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  • Shona McCarthy

Immortal Jelly Fish

(I originally wrote this in 2017. I was thinking about death much more back then. With things as they are right now I felt this would be good to share.)

The King of Qin stands, decked in ornate yet dark armour. The hall of the king is massive, filled with light and flowing swathes of fabric. He is flanked by men in dark robes, crouching like ghouls. They chant in unison:

“This man cannot be trusted! He tried to kill you! Do not spare him!”

The King’s eyebrow is raised. He looks intently at the man, concerned in his brow. The man looks small in the distance, dressed in ancient black robes. He is almost disappearing into the deep grey gate behind him, a gate arrayed in dark ironwork.

This is the sacred law of Qin! If your majesty is to unite the land, this man has to be made an example of!”

The king looks to his right, furrowing his brow as the horror within him deepens. Suddenly it looks up as though awaking from a dream to find the nightmare all too real.

“Your Majesty, execute him! Your Majesty, execute him! Your Majesty, execute him!”

The voices chanting seem to build with their repeated exhortations. With tears forming in his eyes, the King gives a wave of his arm. The voices give a shout and an army fires all their arrows in unison in the direction of the small man. In the moment of silence between after the arrows let loose and when they land, the King looks on helpless, knowing that the landing of the arrows would produce two certainties: The defeat of all who oppose the formation of China as a nation, and the death of a man who had just won his infinite respect.

In that moment as the arrows fly, the man’s face is calm, but saddened. He knew he would not live to see another dawn the moment he walked to that gate. But he also dreams of “Our Land”; A nation formed on the principal of selfless sacrifice. It is a nation he can never live to see.

As the arrows draw nearer, they seem to scream and gradually block out most of the light of the sky. They all land at once against the gate and its surrounding walls, an orchestra of rapping and twanging. Another moment of silence follows. The King knows the man is no more.

The arrows cover the gate, like black blades of grass covering a field. Where the man stood, a near perfect outline of arrows remains. The individual has become nothing so that the many could live.

Over 2000 years after the death of this man, if he existed, he is played by Jet Li. The movie, directed by Zhang Yimou and released in 2002, would be called, “Hero”. In the movie the character is indeed heroic; played so beautifully by Li, who often depicts great heroes of Chinese history. It is said that the true assassin was quite cowardly, and that the film is highly romanticised in many ways.

In 2013, Jet Li became a judge on a Chinese Talent Show, looking entirely transformed by hyperthyroidism. Many feared it would take his life. He had gained copious amounts of weight, his skin was covered in wrinkles and pockmarks. His hair was dyed brown and curled, causing him to look ten years older than he really was. Of his illness, he had this to say, “I am fat. I don’t have time to lose weight. It’s true that due to my hyperthyroidism illness, my heart rate can go up to 130 to 140 beats per minute even when I’m not exercising. I’m not Huo Yuanjia or Wong Fei Hong. I’m no superhero, I’m just an ordinary man and I’m facing the issue of being unable to continue with my job.”

The Turritopsis nutricula jellyfish features a pale, translucent dome. Just inside this is a a small canopy, like cloud or mist. Within this is a crimson globule, lump-filled and variegated. Hair-like tentacles float behind it as it floats.

It has been found in oceans around the world, originally discovered in 1988 by Christian Sommer, a German Marine-Biology student. When threatened, the turritopsis nutricula will pull in it’s tentacles, reduce in size and sink to the bottom of the sea where it will return to its juvenile phase. In its juvenile phase, it will begin producing clones of itself which will also be able to go through the same process, meaning that any one jelly fish can live forever.

In 1974, Jet Li wore a bright red kungfu outfit. A golden crest representing the People’s Republic of China hung round his neck. He was 11 years old, small, lean and smooth-faced. He was demonstrating martial arts with another boy from his Wushu Troupe. He had been selected as one of 30 students who would represent the 200 million Wushu students in China. Looking on was then President of the United States, Richard Milhous Nixon. As he watched, Jet Li and his sparring partner tumbled, made stances and leaped rhythmically to Chinese Communist Orchestra music. Nixon was so impressed at the display that he approached young Jet afterwards, saying, "Young man, your kung fu is very impressive! How about being my bodyguard when you grow up?" With a bright smile full of pride and courage, Jet Li answered, “No, I don't want to protect any individual. When I grow up, I want to defend my one billion Chinese countrymen!"

(Image from Pexels.com)

Immortal Jellyfish were originally discovered near the Italian Riviera, but over time they have been found off the coast of New Zealand and Japan. More recently, they have been found in warm tropical waters surrounding Italy and Spain, Japan, Panama, and even Florida. While they are capable of asexual budding where they produce perfect clones of themselves, they can also develop reproductive organs and breed. They are one of the few invertebrates that have specific genders. While most jellyfish would expire soon after reproduction, the immortal jellyfish reverts to it’s polyp state to begin its life cycle again.

If you go on Google images and search “Jet Li”, you will see a range of photos pop up, most of these photos will come from his later years, where lines have formed around his eyes and across his brow. In one photo he stands beside Mark Zuckerberg. Jet Li smiles, but if you look closer at his eyes you can see a glint of sadness.

Images more recent than this show Jet Li’s eyes looking almost confused. He seems to sweat. The carefree boyishness he once personified is now replaced with the aspect of a confused old man. Photos of him at the height of his success in the early 00’s, in good health and perfectly vibrant, appear beside images of him as he is now.

One image depicts him opening a Tai-Chi centre. His hairline is receding. His illness has worn deep bags into his face, surrounded by ruddy, puffing cheeks in a look of deathly desperation. He has the look of a man who is no longer an action hero; He is the one who needs rescuing, and no one can save him from the ill-health that ravages him. Jet Li has decided he no longer wishes to use Western Medicine.

Look up “Jet Li Child” on Google Images, you will find a photo of a small boy surrounded by figures too tall for the photo. He wears a pair of dungarees with a t-shirt. He’s holding a small ball in his hands, but his round little face looks dismayed and wistful.

In traditional Chinese medicine, it is thought that one can acquire the traits or benefits of anything they eat. Jellyfish is thought to have the ability to slow ageing and senility. It is also used for treating congestion, dry bowels, blood problems and weight issues. Jellyfish recipes that claim to be delicious and sophisticated can be found easily online.

The year 2000 marked the release date of “Romeo Must Die”, where Jet Li starred opposite songstress Aaliyah Dana Haughton. Jet’s fresh-faced, Chinese features made a fascinating contrast from the glamorous Nubian Goddess. The original cut of the film featured a kiss between Jet and Aaliyah at the end, but the film was re-edited after it tested poorly with Urban audiences. A year later, Aaliyah will have tragically passed away in a plane crash off the coast of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas. In 2006, Jet Li found himself working in Vancouver, the same city where “Romeo Must Die” had been filmed. He was quoted as saying, “I have some memories of this very beautiful city; but it still makes me think about Aaliyah because I feel still [the way I did when] we worked together here for a few months. She was such a talented girl and [with] some locations when you pass by every day, you still think about her.”

Recent scientific surveys have found that jellyfish populations are rapidly escalating in the Adriatic and Japan seas. The reason theorized is that over-fishing means that jellyfish face fewer predators and competitors for resources. As other marine life dies, jellyfish take their place in the sea. This means that most species of jellyfish are now breeding exponentially to the point where they have become a potentially deadly threat to swimmers at Sunshine Coast beaches and Cairo’s North Coast.

In 2016, Jet Li starred in League of Gods, a fantasy epic where he initially appears as a very aged Jiang Ziya, with flowing white hair from his head and chin, something like the Chinese God of longevity. Jiang Ziya was a historical figure said to have sat by a pond and waited till he was around 80 so he could meet and advise the ancient Kings of Wu and Wen to defeat the King of Shang in war. The film depicts Jiang Ziya as cursed by Daji, the beloved concubine of the King of Shang, said to be an evil fox-spirit in human form. The curse causes Jiang Ziya to gradually reverse in age throughout the film, revealing Jet Li at various stages of youth. He sends the hero of the movie away with Naza, a God who revolves between an adult state and a baby state through the film due to another curse. He happens to be holding one of the sons of the King of the Sea hostage till he is repaid his lost power. A particularly striking scene in the film is when Jet Li, though the use of CG, is reverted back to the way he looked in the mid nineties. "I've become younger." He says. By the end of the film, he is a baby being carried by his enemies.

There is an ancient Japanese story about the King of the Sea, that says his wife became terribly ill and no one in his kingdom could find a cure. His advisers feared his wrath, so they told him that the liver of a monkey was the only thing that could heal her. So the King of the Sea chose a jellyfish, who at the time had a hard shell and could walk on land, to go to the surface world and look for a monkey.

The jellyfish did not possess great physical strength, so the King's advisers told him to trick a monkey by saying he would take him to the palace of the Dragon King. So, the jellyfish went to an island known for its high monkey population and approached the first monkey he saw, claiming that he was sightseeing. The monkey asked the Jellyfish where he had come from, and the Jellyfish took this chance to describe how beautiful the Sea King's palace was so that the Monkey would be enticed. The jellyfish was successful, but as he was part the way to the Palace, he asked the monkey if he had his liver with him, since he was quite ignorant about monkey physiology. This lead to the jellyfish confessing that the palace doctor wanted the monkey's liver, and that he felt very sorry for the monkey.

The monkey was a cunning animal, so he told the jellyfish that he had left all his livers hanging to dry from a pine tree near his home. So the jellyfish, relieved that his new friend would not be troubled by the loss of a liver, took the monkey back to land.

Arriving back at land, the monkey quickly returned to his tree and ridiculed the jellyfish for his stupidity. So, the jellyfish knew he was thwarted, and that he would need to return to the Sea King empty handed.

The punishment the Sea King gave the jellyfish was severe. His bones were ripped out of his living body, and he was beaten with sticks till his shell was completely broken and he was nothing but pulp, and he was banished from the Sea King's palace.

This is why when jellyfish appear on the seashore now, they do not survive it.

(Image by Pixabay.com)

Jet Li played Huo Yuanjia, a Chinese historical hero and martial arts champion in “Fearless”, a biopic film released in 2006. Of the role, Jet Li had this to say: “All my belief. The physical part, the mental part, everything in that movie. I've been learning martial arts since I was eight years old and the character I played is a great martial artist. And also he died at 42 years. The same age when I made that movie, so I put a lot of my life experiences in that film and I said that's the last martial arts film.”

Immortal Jellyfish products exist in the form skin creams. They sometimes appeared in late night infomercials boasting the ability to reverse the years on a person's face. Since jellyfish is high in collagen, there may be some advantage. But they did not explain that the only way your skin would be immortal was if it could pull in it's tentacles, reduce in size, revert to a juvenile phase and then create clones of itself at the bottom of the ocean.

Jet Li as Huo Yuanjia lays in a straw-thatched hut, clinging to life when a beautiful girl in Chinese ethnic minority dress enters. She checks the bowl she left with him using her hands because she is blind. She is delighted to find that it is empty of the steamed sweet potatoes she had left in it.

She sits down and tells him, "My vision started to deteriorate when I was 13 years old. In my eyes, there seemed to be a fog that could not be lifted. At that time I cried every day. Grandma told me that when you're feeling unhappy you should cry, but then, life goes on. But in my heart, I can see things clearly. Can you believe it?"

Huo Yuanjia remains at her village for 3 years and builds a close bond with this girl and her grandmother who rescued him from death. But finally, he returns to Tianjin to put right all that had caused him to run away. "This competition is unfair to you," Says Anno Tanaka, standing in the fighting ring across from Huo Yuanjia, "I have no objections If you choose to fight on another day." He has just learned that Huo Yuanjia will be fighting four men in one match. Huo Yuanjia smiles. "I appreciate your good intentions. But since I am already standing in this arena there must be a conclusion to the match." They fight, and while no one is watching, an unknown woman slips between the members of the crowd and trades Huo Yuanjia's tea for another cup. During a break in the fight, Huo Yuanjia rests and takes a sip.

Huo Yuanjia fights magnificently, matching kick for kick, leap for leap, jab for jab. But then he pulls away with a wheeze escaping his lips. He looks confused and his vision blurs and his face reddens as Anno Tanaka continues to swipe at him. He succeeds in blocking a punch, but then vomits black fluid onto his opponent's arm. As Huo Yuanjia stumbles to the ground, Anno Tanaka raises his hands. "Stop!" He says. "What happened? Tanaka, why stop fighting?" One of the Japanese organisers cries. "Yuanjia! What happened?" Huo's Manager asks him. "I've been poisoned." Huo Yuanjia answers. "Poisoned?! How can it be?" The manager says. The team look to find that the cup of tea is now gone. "We must take you to hospital." They say. "No, it's too late. I've overexerted myself. The poison is already in my blood stream." His team urges him, saying they will avenge him, and that he should go to hospital but he rebuffs them. "I'm just a brute fighter. I took many years to understand the true meaning of Wushu... We can't choose the way we are born. But we can choose to face death with courage." he says. His manager and students cry over his words.

Huo Yuanjia, now unsteadily rises to his feet. His team cheer him on, tears in their eyes. He reenters the ring, facing Tanaka, who says, "Don't fight. Staying alive is most important." Huo Yuanjia smiles. "Listen," He says, motioning to the cheering crowd. "This fight isn't just about me." Tanaka looks at him sternly. "If you will go ahead with this, I will not hold back." Huo Yuanjia nods and smiles afresh. "That would be an honour."

The two fight with everything they have. Huo Yuanjia does a flying sidekick, but Tanaka jumps back and lands a kick with full force to Yuanjia's stomach. Yuanjia aims a punch for Tanaka's head, but Tanaka dodges and lands a punch on Yuanjia's. Yuanjia gets Tanaka into a grip, but vomits again before Tanaka throws him off onto the floor. Yuanjia bleeds black from his nose and mouth, his face looking pale and swollen. His team looks on, despairing. Huo Yuanjia sweats and can barely stand, but he lunges again at Tanaka, only to be kicked back over and over. Tanaka deals a deep punch just below Yuanjia's neck. More black blood issues from Yuanjia's mouth, but he returns the blow with a move he once used to kill a man, only to find he is so weak it does nothing but bring pity from Tanaka. Yuanjia smiles and falls to the ground. "Young Master." His manager says, shaking a head sodden in tears. As a judge is about to announce the end of the fight, Tanaka stops him and lifts Yuanjia to his feet and announces him as the winner. The crowd chants Huo Yuanjia's name. Tanaka's manager screams, "What is the meaning of this? What have you done?" "I lost." Tanaka answers. "Who said you lost?" The manager bellows. "In my heart I know I lost by the ethics of Wushu."

Surrounded by his team and the chanting crowd, Yuanjia looks up at the stain-glass dome above him. His consciousness floats away into the starry sky and back to the village where the beautiful, blind country girl saved his life. On a grassy knoll, his spirit practices martial arts there, as he once did. He shines with light, graceful and strong as he once was. His arms move and sway like branches in the wind, opening and closing as though he would embrace the whole world.

Somehow, the blind girl knows he is there and runs to see him as though she had never been blind. He turns and smiles at her, and she smiles back shedding a tear, before he fades away into the night sky.

Sources:

"Jet Li I’M No Superhero News In Bed Read By Linda." World News, 2017, https://wn.com/jet_li_i%E2%80%99m_no_superhero_news_in_bed_read_by_linda.

Zhang, Yimou, Chiu Wai Leuing Tony, and Jet Li. Hero. Beijing New Picture Film Company, 2002.

"JJet Li rejected the request of American President Nixon in his youth, he determined to defend one billion Chinese countrymen" KungFun.com, 2016, http://www.kungfun.com/kung-fu-stars/jet-li/jet-li-rejected-the-request-of-american-president-nixon-in-his-youth-he-determined-to-defend-one-billion-chinese-countrymen.html

"Jellyfish - For Brain and Heart Health." Chinese Medicine Living, 2017, https://www.chinesemedicineliving.com/nutrition/recipes/jellyfish-for-brain-heart-health/

"Romeo Must Die: The Greatest Love Story Never Told." JetLi.com, 2016, http://www.jetli.com/2016/10/romeo-must-die-the-greatest-love-story

"Interview: Jet Li." IGN.com, 2006, http://au.ign.com/articles/2006/05/16/interview-jet-li?page=2

"Jet Li I’M No Superhero News In Bed Read By Linda." World News, 2017, http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/the-tiny-deadly-irukandji-jellyfish-is-on-a-southern-invasion-and-may-soon-reach-the-sunshine-coast/news-story/2115085e6f85e2ea08678558d03523d6

"The tiny deadly Irukandji jellyfish is on a southern invasion and may soon reach the Sunshine Coast." News.com.au, 2017, https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/9/9106/Jellyfish-are-invading-the-North-Coast Koan Hui, Vernie Yeung, Jet Li. League of Gods. Sony Pictures, 2016.

The Japanese fairy book. Tuttle Publishing, 1998.

Ronnie Yu, Jet Li. Fearless. Universal Pictures, 2006.

(Royalty Free images from Pexels and Pixabay.com)

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