood blockbusters. He would then go on to make such movies as Romeo Must Die, The One, Kiss of the Dragon, and all three entries in The Expendables franchise. But while he has gradually slowed down his acting career, one brief but impactful part in a 2020 blockbuster compelled him to take the project.

The actor returned for this role in 2020

In 2013, Li revealed his diagnosis with hyperthyroidism. And though he stands firm in his health and denies reports that it has influenced his career, he has only made a few film appearances in the last decade. His most recent of these is 2020’s Mulan, Disney’s live-action adaptation of its own 1998 animated musical. Li plays the Emperor of China, a role his young daughter convinced him to take.

Li’s teenage daughter asked him a series of questions, mostly about how the movie would represent Chinese culture and if this was important to Li. But the clincher was when she asked him if he could make the movie for her, which pushed Li to accept the project. “That’s how I decided to make this film,” Li said according to Yahoo! Aside from Mulan, Li’s previous movie was 2016’s League of Gods.

What is Jet Li doing these days?


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Li isn’t making any immediate plans to return to the big screen. He isn’t set to reprise his role in The Expendables 4, which is set for release in late 2023, for instance. So just what has the iconic martial arts star been up to? As it turns out, he’s been doing a lot during the past few years.

Li founded The One Foundation — presumably named after his 2001 film, The One — and has spent a lot of time on his charity work. In addition, he has been traveling, meditating, and playing the odd game of badminton. He currently lives in Singapore.