Heroes of the East- Donnie Yen

Now I wasn’t planning to write two columns in a row about martial arts stars, but after seeing Ip Man last week, I decided I was in the mood to discuss the career of Donnie Yen. Added to the fact that Ip Man was choreographed by Sammo Hung and you have quite a nice link into this post, though this was simply a coincidence and should not be considered a stroke of genius.

Donnie Yen

Donnie Yen

Now as you might gather from the photo above, Donnie Yen is a bit of a poser. Unlike Sammo, the man rarely plays things for laughs (and when he does, such as in the film Wing Chun, the results are a bit awkward). Though this is not a problem for him, as he oozes charisma and is still one of Hong Kong cinema’s biggest bad-asses (the most technical term that I could come up with!). Western audiences might recognise Yen from his roles in Blade 2 or Shanghai Knights (his fight with Jackie Chan being a huge letdown for those waiting years to see the two duel). However he has been around since the Hong Kong New Wave in the mid 80s, making his debut in the rather ridiculous Drunken Tai Chi. And he pretty much still looks and moves the same as he did decades ago, which can be evidenced in recent films like S.P.L and Ip Man! Acting wise, he’s ok, but his fighting techniques have always remained stunning. Donnie Yen is quick and well versed in a variety of styles, so it’s always a pleasure to watch him fight (even when he’s matched up against lesser performers).

TOP 3 DONNIE YEN MOVIES

1- Iron Monkey- This film was probably the first time that Donnie Yen caught my attention and it remains one of his most well known movies. The wire work goes a little overboard, but for the most part it’s spectacular to watch, including a fight sequence involving umbrellas and another where Yen battles an opponent while standing on top of wooden poles. (Trailer)

2- Once Upon a Time in China 2- I think it takes a little courage in China for leading men to play villains. I know Jackie Chan has turned down a bunch of bad guy roles to protect his hero image, so it was great to see Donnie Yen play the evil Commander Lan. The movie itself is decent enough, but it’s the final fight sequence between Yen and Jet Li, which is a stand out in the whole of kung fu cinema (Donnie Yen also uses rolled up wet cloth as a weapon during the film, which further demonstrates his immense bad-ass status). (Trailer)

3- In the Line of Duty 4- This film is definitely just about the fights (barely a story), and don’t worry if you have not seen the first three in the series…it really makes no difference. But once again the moves displayed by Yen are a sight to behold and a great deal of the thanks can be attributed to his frequent director/choreographer/collaborator Yuen Woo-Ping (a man who is unfortunately often billed as simply being behind The Matrix fight sequences, seemingly ignoring most of his other amazing credentials…but more on him later). In the Line of Duty 4 is a brutal film and will make you wince at the beatings the actors receive…I hope these guys have a good health care system! (Trailer)

Special Mention- Ip Man- I’ve mentioned this film at the start of my post and while I don’t think it’s one of Donnie Yen’s better movies, it’s still extremely entertaining and even in his mid-40s, the man moves like lightning. It also tells a surprisingly interesting story about the first master of Wing Chun who taught the style openly and eventually becomes Bruce Lee’s teacher (a subject which is going to be covered in the sequel). Of course the film does take extreme liberties with the truth. It’s set during the Japanese occupation of China, and there were moments where I thought Donnie Yen’s character was going to rewrite history and end the war himself. However it’s a fun ride filled with short bursts of intense combat…not quite an action overload (though it’s more of a loose historical biopic anyway), but still very entertaining. (Trailer)

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