Have Perseverance, Will Succeed
李渊 Li Yuan was born on August 7, 1982 in Shangdong to an impecunious peasant family of over 10 members, at the time when Jet Li’s Shaolin Temple took the nation by storm. Growing up being a fan of martial arts films, Li Yuan started formal training in martial arts at the age of 12. When he was in primary 4, he made a bold decision to quit school in order to learn wushu. He was subsequently punished by his parents. But on considering that he wasn’t doing very well in his academic studies, Li Yuan’s parents finally relented.
Li Yuan was raised mostly by his wushu champion brother 李炳雷 Li Bing Lei, who also teaches him martial arts. Li Bing Lei is 8 years his senior. Li Yuan was brought up under very strict upbringing, and he matured earlier than most people. In his youth, he got only one rest day on Lunar New Year; on other days, he would train for four to five hours daily. There were times when thoughts of skiving did occur to Li Yuan, but on thinking of how hard his parents were toiling in the fields in his hometown, even in bitter winters, Li Yuan cast aside all weariness.
When he first trained in sabre, when he wasn’t especially familiar with the moves, Li Yuan was too impatient and eager for success, wanting to perform as well as Jet Li in Shaolin Temple. However, eventually, he had to pay a price for his impatience for success, leaving behind a scar on his forehead, still visible today. After years of hardships and diligent trainings, Li Yuan won gold medals in three areas for three consecutive years at Henan wushu championships. It not only served as an encouragement and recognition to his efforts, but also made him believe that he had chosen the right path, giving him the confidence to walk further. At that time, his life was nothing but wushu, there were only two words in his mind – work hard.
In 2001, Li Yuan matriculated at Beijing Capital Institute of Physical Education. Once his classmate joked that wushu was only a decorative art that lacked practical usage. In order to refute his claim, Li Yuan signed up for Tae Kwan Do competition, and after only a few days of crash course, he emerged as the champion in the 62kg category. Even Li Yuan himself was pretty surprised at the outcome.
During his times at the university, he won gold medals at school as well as national level wushu competitions in sword and simulated sparring. He was also accorded best new comer award at a youth talent contest organised by Beijing TV. At that time, he thought he should develop his career in the entertainment industry when he had the chance.
Doubling, Working with Jet Li
In 2004, Tsui Hark was looking for a wushu actor to play one of the Seven Swords. Li Yuan managed to be selected after rounds of auditions. However, owing to various reasons, the role was given to a celebrity instead. The director suggested that Li Yuan should come along with the production to drill himself, to cut his professional teeth on filmmaking. As he had never experienced being in this field before, Li Yuan disrupted his studies to join the production, despite not being understood by his peers who were against the idea, since he would have to repeat the course for another year.
However, everything was new, alien to him. Things didn’t turn out to be as wonderful as he had imagined, yet he had to learn to adapt himself. Firmly believing that your talent won’t get buried as long as you’re the real deal, he pressed ahead indomitably. Based on his solid wushu foundations, the action director picked him to be Donnie Yen’s double. Once, he had to do a wire-scene, the one in which Donnie Yen’s character jumped off the cliff, at the height of 40m. He was really scared stiff, but he couldn’t back out now… Thus, began his life as a stunt double.
Later on, under his stuntman brother Li Bing Lei’s recommendation and after many auditions, he was chosen to be Jet Li’s double in Fearless. He was very honoured to double for his wushu idol since young. However, when Jet Li was filming, the crew would clear the set, and Li Yuan could only watch his idol from afar.
Incidentally, Li Yuan was the one who got slammed down hard on the floor by Nathan Jones. Li Yuan passed out for 10 seconds. When he regained consciousness, they were already filming the scene in which the audience applauds Jet Li for winning. Li Yuan was still groggy then, and only received a few words of comfort from his fellow stuntmen. He was given time to rest for the rest of the afternoon.
A stuntman would often begrudge, “I can only blame it on my misfortune should I meet with a mishap. No one would know me. The audience would only remember the star.” Yet, Li Yuan had no complaints. He only strove to work harder, vowing that he would be himself in front of the camera rather than being a faceless character.
On the second day, he had to carry on working. That’s the life of a stunt double… Having worked with Jet Li on the set of Fearless and spent time communicating with him, Li Yuan feels Jet Li’s difference and exceptionality. He is full of ideals and lives up to his name, his current status as an international action super star. Li Yuan was greatly affected and inspired by Jet Li, making him stick to his goal and dream of becoming an action star himself.
Big Break – Legend of Shaolin Kungfu
In 2006, when he was graduating, everyone was busy looking for a job. However, Li Yuan didn’t busy himself with job hunting. He was thinking of how to approach his dream. Because of this, he gave up various offers for him to be stunt double. Finally, his big break came when Legend of Shaolin Kungfu was about to begin filming and he landed the leading role.
Li Yuan was grateful for the trust director Du Xiao and action director Ching Siu Tung placed upon him, as well as for their guidance and help. For someone without any acting experience, it’s a big test to both the director and the actor. The director would use his unique ways to guide Li Yuan, to instil him, to push him, letting him understand what it takes to be an actor, allowing him to have a better grasp of his role. And after six months of filming, Legend of Shaolin Kungu wrapped up successfully.
Li Yuan plays second disciple Hui Shi in Legend of Shaolin Kungfu. Brave, resourceful, calm and collected, he’s the brains of the abbot’s six major disciples. Time and again, he leads the others in saving Shaolin Temple from potential threats. Before becoming a monk, he’s a prince of Wei. In his days of refuge at Shaolin Temple, he has become enlightened and learned to let go of worldly feuds and vengeance. He also has a subtle, heartwarming romantic plotline with swordswoman Xi Yue. A life of hardships and sufferings is what that moulds Hui Shi into a resilient and unrelenting person, similar to Li Yuan in actual life.
A continuity once said: It’s very tiring talking to Li Yuan. And indeed, it’s true. When speaking with Li Yuan, you could sense a sense of pride in him. As one who’s economical with casual conversation, he’d speak hurriedly to express his perseverance and confidence in the arts. Whenever there is a break, he would hide himself in one corner, training alone . He says it’s because he doesn’t want to disappoint anyone.
Often, Li Yuan’s brother Li Bing Lei can be spotted on the set. His brother is much warmer and cheerful than Li Yuan. Through Li Bing Lei, we learned about his family background and his past. Their parents are farmers and their family isn’t very well off, so they are not afraid of taking hardships since young. They have 10 siblings, all of them are quite successful now, one becoming a teacher at a high school, another studies classical music abroad… On chatting with Li Bing Lei, we learned that he has doubled for a number of celebrities, and from the talk, we can feel that he’s one who is full of lofty goals, and he’s pinning all his hopes on his younger brother.
In the beginning, Li Yuan, who doesn’t have any professional training in drama, was not very confident of delivering his role. The director was worried, and would often tell Li Yuan he did not manage to bring out the vigour and drive of his character. Li Yuan was equally worried. Once, when acting opposite Anthony Wong, Li Yuan finally passed muster as he began to get a grip on the dynamism of his role.
After a passage of time, of contemplation, in an assassination scene, he acted under his own interpretation, getting into his character very quickly, and gained nods of acknowledgement from the director. He realised that rather than trying too hard to make up certain gestures, he should try to get the feel of each scene and let everything come naturally, and that’s how it should be done.
After finishing Legend of Shaolin Kungfu, Li Yuan joined the production of Legend of Bruce Lee TV series, playing Bruce Lee’s longtime rival since young. Subsequently, Ching Siu Tung invited him to participate in filming of An Empress and the Warriors, playing some important role. And currently, Li Yuan continues to assume a leading role in Legend of Shaolin Kungfu 2: Thirteen Warrior Monks. Playing Wang Ren Yi proves to be a very good challenge on Li Yuan’s histrionics, being one that walks on the dark side initially, before eventually coming to his realization and undergoing a reform.