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Creator / Donnie Yen

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"When you watch my films, you're feeling my heart."
Donnie Yen about his film style.

Donnie Yen (born Yen Ji-Dan (甄子丹, "Zhen Zidan" in Hanyu Pinyin), 27 July 1963 in Guangzhou, China) 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.

At a young age, under influence from his mother, Yen developed an interest in martial arts and began experimenting with various styles, especially wushu, which got him in a two-year training program with the Beijing Wushu Team. In his return to United States, he made a side-trip to Hong Kong and met action choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping there, becoming a stunt double and later actor. His first leading role, 1984's, Drunken Tai Chi got him noticed by big studios in Hong Kong, although his big breakthrough would come in 1992 with playing a baddie in the box office hit Once Upon a Time in China II, opposing his long time friend Jet Li. He also starred in cult classic The Iron Monkey. While still having a moderate film career at that point, Yen fared better in TV, 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 is a big Bruce Lee fan.


His film career would be revived after the international success of 2002's Hero, where he would cross fists with Jet Li. However, 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 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 spawn a series counting four installments with Yen in the role so far, and one spinoff without him.

Apart from being an acclaimed martial artist and actor, Yen is also a world class action choreographer, and is especially notable for his violent yet technical style on screen. In recent years, Yen was successful in including Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) into his action sequences in various films, a feat most other action directors have been unsuccessful at accomplishing so far. His film Flash Point, featuring abundant MMA, was a huge success and won him the "Best Action Choreography" awards at the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards and the 2008 Golden Horse Film Awards. He also choreographed 2010 film Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, where he included MMA, wing chun and Jeet Kune Do elements as a tribute to Bruce Lee (who played Chen Zhen in the 1972 film Fist of Fury). Yen stated that the concept behind Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do is similar to that of MMA, hence its incorporation was 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. Along that, he has practised hip hop and breakdancing. Is there something out that Donnie Yen has not done?

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.

Notable Donnie Yen Films:

Tropes applicable to him:

  • Arch-Enemy: On-screen, he has opposed Jet Li several times. In real life, they are very close friends.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: A huge number of his early roles are this type of character, and some say he was it offscreen in his early career. However, all of his coworkers nowadays describe him as a very polite, professional guy.
  • Author Appeal: He likes variety in his choreographies, and often throws in moves of very diverse martial arts. He also favors MMA, particularly in recent films like Sha Po Lang, Flash Point, Special ID and Big Brother.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: In several of his early films, you see him kick ass while wearing some fancy clothes, mostly formal.
  • Bruce Lee Clone: While he doesn't do it as much, he does sometimes show mannerisms related to Bruce Lee, mostly as a nod as his love for him. He also played one of Lee's iconic characters Chen Zhen, twice in Fist of Fury TV series and the film Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen. They're both compared to each other fairly often in Real Life, and Yen is considered by many to be his successor within cinema nowadays.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Donnie has an anecdote in which he and his girlfriend were harassed in a Hong Kong club in the 1990s by a troublesome gang. Yen calmly warned them to leave them alone, but the thugs opted to attack him, which ended up with Donnie thoroughly kicking their asses in the street. The incident got Yen arrested for a night and solidified his reputation as a real life dangerous martial artist.
  • Combat Parkour: Several of his film characters use it.
  • 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.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu??: During the film of IP Man 3, he managed to fracture one of Mike Tyson's fingers with an elbow block. Tyson even acknowledged Yen as one of the few people who could legitimately beat him in a fight.
  • Genius Bruiser: In addition to his extensive martial arts skill, he's also a classically trained pianist.
  • Martial Pacifist: After he played the role of Wing Chun master Yip Man in the Ip Man Film Series.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Gets bare-chested in a lot of his films, including 14 Blades, Flash Point, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, An Empress and the Warriors and The Lost Bladesman. Heck, Donnie himself used to be an underwear model at some point in real life!
  • Mugging the Monster: In the early 90s Yen was in a Hong Kong nightclub with his then girlfriend when members of a local gang started harassing her. Despite Yen warning them to back off and then deciding to leave before the situation got out of hand they followed Yen and his girlfriend out of the club and the eight strong group attacked him. Yen put all of them in hospital.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: He has trained in Tai Chi, Wushu, Boxing, Kickboxing, Taekwondo, Muay Thai, Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do, Hapkido, Sanda, Karate, Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, amateur wrestling and Le Parkour under various trainers. All of them receive a positive demonstration in Flash Point.