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Villain Overview
Those who announce their important destiny before they are ready tend to meet unfortunate ends. The wise only seek attention when capable of dealing with it.
~ One of Sun Li's first lines foreshadowing his true purpose.

Sun Li, also known as Master Li and Sun Li the Glorious Strategist, is the main antagonist of the video game Jade Empire. He's presented as the player character's mentor in the story's first half, after which he reveals his true colors.

He was voiced by the late Barry Dennen.

Biography

Early Life and the Long Drought

Sun Li was born as the second oldest son of the Jade Empire's previous ruler and was made the leader of the Imperial Army, while the eldest son Sun Hai became the Emperor. With his high intellect, Li earned the title of the Glorious Strategist. However, he wasn't for long satisfied with having to serve under his brother Hai. Li also had a wife who birthed for him a daughter who'd go by the name of Dawn Star.

Thirty years before the start of the game, the Empire was struck by what was afterwards known as the Long Drought. For ten years, scorching heat and limited rainfall killed crops, costing thousands of lives. Even opening the royal granaries couldn't help. Emperor Sun Hai wouldn't accept that his Empire would end in the face of the natural order, so he demanded Sun Li to find a way to prevent this.

Li found an answer from the Temple of Dirge in the western mountainous Land of the Howling Spirits. It was the home of the Spirit Monks, servants and protectors of the Water Dragon, the goddess who oversaw the distribution of water in the mortal realm and guidance of the spirits of the dead to afterlife and rebirth. Li discovered a way to challenge the station of the goddess and steal her divine powers, and as such, he led the siege of Dirge upon Emperor Sun Hai's orders. However, Li had no intention to continue serving his brother should he become a god. Allying with their younger brother Sun Kin the Hand of Heaven, leader of the monastic Order of the Lotus, Li bid his time to betray Hai and seize for himself both the throne and the Water Dragon's power.

The siege of Dirge and failed coup d'état

Well before the Imperial Army assaulted Dirge, Sun Li approached several more temptable Spirit Monks such as Xian Wu and convinced them to betray their brethren with promises of wealth and power. He had them taint Dirge's holy waters with human blood in order to weaken the temple's protective charms and the Water Dragon. Thousands of Spirit Monks were slaughtered by the Imperial Army's superior numbers. Sun Li and Sun Kin were clearing the temple's stairs for the Emperor when they were challenged by the Spirit Monks' leader Abbot Song. As the abbot faced Sun Kin, Li cut him down from behind.

The Sun brothers entered the temple unopposed, with Sun Li catching glimpses of a hiding Spirit Monk who had a baby with him. As Sun Hai gave the killing blow to the Water Dragon through the portal to the spirit world and claimed her heart, Li and Kin tried to kill him. Much to their shock, however, Hai didn't die thanks to the Water Dragon's power. He then struck his brothers with magical energy, sending Sun Li to fly across the chamber and close to the monk and the baby's escape route. With his coup a failure, Sun Li escaped, abandoning Sun Kin to Hai's retribution.

Catching up with the escaped monk and the baby, Sun Li killed the monk and claimed the baby along with the core piece of the Dragon Amulet, a focus tool of the Spirit Monks which makes the draining of the Water Dragon's power easier and faster. Realizing that only a Spirit Monk equipped with the Amulet could defeat the empowered Sun Hai, Li decided to train the baby as his pawn. He then escaped with the baby and the Amulet, leaving behind his fearsome armor, which Sun Hai used along with Sun Kin's spirit to create Death's Hand as mockery of Li.

A humble teacher

Sun Li went into hiding in the Empire's borders, becoming the new teacher of the martial arts school of the remote village of Two Rivers. Adopting the identity of Master Li, he went on to raise the last Spirit Monk as his protege for twenty years. Generally respected by both the students and the townsfolk, he carefully kept low profile so that the Emperor's Lotus Assassins (the former Lotus Monks) wouldn't find him and his protege too soon. Meanwhile, Sun Li the Glorious Strategist was believed by the masses to have died as a sacrifice to the ending of the Long Drought or as a traitor.

Before announcing his protege's training complete, Master Li made precautions to carry out his master plan. For one thing, he bid a loyal soldier under him, Hui the Brave, to wait until his protege would come to the trading village of Tien's Landing and deliver them the second piece of the Dragon Amulet and teach them the Spirit Thief style. He also integrated into his student's fighting style subtle flaws that others could notice but only he could exploit.

Within weeks of Dirge's siege, Emperor Sun Hai ordered his Lotus Assassins to kill Li's wife and infant daughter Dawn Star. Dawn Star's death was prevented by one of the Assassins, Sagacious Zu, who then went into hiding with Dawn Star. He eventually gave her up to Hui the Brave to pass her to a good home. Hui delivered Dawn Star to Two Rivers and Master Li. Ironically, neither Li or Dawn Star realized their relation for the period of seventeen years they knew each other.

The first moves

On the day Master Li tells his protege that their lessons are complete and they are ready for the destiny he has been grooming them for, Two Rivers is attacked by bandits led by a Lotus Assassin. The attackers are fought back, with Master Li personally destroying their ship and killing the Assassin. Afterwards Gao the Lesser, one of Master Li's other students, challenges the last Spirit Monk for a duel and loses, earning himself expulsion for attacking with a forbidden move after the duel. Master Li then tells his protege his real identity and his own warped version of what happened years ago at Dirge, claiming himself to have had a change of heart yet unable to prevent the Spirit Monk genocide. While doing this, he intentionally allows Gao to overhear his real name. He then sends his protege to retrieve the Dragon Amulet's core from the Spirit Cave and meditate there at their own pace. When they are brought back by the Water Dragon's spirit earlier than Master Li anticipated, he sends them to rescue Dawn Star who's been kidnapped by Gao the Lesser and taken to the marshes surrounding Two Rivers.

While the last Spirit Monk is rescuing Dawn Star, Death's Hand attacks Two Rivers with his Lotus Assassins, having been informed of Sun Li's location by Gao the Lesser telling it through his crime lord father, Gao the Greater. Master Li surrenders without a fight and is taken away. Two Rivers is destroyed and most of its inhabitants are killed, leading the last Spirit Monk to set out after Master Li's captors with Dawn Star and Sagacious Zu.

Facades shed

Master Li is taken to the Imperial Palace by Death's Hand and later questioned by his brother Emperor Sun Hai of the Dragon Amulet's location. When the last Spirit Monk confronts the Emperor in the throne room with their followers, Master Li remains silent until he and everyone else — excluding his student — are knocked out by Sun Hai's shock wave. When the Emperor is killed, Master Li recovers, walks up to the throne, claims the Water Dragon's heart and expresses pride in his student. While praising them, he suddenly throws the heart into air and uses the flaws he instilled to kill his student with carefully placed strikes.

Taking back his real name, Sun Li the Glorious Strategist proclaims himself as the new ruler of the Jade Empire. He takes for himself the now fully restored Dragon Amulet, using it to draw power from the Water Dragon's corpse much quicker than Sun Hai ever could, becoming more powerful than him. With the last Spirit Monk dead and their followers forced on the run, nothing seemed to be able to stop Emperor Sun Li.

However, what Sun Li couldn't foresee, was that by the time Sun Hai died, the Water Dragon's spirit regained momentarily some of her power, using it to bring the spirit of the last Spirit Monk to Dirge, tell them the true backstory behind everything and send them to restore Dirge so that they could be resurrected and defeat Sun Li. Able to sense his former student's return, Sun Li goes to the ruins of the Lotus Assassins' headquarters and binds Death's Hand to himself. He then sends him to Dirge along with the Lotus Assassins and the Imperial Army with the orders to crush the last Spirit Monk and their followers once and for all.

Before the day of the attack, the last Spirit Monk finds themselves back in their burning school in Two Rivers. Sun Li appears and directs three of his former pupils — Jing Woo, Lin and Wen — to attack the last Spirit Monk in anger. After they're defeated, Li departs with taunting words.

When the last Spirit Monk has defeated Death's Hand in Dirge's temple, Sun Li appears as a magical projection and talks about his motives and lost family before ordering his bound brother to continue fighting. In the battle of wills that follows, Li loses his control over Death's Hand who either dies or is bound as a follower of the last Spirit Monk. Diminished, Li departs to wait for the inevitable final confrontation.

The final showdown

Almost immediately after their victory in Dirge, the last Spirit Monk and their followers return to the Imperial Palace. Before Emperor Sun Li realizes their presence, they're guided by the Water Dragon's spirit to the burial chamber of the previous Emperors where her body is kept. Either by destroying the machine preventing the body from dying (Open Palm) or tainting the waters flowing from it with human blood (Closed Fist), the last Spirit Monk prevents their former mentor from drawing any more power and becoming too powerful to defeat. In the throne room, Emperor Sun Li's power-consuming meditation is interrupted because of this. Realizing what has happened, he reacts with a loud scream of rage.

When the last Spirit Monk arrives to the throne room, Emperor Sun Li steps forward to meet them. After taking a moment to gloat about his former exploits and ambitions for the Jade Empire, he summons four moving demon statues to kill his former student. After they're destroyed, he conjures a stone shell around the Spirit Monk's body, encasing them in doubt and trapping them in their mind. Aided by the minds of their also trapped followers and the spirit of Sagacious Zu, the Spirit Monk manages to free themselves.

Amazed by his former student's ability to fight off against anything he can throw at them with the Water Dragon's power, Sun Li decides to engage in the final duel with them, though not before making an offer: should the last Spirit Monk willingly allow themselves to be killed and let Sun Li to keep the Empire prosperous, they'd be forever praised as a martyr who contributed to the glory of the Empire. If accepted, a golden statue is made of the last Spirit Monk, and all the citizens are taught to worship both them and Emperor Sun Li, with anyone who makes too many questions getting killed. If refused, the duel between master and student ensues and ends with Sun Li's death.

Personality

When first introduced as Master Li, Sun Li is presented as a strict and mysterious yet soft-spoken and kindly teacher who takes pride in his students' practice efforts. He's shown to be highly proud of his protege, the last Spirit Monk, having high hopes for the destiny he has prepared them for. Gao the Lesser accuses Li of favoring his protege over the rest of his students due to this attention. Rarely losing his temper, Master Li acts civil around Gao despite the arrogance and lack of respect from the son of Gao the Greater. However, when Gao breaks rules and impetuously uses a forbidden attack form, Li quickly puts him in his place with sharp words. He's in general respected not only by his school but the rest of Two Rivers' inhabitants to the point that he's regarded as the village's highest authority figure.

In reality, the identity of Master Li is a mask that hides the cold, ruthless, manipulative, and ambitious personality of Sun Li the Glorious Strategist. Despite his high station as the Imperial Army's leader in his early life, Li has never been satisfied with having to serve under his brother Emperor Sun Hai, whom he views to be unrestrained, chaotic and less competent than him, and as such, less deserving of taking a god's place. He claims that he's acting for the Jade Empire's benefit by intending to keep it prospering with the waters flowing eternally from the Water Dragon's mutilated corpse, force the dead to their rest and indoctrinate the citizens to be utterly obedient. While claiming himself to be better than Sun Hai, his eventual admission of slaughtering thousands of Spirit Monks just for the chance to be a god shows him to have become just as mad with views of godhood as his elder brother was. This shows with his high confidence, gloating and the sadistic pleasure he displays while confronting the last Spirit Monk with his powers.

Knowing the value of patience as the Glorious Strategist, Sun Li uses twenty years to train the last Spirit Monk as his pawn, and once they've served their purpose, he lures them into a false sense of security before killing them without hesitation. This lack of empathy in treating people as his pawns extends to Li's own family members. He binds the tortured soul of his younger brother Sun Kin, considering him to be too valuable a tool as Death's Hand to be allowed to rest. He also admits that he never cared about the murder of his family, having felt firstly anger at Sun Hai for destroying Li's "possessions" in such a petty manner. If he learns that Dawn Star is his daughter, his opinion of her doesn't change at all, for he considers heirs to be obsolete to a god.

While the warmth of Master Li is a lie conducted by Sun Li, he retains his overall composure mannerism after he reveals his true nature. After his former student manages to foil his every attempt to vanquish them with the Water Dragon's power, he voices impressed amazement before trying to manipulate them to sacrifice themselves. If they agree, Sun Li keeps his promise of integrating them as a martyr in his utopia, even though he laughs maliciously as he observes the fanaticism he has instilled. If he's killed, he takes his defeat with surprising graciousness, using his last words to indirectly congratulate his former student.

Powers and abilities

The most important ability of Sun Li is his high intelligence. He is skilled in laying out strategies to the point that he has earned the title of the Glorious Strategist. One example of this is his successful master plan to seize the throne and the Water Dragon's power, which took twenty years and taking into account numerous factors to carry out. Another proof of his intellect is the fact that he subtly added in his protege's fighting style flaws that no one else but he knows how to exploit, allowing the last Spirit Monk to use them as a trap against everyone else. Sun Li is also a skilled actor and a charismatic leader, spending two decades as the kindly Master Li and the unofficial leader of Two Rivers.

Li is a skilled martial artist who knows many styles. As the head of the Imperial Army, he fought with a serrated sword, and as Emperor Sun Li, he uses two swords. He's the only character in addition to his student who's capable of increasing his speed by entering the Focus mode. As Master Li, he's capable of jumping high and destroying a big boat with one chi strike. He also kills a Lotus Assassin almost effortlessly with four precise strikes. During the final duel, he utilizes the Leaping Tiger martial style, the Paralyzing Palm support style and the Spirit Thief style.

After taking the Water Dragon's heart, Sun Li gains magical powers from her body. By using the Dragon Amulet as a focus, he becomes more powerful more quickly than Sun Hai ever did. His magical abilities include binding spirits, influencing another person's dreams, appearing as a projection over distances, creating demons made of stone and trapping opponents in their minds. The magic style he uses is a combination of Dire Flame, Ice Shard and Tempest styles.

Quotes

Your abilities have grown immensely. But it also does my heart good to see that you have remembered the basics of what I taught. Even the flaws!
~ Master Li revealing his true colors before killing his student.
I sense my former student refuses to rest easy. The time for subtlety is past. You are too valuable to abandon a second time. Come, we must return to Dirge.
~ Sun Li binding Death's Hand.
Ah, there you are. I knew you would come, and I have grown very good at waiting. You are very different from the student I once taught. Death changed you, I imagine. I apologize for that indignity, but it was necessary. It was also meant to be the end of you, but you surprised me again. I should have studied your people before wiping them out.
~ Sun Li meeting the last Spirit Monk in the Imperial Palace.
I killed hundreds of your kind, thousands, just for the *chance* to become a god. I can't let you live now that I *am* one! I am more than Sun Hai ever was! I will undo the damage of his ignorance, force the dead to their rest, and keep the waters flowing. My Empire will be ordered, *obedient*, and neither ghosts nor gods will plague it. And you are all that stands between me and the new peace. My brother summoned underlings to defeat you; I will create them from the very stone!
~ Sun Li beginning the final confrontation.
An impressive display. Your star shines bright, but it is still trapped within a mortal body. Perhaps a more direct application of my power will show you what you are up against... and just how restrictive your shell truly is. Yes, this will amuse me. Worse than actually dying. Seeing death come and being unable to stop it.
~ Sun Li trapping the last Spirit Monk in their mind.
Once again, I misunderstand. The raw energy... you are far too resistant to it. The loyalty you inspire is also tiresome, but I respect it. You have truly become a Spirit Monk. In another time, I would be proud of your ability.
~ Sun Li expressing his astonishment when the last Spirit Monk is freed from doubt.
You surprise me yet again. (coughs) I'm a better teacher... than I thought.
~ Sun Li's last words.

Trivia

  • Sun Li is an example of an evil follower of the Way of the Open Palm, as Master Smiling Mountain describes it: a tyrant who oppresses by controlling the lives of other people and taking great lengths to prevent a crime from ever taking place, even if they start with the best of intentions. Li shows preference to the philosophy of the Open Palm with the way he talks about keeping the people safe within their roles and forcing as a god the nature to work in the best possible way for the Empire and him in contrast to allowing the world to be chaotic and violent under Sun Hai's rule. In the alternate ending where he survives, he creates an utopia in the form of an Orwellian dictatorship. As the hunter Spear Catches Leaf can explain, there can be secret intrigue behind the Way of the Open Palm.
  • It is possible that Master Li murdered the previous teacher of the Two Rivers School because of the fact that the old master's ghost haunts the Spirit Cave underneath the school and the villagers can't remember what became of him.
  • Before Master Li's villainous nature is revealed, there are hints scattered before the ultimate reveal. For example, Li doesn't give all the details while telling about what happened at Dirge, first leaving it untold what the player's people were called and what was their duty until the Water Dragon first uses the term Spirit Monk and the player asks Li about it. It was apparently Li's original purpose for his student to remain in the Spirit Cave and emerge after the destruction of Two Rivers, judging by the messages he has left in the cave as well as him saying in surprise that he expected his protege to meditate in the cave for "at least another day" when they appear thanks to the Water Dragon's interference. Before sending them to seek out Dawn Star, he callously mutters that her disappearance "could prove useful", showing that he needed a convenient excuse to get his plan back on track. Also, many fighters the player encounters comment on the flaw they can spot but not exploit in the player's fighting style, wondering if it is the result of brilliance from Master Li's part or something else.
  • Sun Li is similar to Darth Traya from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, which is the sequel of a video game that's produced by Bioware like Jade Empire. They both are elderly mentors to the player character who are early on hinted to have their own agendas in regards to training the player character against the enemy. By the time of the climax, they're indeed revealed to have all along used the player character for their own ends, betray them, and take control of the villainous faction, setting themselves as the main antagonists. They also serve as the final bosses of their respective games.