xXx (or “Triple X”) was supposed to be Vin Diesel’s big-time action franchise after the original The Fast & The Furious turned the previously under-the-radar actor into an overnight sensation, but the resulting film met with middling reviews and profitable but not explosive audience reception. Diesel left the series (his character, Xander Cage, was killed off in a DVD supplement and replaced by Ice Cube for the poorly received sequel xXx: State of The Union) to embark on a string of drama, sci-fi and family-comedy roles; but after a string of disappointments with Chronicles of Riddick, Find Me Guilty and Babylon A.D. he ultimately returned to the Fast series – only to see it reborn as an ensemble action franchise that’s now one of the biggest and most beloved movie properties in the world. Now, Diesel is hoping to make the comeback lightning strike twice with a similar “ensemble revival” of his other early-2000s tough-guy persona in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.

But in case fans were worried that an older, wiser, somehow-no-longer-dead Xander Cage would be slowing down on the thrill-seeking (the original film memorably ends with Diesel fighting a self-propelled nuclear-armed speedboat), they’ll be glad to know that Return has booked him one seriously tough opponent: Martial-arts legend Jet Li.

xxx movie poster xXx 3 Officially Casts Jet Li

Li’s casting had been rumored for some time, but today THR has confirmed that the Hong Kong superstar will be joining the rapidly-expanding cast – which already includes UFC champion Conor McGregor, The Vampire Diaries’ Nina Dobrev, Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, Orange is The New Black’s Ruby Rose, Furious 7 alumni Tony Jaa, and Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role from the first two xXx films as the enigmatic Agent Augustus Eugene Gibbons. The film’s plot (including why/how Xander Cage is alive again, after being “assassinated” in xXx 2) is being kept a close secret, but Li is expected to portray the leader of a team of enemy agents who clash with a new group of heroes led by the returning Cage. It is not known whether his character is strictly a bad guy or, if so, that he is the “main” nemesis of the film. If so, it will mark the first time Li has been cast as a villain since 2008’s The Mummy: Tomb of The Dragon Emperor. D.J. Caruso will direct the film, from a script by F. Scott Frazier.

Even at 52, Li (birth name: Li Lianjie) is considered one of the most formidable martial-arts stars of his generation – if not all time. Whereas other Hong Kong stars of his generation came from Peking Opera “stage-fighting” traditions, Li was a practitioner of the wushu fighting-arts from the age 0f eight. He holds fifteen gold medals and one silver medal in the sport’s Chinese national championship, and is renowned as a master of “Northern Longfist Style” along with myriad other techniques including “Eagle’s Claw Fist” and several weapons disciplines.

Vin Diesel DJ Caruso Direct xXx 3 Film Schedule xXx 3 Officially Casts Jet Li

It’s this background that was credited with propelling Li to martial-arts stardom in the early 1980s and made him an international star by the late 90s, even crossing over to U.S. fame. Though he has scaled back his action output since a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism in 2013, he has continued to star in Chinese hits like Flying Swords of Dragon Gate and American features such as The Expendables series.

Li’s casting adds an impressive action pedigree to Return, but also a potentially increased profile for the film in the global marketplace: The Fast & Furious franchise is enormously popular with international audiences (particularly in China, where Furious 7 broke box-office records), xXx is not nearly as widely known or well remembered. The studio is no doubt banking on the presence of global stars like Li, Jaa and Padukone to ensure that The Return of Xander Cage is greeted warmly by increasingly-important foreign markets – though whether or not it will work remains to be seen.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is scheduled for release in 2017.

Source: THR

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