Martial arts legend Jet Li has made a number of popular action films here in America. One such movie, Cradle 2 the Grave, can now be seen on Netflix.
Cradle 2 the Grave stars Jet Li as Taiwanese Intelligence Agent Su, who is on the trail of stolen diamonds. Anthony Fait (also known as the rapper DMX) is a criminal who is about to steal diamonds, which includes a bag of black diamonds, for Christophe, the middleman for a mysterious employer.
When Su learns that Fait is involved, Su calls Fait telling him to give up the diamonds, the police are on their way. But Fait doesn’t listen, and he escapes with the diamonds in tow. Fait then takes the bag of black diamonds to his friend Archie so he can appraise their worth.
Fait and Su run into each other later that night. During this inopportune meeting, Fait receives a call from mysterious employer Ling, who is demanding the black diamonds. Fait refuses, then checks in with Archie, who eventually tells him that gangsters showed up and to spare his own life, he had to give them the black diamonds.
Fait receives another call from Ling, again demanding the black diamonds, this time giving Fait some incentive to produce them. Ling has kidnapped Fait’s daughter Vanessa. With no other choice, Fait and Su team up to get the black diamonds from the other gangsters and rescue Vanessa.
Su and Fait then split up to tackle their problem from different angles. Fait visits jailed crime lord Jump Chambers looking for answers while Jet Li’s Su and Archie go to an underground club looking for the gangsters who took the stones from Archie. Su then is able to showcase his fighting skills as the club does not allow guests. He poses as a fighter and has to fight in the club’s fighting ring to gain entry.
Fait is finally able to track down where his daughter is being held and Su, with Archie’s help, realizes that Ling’s men have found the black diamonds. Ling wants to auction them off to the highest bidder and it is then we find out that the black diamonds aren’t diamonds at all, but weapons of mass destruction.
Cradle 2 the Grave was Jet Li’s fifth American movie and the second time he starred with rapper DMX, the first coming in the 2000 actioner Romeo Must Die. The movie marked the second time Li worked with Polish film director Andrzej Bartkowiak as the two worked together on Romeo Must Die as well.
As with many of Jet Li’s American films, his martial arts were a highlight of the film as it also brought in a number of MMA fighters, a few who were big with the UFC at the time. They included Randy Couture, Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell, and Tito Ortiz.
Even though Jet Li movies were highly anticipated, Cradle 2 the Grave didn’t get much love from the critics. While Li’s performance was praised, the movie itself was panned for its by-the-book approach and DMX’s inability to convince as an actor.
At the box office, Bartkowiak did a respectable job with the $25 million budget, bringing home $56 million.
Jet Li was a hit long before he made it to America. It was his constant victories in Chinese martial arts competitions that first gained him fame, which eventually crossed over to making Chinese martial arts films. He was part of the Shaolin Temple series, the Once Upon a Time in China series and he even starred in Fist of Legend, which was a remake of the Bruce Lee classic Fists of Fury aka The Big Boss.
Jet Li made his American film debut in Lethal Weapon 4 playing, for the first time, a villain. He took on the role, though he spoke very little English because super-producer Joel Silver promised Li that if he took the role, he would give him the lead in his next movie which became Romeo Must Die.
His popularity in America began to grow. A rebirth in martial arts films began to take over and Jet Li was looked at, as well as Jackie Chan, as the leaders of this. In fact, there had been talk of teaming up the two popular action stars, something that eventually would come to fruition.
While Jet Li starred in more and more Hollywood films, there were a couple of big ones he turned down. Jet Li was up for the role in Ang Lee’s martial arts extravaganza Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but eventually turned it down because he had promised his wife that he wouldn’t make any movies during her pregnancy. Chow Yun-Fat eventually took the role.
Jet Li was also up for the role as Seraph in The Matrix trilogy but passed on it only saying that the role didn’t require his particular set of martial art skills. Li was also cast as Kato in The Green Hornet but by 2001, the movie changed studios and he was no longer in consideration for the part.
The much talked about pairing with Jackie Chan finally happened in 2008 with The Forbidden Kingdom. Chan remarked that working with Li on their fight sequences was a breath of fresh air, having never felt so comfortable working out the choreography. The fight sequences were choreographed by Woo-Ping Yuen, who also did the same on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but as Chan says, the duo didn’t need 20 takes to get things done. “It felt so natural after just one rehearsal even when it was very complex. When Woo-Ping said, ‘Let’s rehearse again,’ I said, ‘We don’t need to — let’s just shoot!’ And Jet looked at me and went, ‘OK! Let’s shoot!’ It was like a challenge.”
In 2010, Jet Li joined another big American franchise when he signed on to play Yin Yang in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables. In it, he reteamed with Jason Statham, with whom he already had filmed a couple of movies (The One and War). Li would reprise his role in the following two Expendables movies, though he was briefly seen in the second film.
The last decade has seen Jet Li less and less on the big screen. After The Expendables 3 in 2014, Li went into semi-retirement, appearing in only one Chinese film before coming back to film Disney’s highly-panned Mulan in 2020. If you’re looking for some early bone-crunching action from Jet Li, head over to Netflix and check out Cradle 2 the Grave.