Beating up the baddies: how martial arts hero Jet Li will overcome his toughest adversary – devastating illness
The star of Lethal Weapon 4 and Once Upon a Time in China is likely to beat hyperthyroidism because he has beaten the odds and come back before
Lights, camera, action. Jet Li Lianjie is resting in hospital recovering from serious injuries after falling from a 12-foot tower during a fight scene on the set when his manager whispers into his ear.
“Get well, Jet. We begin shooting for another movie soon and the stunts come first.”
Well, the scene didn’t actually happen, but it could well have after Li suffered a serious left ankle fracture, a couple of broken ribs and internal injuries in falling from a high tower during the filming of Chinese-Hong Kong martial arts hit Fearless in 1986. And he had to quickly come back from that setback because the movie studio was counting on him.
“Once the camera started rolling he [the stuntman] wanted to do the action sequence quickly rather than do it in 10 moves. He just pushed him [Li] and they both fell and missed the mattresses. Luckily they fell on grass and soft mud,” said Fearless film director Ronny Yu at the time.
Years later, the 55-year-old recalled how his old injuries still rankle him. But he hasn’t let it become an excuse to stop him from continuing on his other projects.
“Physically and mentally, sometimes I feel tired. The biggest enemy is yourself,” he said.
From an early age, Li had to overcome adversary and a catalogue of injuries. He found fame at an early age, performing martial arts for then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and was even approached by former US President Richard Nixon who asked young Li at the time: “Young man, your kung fu is very impressive! How about being my bodyguard when you grow up?”
To which Li, only 11 at the time, replied: “No, I don’t want to protect any individual. When I grow up, I want to defend my one billion Chinese countrymen!”
— Dana White (@danawhite) May 21, 2018
From his days as a performing martial artist in his teens, to competing in wushu competitions and coming back from injury – only fellow martial arts superstar Jackie Chan has suffered more injuries – Li has had his fair share of setbacks. His first major injury happened at 18 when he tore his knee that required seven and a half hours of surgery.
I tore my knee in January (complete tear of the medial quadriceps tendon) after falling down the stairs in the MTR station (yes, I was looking at my phone) and after five months of modern medicine that included the latest in surgical procedures and many weeks of physiotherapy, I still can’t walk up and down a flight of stairs without cringing.
So how Li managed to come back from his injuries and continue to make physically demanding movies beat me.
Now well past his prime, the much-loved martial arts hero is battling a new and more sinister baddy – hyperthyroidism, a debilitating condition that affects the heart beat and speeds up the ageing process if not treated correctly.
Li was diagnosed with the illness in 2010 and he’s been battling it ever since with his US manager, Steven Chasman, telling The Washington Post this week that “it’s nothing life-threatening and he’s dealing with it”.
His legion of fans are in shock after seeing a photo of him visiting a Tibetan temple that shows the brutal extent of his hyperthyroidism and spinal problems. Apart from his injuries and maladies, he has also suffered personal tragedies – one of a personal nature.
The first involved his manager who was shot dead by two gunmen while he was getting out of a lift in Tsim Sha Tsui Centre, Mody Road, in 1992. Choi Chi-ming was the owner of Fully International Film Distribution Company before he met his fate in a hail of bullets.
In 2004, Li was holidaying in the Maldives with his wife, Nina Li Chi, four-year-old daughter Jada and friends when the deadly tsunami struck and his life was turned upside down. He escaped with minor injuries to his leg but the experience changed his life as he almost lost his daughter after Jada was briefly swept away along with her nanny before being rescued.
That natural disaster killed more than 280,000 people and Li started a foundation dedicated to disaster relief, One Foundation, which to this day he helps run.
So will hyperthyroidism, which affects roughly one in 10 people in Hong Kong, stop Li in his tracks? Unlikely.
Although afflicted with the condition that “refused to go away” as Li said in his own words, the star of Lethal Weapon 4 and the Expendables franchise, will battle with it, and beat it just like as he was beating up the baddies in his movies.