He made his film debut with the 1982 film Shaolin Temple. The film broke box office records in China, grossing ¥161,578,014 RMB (US$85,376,199) at the Chinese box office, from an estimated 500 million ticket sales. The sequel Kids From Shaolin sold an estimated 490 million tickets, making it 1984's highest-grossing film in China.
Li and fellow martial arts veteran Jackie Chan finally appeared together onscreen for the first time in The Forbidden Kingdom, which began filming in May 2007 and was released to critical and commercial success on 18 April 2008. The film was based on the legend of the Monkey King from the Chinese folk novel Journey to the West. Li also starred as the lead villain Emperor Han in the fantasy action film The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor with actors Brendan Fraser, Isabella Leong and Michelle Yeoh.
After a one-year hiatus from filmmaking, Li returned to acting in 2010, portraying a mercenary in the film The Expendables, teaming up with action stars Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, and Randy Couture. It was the third time he had teamed up with Statham. In 2012, he reprised his role briefly in the sequel The Expendables 2 and returned for the third film The Expendables 3 in 2014. Li was initially stated to be appearing with Vin Diesel in XXX: Return of Xander Cage, but according to a Facebook post by Diesel, Li was replaced by Donnie Yen.
In 2013, Li revealed that he suffers from hyperthyroidism and had been dealing with the issue for the past three years. In 2016, he stated that he had recovered from his illness and that accepting fewer film offers was due to his charity work and not because of his health conditions.
Li has been a "philanthropic ambassador" of the Red Cross Society of China since January 2006. He contributed 500,000 yuan (US$62,500) of box office revenues from his film Fearless to the Red Cross' psychological sunshine project, which promotes mental health. 2b1af7f3a8