Martial arts legend Jet Li disclosed in his newly released book that he earned a mere one yuan (equivalent to $0.14 today) per day while filming his debut movie “Shaolin Temple” at age 17 in 1982.
About the film: The Hong Kong-Chinese film sold around 500 million tickets at the Chinese box office, becoming one of China's highest-grossing films ever when adjusted for inflation. The film became so influential that, a remake of the film, titled “Shaolin,” was made in 2011, featuring Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse and Jackie Chan.
Humble beginnings: In his book, "Looking for Jet Li: Beyond Life and Death," the 60-year-old superstar talked about how and why he persevered despite his meager compensation for the groundbreaking film.
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"My earnings were incomparable to what others were making in the 1990s. Despite that, I was treated like a Hollywood star at the time. The amount I earned while breaking my arms and legs to survive in the industry paled in comparison to what the businessmen doing global investments were earning."
Balancing dreams and reality: While Li made only around $750 in total for his film debut, he was determined to pursue a career in acting. After completing “Shaolin Temple,” he made the tough decision to not return to martial arts competitions as it would jeopardize his budding acting career.
"If I were to return to being an athlete, my acting career would have to stop,” Li wrote in the book. “I couldn't say no to competing due to the organization's regulations. The only way for me to get out of the competition was to get injured."
Long journey to stardom: The success of the film led to two sequels, "Shaolin Temple 2: Kids from Shaolin" in 1984 and "Shaolin Temple 3: Martial Arts of Shaolin" in 1986, during which Li continued to receive minimal pay. He even contemplated quitting the industry due to poor working conditions and disagreements with directors.
But his perseverance would eventually pay off as the films ultimately established Li as the first Mainland Chinese superstar of Hong Kong, and later Hollywood. His fame allowed him to command lucrative paychecks a few decades later. For instance, Li earned 70 million yuan ($9.6 million) in the 2002 epic “Hero” and 100 million yuan ($13.7 million) for 2007's “The Warlords.”
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