New Jet Li Exclusive Interview
KISS OF THE DRAGON
by Martha Burr
Well you e-zine readers knew it would pay off sometime, hmm? Since Jet Li was filming his latest movie KISS OF THE DRAGON in France, he didn't do any American set interviews, but we caught up with him at the Four Seasons Hotel in LA last week where he was promoting the film. So now we have the latest from Jet right here for you - only on Kungfu magazine's E-zine!
Jet Li Interview, June 2001
Q: How did you come up with this movie?
Jet Li: After Romeo Must Die a lot of hardcore Jet Li fans told me on my website they don't like the action sequences, they thought it was too choppy, not clear. Not as good as my older films. I saw the Matrix and I knew how exactly the same way, ten years ago, the Hong Kong movie industry, after I did one movie flying around, suddenly you saw a hundred movies - everybody flying around! I knew that in the States the same thing would happen. So, I thought it would be the right time for me to do some hardcore fighting, with a strong character, that kind of action movie.
We (Luc Besson, the producer and Robert Kamen, writer) discussed it, and created it from the beginning, and then I think, three weeks later we have a script. Six weeks later we're shooting in Paris. Very quick. Because, we were talking about how different it is making movies in Asia and Europe and the States. When I saw how it was in Europe, it was very close to Asia. Like a small family, shake hands, do it. Everything has a lot of energy. Very quick.
Q: So you're making a Hong Kong style movie with primarily as French
cast, in Paris, but in English for the American market, how was that culturally?
Jet Li: I think that's why we want to do it this way. I think Hong Kong makes a lot of good action movies, but their production quality is not as good as American films. America has a lot of special talent, and creative people. They know the quality so well, then they put the Asian martial art in it, and make American action films. But we know the market has a lot of that kind of films, that use cables, computer generated effects, that can make the actor and actresses trained in a few months do martial arts. We've seen this, so now maybe it's time to do something different.
Luc Besson, he's quite creative as a producer, from his angle he sees things differently. Also, I think the Warchowsi brothers are very amazing, talented. They see a Hong Kong action move that's done a hundred times, but they use the other angle to see it. Tell it. And we think it's brand new. Amazing. But we know the movement is the same thing. But they see things differently. So that's what we want, to do something different, see something different.
Q: The action in this movie is very violent, maybe darker than a lot
of your Hong Kong movies, how did you feel about that?
Jet Li: I think it is more real. In Hong Kong, we make a lot of action movies; usually we see that this character is a hero, he comes out the hero, fights from beginning to end, he's the hero. He never loses. That's why I think Luc is unique to create this character in the beginning. We don't want a superhero to save the day. Why not do something where this man is not perfect, a little bit selfish, who only works on what he's doing, doesn't know how to deal with girls. Suddenly when the situation changes he's scared, he runs away, tries to figure out what's going on. You can see the movement from the beginning. He's very confident to fight inside the hotel. But after awhile, on the bateau-mouche, in the train station, he's afraid, he thinks that everybody is an enemy, he's nervous. More like a real person. Then, at the ending, he finds that a man's promise is very important. He needs to keep his promise. So he goes to the police station and he regains his confidence, when he needs to fight.
Q: You put a statement on your website telling parents not to take
their children to this...
Jet Li: In the beginning we already decided that the martial arts is this way, it's hardcore fighting. We were very clear. I like to talk to the audience through the website, because I want to know their feelings about the movie. They give me good suggestions, I like it. I'll to back to China for 6 months, so ten days ago I started to return some of their questions. I get thousands every month, so I pick maybe forty, fifty questions to answer. One question comes from a mother who says, my little boy is really excited to watch Kiss of the Dragon... But I realize, I am a parent, I have a daughter fourteen months old, sometimes I walk with her in the mall and I see a lot of kids three years old, five years old, they say hey, Jet Li, gungfu, yeah, yeah, yeah yeah! So, I suddenly think, uh oh, maybe I need to take some responsibility to answer that. I say, I want to remind you, this is an art movie, for adults. You need to take the responsibility also because you need to decide how old your children are, and what to do. Maybe you watch it yourself, see the movie first, and see is it too violent, too hardcore, don't take your children. Every parent, they need to take the responsibility also.
You cannot make one film and make everybody happy. You make a PG movie, and your hardcore fans say, it's too soft. But in this film, I really want to talk about some message through this film. It really depends what's your focus.
Next year I've decided to do a situation comedy.
Q: And any other projects?
Jet Li: I will do one movie called Hero, that Zhang Yimou will direct. It's a Chinese film.
For action movies, you can use martial arts to talk about love, maybe use martial arts to talk about what kind person you can call a hero. Through different kinds of angles you can see martial arts.
Q: Is it true you passed on the Matrix part two?
Jet Li: Yes, part two and part three. (laughs) First of all, Warchowski brothers are friends of mine, we always talk about making movies, and they love Hong Kong action movies. And I liked Matrix part one a lot, I think it's a very successful movie, I can guarantee part two and part three will be successful. Why do you need Jet Li in it? They're already successful! Meanwhile, I have time to do my work. I make Kiss of the Dragon, I go back to China to make a Chinese movie, so I think this way the audience has more choice.
Q: You also turned down Crouching Tiger...why?
Jet Li: You see the movie, the man's promise in Kiss of the Dragon? The same reason. Ten years ago I promised my wife, I say we love each other, if we still do ten years later we'll be married, and if we have a baby I'll stop my working, and be with you until the baby is born. So for that reason...Ang Lee had talked with me many, many years already, and we discussed how to make the film. I introduced the choreographer, Woo Ping. The whole production, I was involved with everything.
Q: Why do you think Crouching Tiger didn't go over well with
Jet Li: I think martial arts is like the ground, and the Hong Kong movie industry is like the tree. They make thousands of action movies already. For the past sixty years. So the Ang Lee movie is just like the flower, on the tree, they find the right timing, do the right thing, it's perfect, a big flower. If no ground, no tree; no tree, no flower. So the timing is very important. For American audience, they thought it was wonderful. But for an Asian audience, they say, I saw it a hundred times already. Similar movies, they fly around, the girl, etc. So it's a different culture, first, second thing is right timing. I think if this movie had come out ten years ago in America, maybe it would be hard to find a theater to promote it in. Maybe the audience was not ready to watch this kind of film. Now the audience is ready.
Q: What were the challenging scenes in Kiss of the Dragon?
Jet Li: It was hard fighting with all the fighters. We found around fifty fighters in Europe, from all over Europe. I feel very comfortable with the whole tone of the movie, the character, and the changing situations. When the situation changes, the fighting changes. The feeling is real. That's what we aimed for.
Q: Can you talk a little about working with Bridget Fonda?
Jet Li: She's a wonderful actress, and I'm glad Luc Besson decided to use her in this film. Usually, for action movies, the actress is a beautiful flower. They put the flower there, and then they fight. When they need the flower to come in, they bring her in. But this film, Bridget is the key. Between the good guy and he bad guy. She's in the middle, and makes the character make sense, the whole situation changes, and it's not just focused on fighting. Also, my character learns a lot of things from her, because I only work, work, work, never cares about the other person or what women think. In her life the most important thing is her baby, but I don't think about that because I'm quite selfish, I'm doing my job. But finally - the thought is very important, you need to take the responsibility to another person. So the character grew up.
Q: What about using the acupuncture theme?
Jet Li: Like I said, for an action movie the most important is the story and the character. If I don't want to fight with someone, and waste my time, I don't want to fight, I don't want to hurt him either. For an emergency situation maybe I can also use acupuncture to help people. To heal them. In the beginning we decided to do it this way. The writer came up with the name, Kiss of the Dragon. And when I was working two months later, in the middle of the shooting, I was thinking about this name. I thought maybe it was a good idea in the end to use your mouth with the needle to stop the bad guy, maybe that was a kiss of the dragon! Of course the movie overdoes it a little...But you always want something creative, something the audience hasn't seen before.
Q: Do you want to direct movies?
Jet Li: No. I'm not a good director. But I did produce nine movies in Hong Kong, and this I would like to do. I like to come up with a good story, and find a good writer to write it. Then you get the right people. Nobody can do everything.
Q: You met Richard Nixon a long time ago, what was he like?
Jet Li: He asked me after I did a gungfu demonstration, do you want to become my bodyguard when you grow up? I say, nope. I don't want to protect one person, I want to protect a billion people.
Q: Did you have a message to convey with this film? The importance
of keeping a promise?
Jet Li: Yes. In my personal life I'm a very traditional Chinese person, and when you promise a girl something you need to do it. Also, in a lot of Asian audiences, and probably American too, the man wants to see the action movie, he's begging the girl to go see an action movie. But this time, I really want the girl to say, come on man, let's go see the movie. Because, remember your promise. I think the man needs to be honest, take a little responsibility. Whatever you do. That's my personal thought.
Written by Martha Burr for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM