Donnie Yen

Donnie Yen
Donnie Yen

Yen at the 2007 Shanghai International Film Festival
Chinese name 甄子丹 (Traditional)
Chinese name 甄子丹 (Simplified)
Pinyin Zhēn Zǐdān (Mandarin)
Jyutping Jan1 Zi2daan1 (Cantonese)
Ancestry Taishan, Guangdong, China
Origin Hong Kong
Born 27 July 1963 (1963-07-27) (age 48)
Guangzhou, Guangdong, China
Occupation Actor, martial artist, film director and producer, action choreographer
Years active 1983 - present
Spouse(s) Cecilia Cissy Wang (2003 - present)
Official Website

Donnie Yen (born 27 July 1963) is a Hong Kong actor, martial artist, film director and producer, action choreographer, and world wushu tournament medalist.[1] 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 is widely credited by many[2][3][4] as the person responsible for popularizing the traditional martial arts style known as Wing Chun. He played the role of Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man in the 2008 film Ip Man, which was a box office success. This has led to an increase in the number of people taking up Wing Chun, leading to hundreds of new Wing Chun schools to be opened up in mainland China and other parts of Asia.[5] Ip Chun, the eldest son of Ip Man, even mentioned that he is grateful to Yen for making his family art popular and allowing his father's legacy to be remembered.[6]

Yen is considered to be Hong Kong's top action star; director Peter Chan mentioned that he "is the 'it' action person right now" and "has built himself into a bona fide leading man, who happens to be an action star."[7] Yen is widely credited for bringing mixed martial arts (MMA) into the mainstream of Asian culture, by choreographing MMA in many of his recent films. Yen has displayed notable skills in MMA, being well-versed in boxing, kickboxing, taekwondo, Muay Thai, wrestling, karate and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Seen as one of the most popular film stars in Asia in recent years, Yen is currently one of the most highly paid actors in the whole of Asia.[8]


Early life

Yen's mother, Bow-sim Mark (麥寶嬋), is a Fu Style Wudangquan (internal martial arts) grandmaster, while his father, Klyster Yen (甄雲龍), is a newspaper editor.[9] Yen was born in Taishan, Guangdong, China. When he was two years old, his family moved to Hong Kong, and then to Boston, Massachusetts, United States when he was 11.[10] 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 t'ai 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.[10] When Yen decided to return to the United States, he made a side-trip to Hong Kong and met action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping there.

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.[11] Since young, he was taught by his parents to play musical instruments, including the piano.[12][13] He also knows hip-hop dancing and breakdancing.[14][15][16]


Yen was a stuntman in his earliest films, Shaolin Drunkard (1983) and Taoism Drunkard (1984). At the age of 20, he got his first acting role in the 1984 film Drunken Tai Chi'.'

After filming Drunken Tai Chi and Tiger Cage (1988), Yen made his breakthrough role as General Nap-lan in Once Upon a Time in China II (1992), which included a fight scene between his character and Wong Fei-hung (played by Jet Li). Yen and Li appeared together again in the 2002 film Hero, where 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.

In 1995, Yen starred as Chen Zhen (Cantonese: Chan Zan) in the television series Fist of Fury produced by ATV, which is adapted from the 1972 film of the same title that starred Bruce Lee as Chen Zhen. Yen reprised his role as Chen Zhen in the 2010 film Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen.

In 1997, Yen started the production company Bullet Films, and made his directorial debut[17] in Legend of the Wolf (1997) and Ballistic Kiss (1998), in which he played the lead character. Yen went on to choreograph fight scenes and appeared in minor roles in some Hollywood films, such as Highlander: Endgame (2000) and Blade II (2002).

In 2003, Yen played the antagonist against Jackie Chan in Shanghai Knights.

Yen choreographed most of the fight animation in the 2004 video game Onimusha 3, which featured actors Takeshi Kaneshiro and Jean Reno. Yen continued to be active in the Hong Kong cinema in the 2000s, starring as Chu Zhaonan in Tsui Hark's wuxia epic film Seven Swords, and as Ma Kwun in Wilson Yip's brutal crime drama film SPL: Sha Po Lang in 2005. Both films were featured at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. Later that year, Yen co-starred with Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue in Wilson Yip's Dragon Tiger Gate, an adaptation of Wong Yuk-long's manhua series Oriental Heroes. Yen also worked as action choreographer in Stormbreaker, starring Alex Pettyfer. Yen's continued to work with Wilson Yip in Flash Point (2007) in which he starred as the lead character and served as producer and action choreographer for the film. He won the Best Action Choreography at the Golden Horse Film Awards and the Hong Kong Film Awards for his performance in Flash Point.

In 2008, Yen starred in Ip Man, a semi-biographical account of Yip Man, 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.[18][19] In July 2011 it was announced that Yen and Cecilia Cheung would be cast in a Hong Kong remake of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, titled Assassin Couple.[20]

In August 2011, while Yen was on a vacation with his family in the United States, he reportedly received an invitation by producer Avi Lerner to star in The Expendables 2. It was stated that Yen is considering the offer, and have many films at hand, and will not decide until he sees if the script appeals to him or not.[21]

In September 2011, Yen revealed that he took two comedy roles in a row, Eighth Happiness 2012 and Thunder Cop, and will be working with Sandra Ng in the first film.[22]

Action choreography

In recent years, Yen's work as a choreographer won him "Best Action Choreography" awards at the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards and the 2008 Golden Horse Film Awards.

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.[21] 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.[23]

Due to his success in action choreography, he is invited to choreograph his upcoming films such as The Lost Bladesman, Wu Xia and The Monkey King.

Martial arts history, style and philosophy

Donnie Yen
Height 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)[24]
Weight 165 lb (74.8 kg; 11.8 st)
Style Boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Karate, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Wing Chun, Wrestling, Wushu
Rank 6th degree black belt in Taekwondo
Purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Yen describes himself as a mixed martial artist, and this is evident from his style.[25] He learned wushu from a young age, under his mother's tutelage. He then went on to learn taekwondo in his teenage years, and currently holds a 6th degree black belt in taekwondo.[26] When he was a teenager, he obtained a medal in a wushu competition held in the United States, known as Boston Combat Zone. At the time, the Beijing wushu team had a scout in the United States, and invited Yen over to Beijing, China, where he began training at the Beijing Sports Institute, the same facility where champion-turned actor Jet Li trained; this is where the two of them crossed paths for the first time.[27]

Yen later went on to discover and to seek 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. His exposure of mixed martial arts (MMA) was heightened when he went back to the United States from 2000 to 2003, while making his Hollywood debut, he also took time off to learn the various martial arts form.[28] The progress was evident when he returned back to Asia, where he implemented his new found knowledge of MMA showcased in films such as SPL: Sha Po Lang (2005) and Flash Point (2007).

Near the end of 2007, Yen added a new martial arts system to his arsenal. He was offered the role of Wing Chun grandmaster and Bruce Lee's mentor, Ip Man, in a 2008 film named after the grandmaster. He worked hard and studied Wing Chun under Ip Man's eldest son, Ip Chun for 9 months before tackling the role.[29][30]Ip Chun has since praised Yen for his effort, and complimented that Yen is a great martial artist and a fast learner, and has managed to grasp the full concept of Wing Chun much faster than anyone he has taught.[31]

Yen believes in practical combat, and in his opinion, MMA is the most authentic type of practical combat. He has particular interest in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has obtained a purple belt.[32] He has mentioned that he would have entered the Octagon, joining the Ultimate Fighting Championship if he did not have a recurring shoulder injury.[33]

Yen's philosophy is that, even though there are many technical aspects of the various martial arts form, however the most effective form of combat is when the strength of the martial arts are added together, when various martial arts work together harmoniously. The essence of martial arts is the flow, the flow or images, the flow of music, the flow of communication between an artist and the audience. Martial art is a form of expression, an expression from your inner self to your hands and legs. Yen has a famous quote, "When you watch my films, you're feeling my heart."[34]

Personal life

Yen married Cecilia Cissy Wang in Toronto in 2003. Wang was the winner of the 2000 Miss Chinese Toronto Pageant, including the "Miss Vitality" and "Miss Perfect Figure" awards. They have a daughter, Jasmine, born in 2004, and a son, James, born in 2007. In April 2010 his wife reportedly had a miscarriage.[35]

Yen has stated that he is a big fan of the MMA organization Ultimate Fighting Championship, and has watched almost every UFC event available.[36]

See also


  1. ^ Enter the Teacher to the Dragon of Martial Arts Films | New York Times
  2. ^ Learning Wing Chun – Why I Started Wing Chun | Practice Wing Chun
  3. ^ Ip Man 1 & 2 (Donnie Yen) | Tai Chi
  4. ^ Finding a Wing Chun School in Manila | Applied Wing Chun Philippines
  5. ^ Ip Chun (葉準), 84yo wing chun legend | YOUTUBE VIDEO
  6. ^ 叶问之子叶准 否认和甄子丹闹不合 | 联合早报Singapore
  7. ^ Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, "An Action Star Moves to the Lead" Retrieved on 13 October 2009.
  9. ^ "Donnie Yen Biography (1963-)". Biography. Film Reference. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  10. ^ a b "Donnie Yen Biography". Biography. Starpulse.,_Donnie/Biography/. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  11. ^ ="The Legend of Westernised Chen Zhen, The Piano Virtuoso". WuJing.Org.,-The-Piano-Virtuoso.html. Retrieved 2011-08-24. 
  12. ^ "Donnie Yen Biography". DonnieYen.Net. Retrieved 2011-08-23. 
  13. ^ "Donnie Yen shows off his moves…on the Piano!!". Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Stephan Berwick's "The Evolution of an American Martial Artist"". Martial Arts article. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  18. ^ "China Box Office January 12–18, 2009". Box Office statistics. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  19. ^ "Hong Kong Box Office, December 18–21, 2008". Box Office statistics. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  20. ^ "Cecilia Cheung and Donnie Yen are the new Mr. and Mrs. Smith". Retrieved 2011-07-30. 
  21. ^ a b "Donnie Yen Joining The Cast Of THE EXPENDABLES 2? - TwitchFilms". Twitch Films. August 21. 2011. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  22. ^ Donnie Yen Teams With Sandra Ng For Laughs
  23. ^ "Donnie Yen Making New Moves for Return of Chen Zhen -". September 22. 2010.,-Put-Ip-Man-Behind.html. Retrieved 22 September 2010. 
  24. ^ "Donnie Yen - Biography". IMDB. Retrieved 2011-18-08. 
  25. ^ Enter the Teacher to the Dragon of Martial Arts Films | New York Times
  26. ^ Taekwondo | The Martial Arts Reporter
  27. ^ FACES: DONNIE YEN | Martial Connect
  28. ^ Questions with Flash Point Star Donnie Yen | Rotten Tomatoes
  29. ^ Donnie Yen learning Wing Chun from Master Ip Chun | YOUTUBE
  30. ^ 甄子丹对《叶问》票房无信心 耍咏春拳赚口碑 |网网网络
  31. ^ 《叶问前传》首映 叶准改口赞甄子丹学咏春很快Ip Chun says Yen learns Wing Chun Fast | 人民网 People's news
  32. ^ Interview: Donnie Yen on Flash Point's Revolutionary Choreography | WU JING.ORG
  33. ^ Donnie Yen loves the UFC | Sherdog
  34. ^ Donnie Yen's Philosophy | Donnie Yen's Official website
  35. ^ "Biography for Donnie Yen". Biography. IMDB. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  36. ^ "Donnie Yen interview on Flashpoint". YouTube/ September 22. 2010. Retrieved 21 September 2008. 

External links