Jet Li in new movie about autism
The Autism News | English
Jet Li visited dolphins as he promoted Ocean Heaven
By The Press Association
Jet Li says he hopes his new movie about autism offers a refreshing alternative to the historical and kung fu epics that dominate the Chinese industry.
The veteran action star plays an aquarium worker who cares for his autistic son in the low-budget Ocean Heaven – his first Chinese-language production since the 2007 release of The Warlords.
“Nowadays everyone is making blockbusters. Making a seven million Chinese yuan (1 million US dollars) movie requires a lot of sincerity,” Li told reporters in Hong Kong. “This movie is about sincerity. It shows that in this day and age that filmmakers are willing to do something for society.”
The actor promoted the movie by visiting the dolphins at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park with a small group of mentally handicapped and autistic adults.
“I hope everyone can examine what is the most important relationship in life – the relationship between parent and child,” he said.
Like Jackie Chan, a fellow kung fu star who crossed over to Hollywood from the Hong Kong movie industry, Li also now juggles careers in Chinese and American films.
After taking a break from movies in May 2008, Jet Li returns to the Chinese film market with his new movie Ocean Heaven (Hai Yang Tian Tang), expected to open at the end of June. The movie tells the story of an autistic twenty-two-year-old named Wang Dafu. Jet Li plays the boy’s terminally ill father, who works in an aquarium and takes care of his son day and night. The boy’s mother died several years ago from drowning, but Dafu himself is quit adept in the water.
In the trailer, father and son are sitting on a dilapidated wooden boat. The father, Wang Xincheng, uses a rope to tie him and his son together, and then says, “Son, let’s go.” Dafu repeats, “Let’s go,” and the two jump together into the ocean.
For an actor who could have easily demanded more than a hundred million yuan to appear in a film, what could have caused Jet Li to accept a role in Ocean Heaven, which had a budget of a mere seven million? The story, for one thing — Jet Li hopes it will inspire people to pay more attention and dedicate their compassion to charity. (Appropriately, TIME magazine named Jet Li one of its Most Influential People this year for his work with his One Foundation.) He also reveals that four or five years ago, his nephew had been diagnosed with autism. His nephew is now better, but this incident made him realize how important it is to offer attention and care to those who are affected.
He also admits that it was not easy to interpret his character. Because Jet Li’s father died when he was two years old, he didn’t understand the concept of the word “father” for a long time. When he was filming The Shaolin Temple, there was a line where he had to yell bà ba (dad), which he found himself unable to say: “In the end, the director changed it to diē (another word for dad). I thought diē had nothing to do with me, so I could say it. It wasn’t until I became a father that I clearly understood what this role of a father meant.”
Playing his son Dafu is Wen Zhang, who, apart from having a terrible name (same characters as for the word “essay”), came to fame with the drama Struggle. Reporters who have already seen the movie say he’s like a “young Rain Man,” referring to Dustin Hoffman’s iconic role in the movie Rain Man.
In order to portray this character well, Wen Zhang went swimming every day. He previously did not know how to swim, but because swimming and diving are his character’s strong points, he became an expert swimmer. He also visited an autism school every day, working to understand the students’ way of thinking. Thanks to this, we may have another Jet Li in our hands (at least, with the charity aspect, not the martial arts), as he says about his experience: “I found something that is more important than performing.”
Ocean Heaven marks the directorial debut of Xue Xiaolu, who is known for writing the script for Chen Kaige’s award-winning film Together (He Ni Zai Yi Qi). The inspiration for the movie came from her own experience working as a volunteer worker at an autism school. Also putting in an appearance is Kwai Lunmei, who acts out a clown in an acrobatic troupe. Her character is an orphan and can thus relate with Wen Zhang’s character. According to her, “this is the most moving script I have ever seen. At that time I told the company that I definitely had to act [in it]. I didn’t care how big or small the role was, or how ugly the costume was.”
For the first time in this 25-year-long movie career, Jet Li will be performing no martial arts whatsoever in this movie. As for whether he will continue to give up martial arts in the future, Jet Li repeatedly denies it: “I reckon no matter what I want to do, no one will forgive me. I filmed Ocean Heaven in the hopes that more people would pay attention to charity. Right now, filming is my hobby. My job is The One Foundation.”
Pretty stills from the movie below.