Thursday, September 16, 2010
FACES: DONNIE YEN
Born: July 27, 1963; Canton, People's Republic of China
Donnie Yen is officially the new legend of Hong Kong action films. Following in the steps of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Yen's current films have hit box office gold in Hong Kong and he has no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
The legend of Donnie Yen Chi-Tan began in Canton, China on July 27, 1963. His mother, Bow Sim Mark, was a martial arts champion and expert in Wushu and Tai Chi. His father, Klysler Yen, was a classical musician who had an interest in media publications. At the age of two, the Yen family moved to Hong Kong. At the age of four, Madame Bow began teaching her son the martial arts.
At the age of eleven, the Yen family moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Madame Bow would open up a martial arts school called the Chinese Wushu Research Institute in 1976. Mr. Yen would become editor of Sing Tao newspaper. Donnie would continue to train and experiment with other forms of martial arts and in 1974, became a big brother to sister Chris. However, Donnie's parents were concerned about him spending time in the Boston Combat Zone, an adult entertainment district. A big decision caused Donnie to spend two years in Beijing, China.
There, Donnie began training at the world famous Beijing Sports Institute, the same facility where champion turned actor Jet Li trained. In 1982, Yen was approached by filmmaker Yuen Woo-Ping. Yuen was best known for his work with Jackie Chan, directing Chan's first two hit films, SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (1978) and DRUNKEN MASTER (1978). At first, Yen was reluctant, but eventually warmed up to Yuen and began to work with him as a stuntman in two films, SHAOLIN DRUNKARD (1983) and TAOISM DRUNKARD (1984).
Shortly after, Yuen Woo-Ping intended to launch Yen as a new action star. Yen made his lead role debut in DRUNKEN TAI CHI (1984). Despite the film not really breaking box-office records, Yen did get some notoriety and he would work alongside his mentor again for MISMATCHED COUPLES (1985), an underrated kickboxing/breakdancing film that evidently failed at the box office.
Yen took some time off to study and get an understanding of fight choreography under Yuen Woo-Ping. When Yen returned for TIGER CAGE (1988), it was his first film as an action choreographer. He convinced Yuen to bring in Michael Woods, a friend from Boston who studied at the Chinese Wushu Research Institute to play a villain. Yen's character is killed mid-way in the film, but delivered a frenetic one on two fight between himself, Woods, and Stephen Berwick.
For the next collaboration between Yuen and Yen, IN THE LINE OF DUTY IV (1989), Yen brought in another good friend from Boston, John Salvitti. Yen would face off against both Salvitti and Woods in two separate fights. The trio work well together and would repeat that same fight chemistry in TIGER CAGE 2 (1990), where Yen played a brand new character. Yuen Woo-Ping would return to helm that feature, which included future MORTAL KOMBAT star Robin Shou as the film's main nemesis.
In 1992, Yen finally received the breakthrough role he was looking for. Yuen Woo-Ping was offered the role of action director for ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA II (1992), starring Jet Li as Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hung. Yen would play the film's main nemesis, a commander who is quite the expert at the staff and "cloth stick" technique. His performance received rave reviews from critics and fans all over the world.
Yen would continue to showcase his frenetic martial arts skills in a variety of films, from low budgeted military flicks like CHEETAH ON FIRE (1992), exciting wuxia pian films like DRAGON INN (1992) and BUTTERFLY SWORD (1993), period kung fu films like IRON MONKEY (1993) and WING CHUN (1994), and modern day action flicks like SIAN COPS: HIGH VOLTAGE (1995).
Yen has also strutted his stuff on television, working with the likes of Stephen Chow on THE LAST CONFLICT (1988) and THE KUNG FU MASTER (1994). In 1995, Yen starred and choreographed the action for a 30-episode version of the Bruce Lee classic FIST OF FURY.
In 1996, Yen created his own production company, Bullet Films. The first film under Yen's new company was an action piece entitled LEGEND OF THE WOLF. He would play the titular character, an ex-assassin whose past comes back to haunt him. Yen showcased some of his best fight choreography with his frenetic brand of kicking skills. Yen would direct two more features, BALLISTIC KISS (1997) and SHANGHAI AFFAIRS (1998).
In 2000, Yen made his Hollywood debut as Chinese immortal Jin Ke in HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME, where he faced off against Adrian Paul's heroic Duncan MacLeod. Yen would also serve as the choreographer of this fight scene and used it to good effect. In 2002, he would have a bit role and serve as martial arts choreographer in Guillermo del Toro's sequel BLADE II, which featured Wesley Snipes as the Marvel Comics' hybrid vampire hunter.
In 2003, Yen returned to Hong Kong to work on the vampire film THE TWINS EFFECT, where he recruited Mickey Hardt, a Swiss-born martial artist and actor who starred in CODENAME: PUMA, a series Yen choreographed and directed while in Germany. He would go on to direct his little sister Chris, who played a villainess, in PROTEGE DE LA ROSE NOIRE (2004). Both films starred the duo of Gillian Chung and Charlene Choi, affectionally known as Twins.
In 2003, Robin Shou was unable to star as villain Wu Chow in SHANGHAI KNIGHTS, the sequel to the Eastern Western SHANGHAI NOON (2000) that starred Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. Yen got the role and got to fight the Hong Kong legend in the film. While the theatrical version wasn't great, the extended fight scene between the two was well choreographed under Chan. Yen truly has respect for the people he works with and from the bloopers, it truly shows how much he respects Chan as a legend in the field.
In 2005, Yen surprised all the fans when he began his relationship with Wilson Yip. Yen developed a new brand of fight choreography that would combine his old school style with the ever popular trend of mixed martial arts (MMA). Yen's first foray with his new style was S.P.L., a dark thriller that featured Yen taking on both Wu Jing and Sammo Hung. Yen gained major review for the film and even earned Yen the Best Fight Choreography Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2006.
Yen and Yip reunited for an adaptation of the Tony Wong comic DRAGON TIGER GATE. This time, Yen would work with budding action heroes Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue. The film did well at the box office and shortly after, Yen would work with Yip again on a modern day action film entitled FLASH POINT. In this film, Yen returned to his new style of MMA hybrid choreography and enlisted the help of John Salvitti, who served as MMA consultant on the film.
In 2008, Yen got the biggest role of his career. While many typecast him as an action hero, Yen finally showcased his dramatic side and his action skills in the role of Bruce Lee's teacher, Ip Man. IP MAN was a semi-biographical film about the Wing Chun master's life from the late 20's to late 30's. Yen worked under the choreography of Sammo Hung, whose Wing Chun skills boost two films in the days of classic kung fu, WARRIORS TWO (1978) and THE PRODIGAL SON (1981). Yen was perfect in his role, even earning a nomination for Best Actor. The film would win Best Picture at the Hong Kong Film Awards, beating the odds-on favorite, John Woo's RED CLIFF.
Since IP MAN, Yen has been on a roll at the Hong Kong box office. His films have been box office gold and he would get back-to-back wins in terms of Best Picture as his 2009 film BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS would win Best Picture at the Hong Kong Film Awards earlier this year. Yen will next be seen returning as Bruce Lee's Chen Zhen in LEGEND OF THE FIST: CHEN ZHEN (coming out September 21) and has THE LOST BLADESMAN, WU XIA, WISELY, THE MONKEY KING, and ALL'S WELL ENDS WELL 2011 in his schedule.
Yen is currently married to Cissy Wang. The two have a daughter, Jasmine, and a son, James. A previous marriage resulted in the birth of Yen's first child, son Man-Cheuk.
Today, Donnie Yen is now the biggest action star in Hong Kong. After over twenty-five years, Yen finally got his due and he's going to keep going as long as it takes.
Donnie's official website can be found at: DonnieYen.com
Shaolin Drunkard (1983) - stunts
Taoism Drunkard (1984) - stunts
Miracle Fighters 2 (1984) - stunts
Drunken Tai Chi (1984)
Mismatched Couples (1985)
The Last Conflict (1988)
Tiger Cage (1988) - actor, action choreographer
In the Line of Duty 4 (1989)
Tiger Cage II (1990) - actor, action choreographer
The Holy Virgin Versus the Evil Dead (1991)
Crystal Hunt (1991)
Dragon Inn (1992)
Once Upon a Time in China II (1992)
Cheetah on Fire (1992)
Heroes Among Heroes (1993)
Butterfly Sword (1993)
Iron Monkey (1993)
Circus Kids (1994)
Wing Chun (1994) - actor, action choreographer
The Saint of Gamblers (1995)
Asian Cop - High Voltage (1995)
Satan Returns (1996) - actor, action choreographer
Iron Monkey 2 (1996)
Legend of the Wolf (1997) - actor, director, writer, action choreographer
Black Rose II (1997)
Shanghai Affairs (1998) - actor, director, action choreographer
Ballistic Kiss (1998) - actor, director, producer, action choreographer
Black City (1999)
Moonlight Express (1999) - action choreographer
Highlander: Endgame (2000) - actor, action choreographer
Blade II (2002) - actor, action choreographer
The Twins Effect (2003) - co-director, action choreographer
The Twins Effect II (2004) - actor, action choreographer
Protege de la Rose Noire (2004) - director, action choreographer
Love On the Rocks (2004)
SPL (2005) - actor, action choreographer
Seven Swords (2005)
Dragon Tiger Gate (2006) - actor, action choreographer
Flash Point (2007) - actor, producer, action choreographer
An Empress and the Warriors (2008)
Painted Skin (2008)
Ip Man (2008)
All's Well Ends Well 2009 (2009)
Bodyguards and Assassins (2009)
The Founding of a Republic (2009)
14 Blades (2010)
Ip Man 2 (2010)
Legend of the Fist: Chen Zhen (2010) - actor, action choreographer
Wu Xia (2010) - actor, action choreographer
The Lost Bladesman (2011) - actor, action choreographer
All's Well Ends Well 2011 (2011)
The Monkey King (2012)