Donnie Yen Ji-Dan (born 27 July 1963) is a Hong Kong actor, martial artist, film director and producer, action choreographer, and world wushu tournament medalist. Apart from being a well-known film and television actor in Hong Kong, Yen has also gained international recognition for appearing in many films together with other prominent and internationally-known actors such as Jackie Chan
, Jet Li
and Michelle Yeoh
Yen's mother, Bow-sim Mark (麥寶嬋), is a Wudangquan (internal martial arts) grandmaster, while his father, Klyster Yen (甄雲龍), is a newspaper editor. When Yen was two years old, his family moved to Hong Kong, and then to Boston, Massachusetts, United States when he was 11. His younger sister, Chris Yen, is also a martial artist and actress, and appeared in the 2007 film Adventures of Johnny Tao: Rock Around the Dragon.
At a young age, under influence from his mother, Yen developed an interest in martial arts and began experimenting with various styles, including tai-chi and other traditional Chinese martial arts. Yen focused on practicing wushu after dropping out of school. His parents were concerned that he was spending too much time in the Boston Combat Zone, so they sent him to Beijing on a two-year training program with the Beijing Wushu Team. When Yen decided to return to the United States, he made a side-trip to Hong Kong and met action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping
Beginning as a stunt double in his 2 first films, he would later get his first leading role in 1984's Drunken Tai Chi, while not a major box office success, it got him noticed by big studios in Hong Kong.
Yen's big breakthrough would come in 1992 with the box office hit Once Upon a Time in China II, which included a dramatic fight scene between his antagonist character General Nap-lan and Wong Fei-hung (played by Jet Li). Another major film at that was the martial art cult classic, Iron Monkey the following year where he played Wong Kei-ying, father to legendary martial art folkhero (and main character of Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China films) Wong Fei Hung. The film wasn't a major success in Hong Kong but would become a cult hit among fans of Hong Kong films, it also became the 11th highest-grossing foreign language film in the US box office.
While still having a moderate film career at that point, Yen fared better in Television, starring in over 5 series, his more well known shows were The Kung Fu Master, where he played Hung Hei-gun, a major influential figure of Southern Shaolin Kung Fu and Fist Of Fury, a 30 episode adaptation of the Bruce Lee classic as Yen's a big Bruce Lee fan (who isn't?), as in Jet Li's Fist Of Legend, the series featured Chen Zhen having a Japanese love interest.
His film career would be revived after the international success of 2002's Hero, where he would cross fists with Jet Li once again, Yen played a spear (or qiang) fighter who fought with Li's character, an unnamed swordsman. The film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 2003 Academy Awards but lost to the German film Nowhere in Africa. And after making well received films such as 2005's SPL: Sha Po Lang, his biggest box office success would come in 2008's Ip Man, a semi-biographical account of Yip Man (played by Yen), the Wing Chun master of Bruce Lee. Ip Man marked Yen's fourth collaboration with director Wilson Yip, reuniting him with his co-stars in SPL: Sha Po Lang, Sammo Hung and Simon Yam. Ip Man became the biggest box office hit to date which featured Yen in the leading role, grossing HK$25 million in Hong Kong and 100 million yuan in China. It would later gain sequel, Ip Man 2 in 2010 which also a major box office success.
Apart from being an acclaimed martial artist and actor, Yen is also a world class action choreographer, and his on-screen choreography has been recognized through the numerous awards he has attained.
In recent years, Yen was successful in including Mixed Martial Arts
(MMA) into his action choreography in various films, a feat most other action directors have been unsuccessful at accomplishing so far. Flash Point, a film fully choreographed by Yen using MMA was a huge success. His work as a choreographer won him "Best Action Choreography" awards at the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards and the 2008 Golden Horse Film Awards. Another notable MMA film involving Yen is SPL: Sha Po Lang.
Yen was the fight choreographer for the 2010 film Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen. For this film, Yen mentioned that he included Jeet Kune Do elements as a tribute to Bruce Lee, who played Chen Zhen in the 1972 film Fist of Fury. Furthermore he incorporated many MMA elements in the film, coupled with the utilisation of Wing Chun. Yen also stated that the concept behind Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do is similar to that of MMA, hence the incorporation of many forms of martial arts is a necessity in this film.
Next to coming from a martial art family, Yen also came from a family of musicians. His mother is a soprano, in addition to being a martial arts teacher in Boston, while his father is a violinist. Since young, he was taught by his parents to play musical instruments, including the piano.
Notable Donnie Yen Films:
Tropes applicable to him:
- Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: A huge number of his early roles and some say he was quite arrogant off screen in his early career.
- Badass: The majority of his film career, plus after training in wushu, he would later knowledge on other martial arts style, he would later obtain belts from judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and went on to study the art of parkour, wrestling, muay thai, kickboxing and boxing under various trainers that later led to his exposure of mixed martial arts (MMA).
- Badass Beard: In 2011, he did the titular role in The Lost Bladesman as legendary glaive-wielder Guan Yu, one of the major characters of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, whose trademark physical feature was his legendarily long beard... although throughout the latter half of the movie it's actually shaved off to a goatee. (The opening scene reveals that he'd grown it back by the time of his death.)
- Badass in a Nice Suit: In several of his early films, you see him kick ass while wearing some fancy clothes, mostly formal.
- Cultured Badass: He's quite good at playing the piano, and he gets a chance to do so in the movie Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen.
- Bruce Lee Clone: While he doesn't do it as much, he does tend to show mannerisms related to Bruce Lee, mostly as a nod as Yen's a big Bruce Lee fan, he also played one of Lee's iconic characters Chen Zhen, twice in 1995's Fist of Fury TV series and the 2010 film follow up Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen.
- Fanboy: See the trope above.
- Martial Pacifist: After he played the role of Wing Chun master Yip Man in both Ip Man and Ip Man 2.
- Mean Character Nice Actor: Played villainous roles from time to time.
- Mixed Martial Arts: Flash Point uses stylized MMA for combat scenes.