Martial artist, actor and director who became known for his roles within the 2008 film Ip Man as well as the 2002 film Hero. He earned three Honours for Best Actions Choreography from 2003 to 2006 for the movies The Twins Impact and Kill Area. In 2016, he performed Chirrut Imwe in Rogue One. He researched T’ai Chi and breakdancing as a teenager. He produced his debut film appearance like a stuntman in 1983’s Shaolin Drunkard. He had written, aimed and starred within the 2007 film, Tale from the Wolf. He wedded his second wife, Cecilia Cissy Wang, in 2003. He once was wedded to Zing-Ci Leung from 1993 until 1995. His young sister is celebrity Chris Yen. He offers two sons called Wayne and Man-Zeok along with a girl called Jasmine. He became recognized to American viewers for his part within the 2002 film, Cutting tool II, which starred Wesley Snipes.
Awards Hong Kong Film Award for Best Action Choreography
Nominations Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actor, Hong Kong Film Award for Best Supporting Actor, Asian Film Award for Best Actor, Hundred Flowers Award for Best Actor, Kids’ Choice Award for Favorite #Squad, Golden Horse Award for Best Action Choreography
Movies Ip Man, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Ip Man 3, Kung Fu Jungle, Flash Point, Ip Man 2, xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Kill Zone - S.P.L., Iron Monkey, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, Dragon, Special ID, Bodyguards and Assassins, Blade II, Iceman, Once Upon a Time in China II, The Monkey King, 14 Blades, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, Legend of the Wolf, Dragon Tiger Gate, Shanghai Knights, Hero, Tiger Cage 2, Wing Chun, Seven Swords, In the Line of Duty 4: Witness, The Lost Bladesman, Highlander: Endgame, Drunken Tai Chi, Painted Skin, An Empress and the Warriors, Tiger Cage, Mismatched Couples, Ballistic Kiss, Heroes Among Heroes, Butterfly and Sword, Shanghai Affairs, New Dragon Gate Inn, The Twins Effect II, All's Well, Ends Well 2012, Iron Monkey 2, The Twins Effect, The Founding of a Republic, Satan Returns, All's Well, Ends Well 2011, Circus Kid, Cheetah On Fire, Love on the Rocks, Holy Virgin Vs. The Evil Dead, The Saint of Gamblers
TV Shows Fist of Fury, The Kung Fu Master, Fei Fu Kwan Ying, A New Life, Mo Min Kap Sin Fung, The Crime File, The New Life
Got into a feud with his mentor, Woo-Ping Yuen, during shooting of Wing Chun (1994). While the incident was officially never explained, some people believe it was creative differences over the fight choreography that caused them to part ways. However, Woo Ping revealed in a 2011 interview that their relationship is good now and they still keep in touch from time to time.
Was part of a Chinatown gang (non-organized street gang) in Boston, MA, in his early years. Due to his profound background in practical martial arts, he had a reputation as a street brawler. While Yen's degree/mastery of overall fighting ability is unknown, there's one reported occasion that confirms him being an efficient martial artist/self-defender. According to news reports by Hong Kong news channels in the late 1990s, he went clubbing with his then girlfriend, Yee-Man Man, and once inside the nightclub his girlfriend got harassed by a troublesome gang who took an interest in her. Yen warned them of leaving them alone but to no success. As they got out, the gang followed them and proceeded to prevent Yen from intervening by attacking him. This resulted in Yen beating the assailants up in self-defense and getting arrested by the police but was released the next day. This incident is still known in Hong Kong to this day - with people bringing it up in discussions concerning real fights as well as in relation to comparing credible fighting skills of various Hong Kong martial arts actors.
Cites Jet Li as his favorite among all martial arts actors he has worked with in his entire career.
After more than two decades of working in Hong Kong, Yen finally got his major breakthrough in Yip Man (2008) and started being offered various big-budget projects by famous producers and directors in China and USA.
Started working overseas as action director and small part actor on various film projects in early 2000s, in hope to learn more about film-making from different film markets and to achieve international success as an actor.
After learning the Hong Kong style of action film-making from his mentor Woo-Ping Yuen, Yen developed a big interest in action choreographing fight scenes and started working behind the camera on various film projects in Hong Kong in mid 1990s.
Started collaborating with director Wilson Yip on various film projects as leading actor and action director in the mid 2000s after meeting each other in the late 1990s. Yen was asked a favor by Yip to help out Daniel Lee with coordinating action scenes for Sing yuet tung wa (1999). Their collaborations have led to some of the finest Hong Kong action films made in last half of that decade.
Started working on TV series in Hong Kong after offers for feature films slowly began diminishing for him in the mid 1990s.
Donnie Yen received the Star Asia Award before the screening of Dragon (2011) at the New York Asian Film Festival on Monday, July 9, 2012.
Michelle Yeoh considers him to be the fastest martial artist she has ever worked with.
Was supposed to co-star with Brandon Lee in a sequel to Legacy of Rage (1986) but Lee's departure back to the States led to the idea being scrapped.
Well trained in various martial arts styles, including wushu, tae kwon do, kick-boxing and boxing.
Has a huge fanbase in Japan which has given him some opportunities to work behind the camera on not only movies but popular video games as well. He directed the cinematic intro sequence of Onimusha 3: Demon Siege (2004).
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(On the difference of working in Hong Kong and overseas) Two big differences: time and money! Actually, time, because you can give me all the money in the world and, if I don't have enough time, I can't give you a great action scene. The big difference in Asia is that the action director has complete control over that aspect of the film, from concept to shooting to editing. The Hollywood system is much more organized, and you have to deal with all these different producers etc. In some ways, that can be good. The development of scripts and the overall preparation for a film is definitely better in Hollywood. We have to try and bring the best from east and west together.
(On the action choreography of Dou fo sin (2007)) The real challenge was in meeting my own expectations. I have such huge respect for MMA fighters, and I was determined that we should make every effort to present their art cinematically, without compromising on the techniques and "reality" of what they do. I underwent MMA training, I watched hours of fight footage and, in the end, I think we came close to capturing the MMA flavor in our fight scenes. The biggest challenge, for me was doing repeated takes of the movements that I choreographed for myself. Sometimes it really did feel like I'd been in a real fight!
(On the difference of working as action director in Hong Kong and Hollywood) I think it's a difference between the way action is treated in Hong Kong and in Hollywood. In Hong Kong, my job is to "direct" the action, and when I'm shooting the fight sequences, I take over the set. I choose the camera angles and see how the drama intercuts with the action. In Hollywood, you "choreograph" working with the main director. In the old days of Hong Kong action cinema, when the action director worked, the "drama" director went home!
(On working overseas again) Anything goes! With the right project, right script I'll do it! But you can only make so many films a year; you have to choose the one that you want to make!
(On exploring different movie roles outside MA movies) Yes, if someone wants to hire me, why not? Why not get paid the same and have less of a physical demand? But I would absolutely not stop. It's great to do martial arts films, and rep martial arts films, and be a successful icon, and set trends. I feel it's an honor to set a trend in the martial arts film world.
(On working locally and overseas) I don't identify a project as a Hong Kong project or a Hollywood project or whatever. The world's getting closer and closer. Who would think that "Crouching Tiger" would win an Oscar as Best Foreign Film? If the film is a good film, it will be seen by the world. I don't know where my home is. If it requires me to do a production in Europe, I go to Europe. If it's in Asian countries, I'll be in Asian countries.
(On working with Jet Li) Ten years ago we did a film called "Once Upon A Time In China, Part II" and it raised the bar of martial arts standard and I was nominated as best supporting actor. "Hero" was a 10-year reunion for us. So we came in as a kind of expectation from the fans. The difference between the two times is the first time we had a rivalry going because I guess we were younger and it was our first time working with each other. But this time was more of a collaboration. We just wanted to make the best action sequence ever.
When you watch my films, you're feeling my heart.
(On martial arts training) Music and movement are both expressions of the same basic human energy. They are like paints used to color the screen.
(On changing generic fight choreography) Nowadays, martial arts directors go along with the advancement in filming techniques. We can use some techniques to coordinate with non-martial artists. In my early days with Yuen Wo Ping, technology was rather backward, whatever we did depended on the raw skills of the actors themselves; but the actors nowadays are exceptionally fortunate. They could rely on editing, doubles, wires, and even special effects to make them look like they could fight well. But I believe, now that the audiences seek authenticity in martial arts, they could be cast aside. That's why we are looking into real combat.
(On learning from veteran Hong Kong action directors) Of course it's Yuen Wo Ping. He brought me into the circle. Some of his filming techniques and styles bear great influence on me. Actually, I admire the techniques of other martial arts directors too; they have their own unique ways of handling action scenes. I hope to learn from them. This is my pursuit of martial arts all along - mixed martial arts.
(On the inspiration of becoming a director) I have always been a rebel, in my whole entire life, since I was just a martial artist. I always have questions in the back of my mind. Why does it have to be this way? Can it be that way? I always try to question and challenge that system and I guess that kind of attitude I brought into the film industry when I was just an actor. I see different films; I see how a director or choreographer would choreograph it. And I say to myself "it can be improved, it can be better and in less time". Or I'd wonder "how come this film is a good film and the other one a bad film, when the budget is not much different?" There are certain techniques, a certain system. When I was an action choreographer, when I used to work for Yuen Woo Ping, I used to grab a whole team of people and just raise questions. To the photographer, or to Yuen Woo Ping: "could it be that way? Could be it, be that? Why not try it this way?" Very soon, I established a kind of trust from Yuen Woo Ping, because I made a lot of his films happen with my suggestions.
Some of his films shows him sitting on antagonists' bodies after beating them up.
Likes to kick away objects either off ground or in the air during his fight scenes.
Uses slow-motion for certain takes during his fight scenes to showcase the power of techniques done by actors he works with.
Started utilizing MMA in his fight scenes more often after making SPL: Sha po lang (2005). This can be seen in all of his contemporary action films that followed suit.
Usually makes soft "o-faces" during his fight scenes, similar to Bruce Lee's facial expression doing the famous high-pitched battle scream.
Includes parkour in between his fight scenes.
His characters - whenever he's playing lead or co-lead roles - are often given late introductions in the beginning of his films.
His fight scenes often involve people hitting each other's fists and kicks at the same time, or each other one after another.
Started utilizing the "chain punching" technique more often in some of his recent films after the big success of Yip Man (2008), Also likes to execute few other punching techniques in his fight scenes, such as "wind-up"- and "superman" punches.