Donnie Yen: Legend Of The Fist

AF 2012 wuxia posterThe World of Martial Arts reverberates with the news that Wu Xia will be ActionFest’s closing night film. Wu Xia stars the martial arts film icon Jimmy Wang Yu, Takeshi Kaneshiro and lead actor and action choreographer, Donnie Yen.

Bringing mixed martial arts into martial arts film and a focus on realism in fighting, Yen has become a formidable action director of his own after working with three iconic action directors, Yuen Woo-Ping, Tsui Hark and Wilson Yip Wai-Shun.

Born in Hong Kong and growing up in Boston, Yen learned Tai Chi and wushu from his mother before studying with Jet Li’s master, Wu Bin, at the Beijing Martial Arts Academy. Returning to Hong Kong, Yen did a lot of work at Hong Kong’s famous television station, TVB, most notably starring as Chen Zhen in the 1995 Fists of Fury series based on the Bruce Lee film. He reprised the role in the 2010 film, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen.

Discovered by Yuen Woo-Ping,Yen got his first film break with Yuen’s  Drunken Tai Chi (1984), but it was his role as General Lan and his spectacular duel versus Jet Li’s Wong Fei-Hung in Tsui Hark’s Once Upon A Time In China II (1991) that got him noticed.

iron monkey yen

Here’s a few more films you Yen fans might want to watch.

Yuen Woo-Ping’s Iron Monkey (1993).  Donnie Yen played Wong Fei-Hung’s father (and young Fei-Hong is played by Angie Tsang Sze-Man). Despite many excellent fights, what I remember most is the chopstick dinner battle.

Legend of the Wolf (1997) is the first film that Donnie Yen directed.

Zhang Zimou’s Hero (2002) features another fantastic duel between Yen and Jet Li, this time in the rain at a teahouse.

He’s also starred in a slew of films by directed by Wilson Yip Wai-Shun:

SPL/Sha Po Long/Killzone (2005). Most people seem to love the frenetic alley fight between Donnie Yen and Wu Jing. My favorite are the two between Yen and a viciously villainous Sammo Hung.

Flash Point (2007). This is the film where Donnie Yen most demonstrates his action philosophy–integrating Mixed Martial Arts into his choreography, with grappling and submission holds a-plenty.  Yen won a Hong Kong Film Award for his action design in Flash Point.

And Yip’s Ip Man and Ip Man 2 (2008; 2010) Probably Yen’s most popular and best known role now. Yen plays Wing Chun Grand Master–and Bruce Lee teacher–Ip Man. And, once again, Yen and Sammo Hung face off in Ip Man 2.

lost bladesman promotion

Since then, Yen moved into massive historical films like Ching Siu-Tung’s battlefield blockbuster, An Empress and the Warriors (2008), in which Donnie Yen overshadows the Empress; Teddy Chan Tak-Sum’s Bodyguards and Assassins (2009), in which Yen  protects Dr. Sun Yat-Sen with an all-star cast of bodyguards; and Alan Mak Siu-Fai and Felix Chong Man-Keung’s The Lost Bladesman (2011) in which Yen plays the general and deity, Guan Yu (aka, Guan Dong, aka General Kwan).

(This post was originally published at the 2012 ActionFest Film Festival Blog on March 20, 2012)

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