Though not part of the main Star Wars saga, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story promises to make you fall in love with the Star Wars franchise all over again, especially because of its cast of A-list actors. This article is part of a series of articles where I explore the actors of Rogue One, listing and detailing some of their most recognizable roles, films and other points. Previously we discussed the amazing Felicity Jones, today we will be exploring the illustrious career of Donnie Yen.
Donnie Yen was born in Guangzhou, China in 1963, and by age 11, he and his parents had moved to Boston, Massachusetts. As a teenager he trained in various martial arts and had great talent in the area of music. It wasn’t long after moving to the United States that Yen’s mother sent him back to China to further his training in the art of Wushu. It was during his trip back to the US after his training was over that his career as an actor took its first step.
"My mom lives in Boston; she's famous for teaching Wushu and Tai Chi. So from when I was young, my mom and aunt were like: 'You're training; you're not playing baseball or football.' Training every day was normal. Later, when I was almost a teenager, Bruce Lee became my idol." — Donnie Yen
Hong Kong | Rise To Fame
On his trip back to the US Yen met director Yuen Woo-ping. Later in 1984 he would star in Woo-ping’s Drunken Tai Chi, in the lead role. Between the ‘80s and mid ‘90s Yen started to gain popularity in Hong Kong’s film industry, and his breakthrough performance came when he fought as the main villain against Jet Li in 1992’s Once Upon a Time in China II. What ultimately brought Donnie Yen to the sets of Hollywood was his martial arts expertise. In 2000 he was approached to choreograph the movie Highlander: Endgame and later Blade II in 2002. The next year in 2003, he starred alongside Jackie Chan in Chan’s Shanghai Knights.
"I worked hard to develop a new kind of screen fighting that combined Chinese martial art with Western boxing." — Donnie Yen
Most Notable Films In The US And Overseas
One of Yen’s most recognizable roles internationally is in the Ip Man trilogy of films where he stars as the legendary grandmaster. The late Yip Man was a grandmaster in the art of Wing Chun living in China in the early 20th century. The Ip Man films depict Yip Man’s life during the Japanese occupation of China in 1937 to the time when he met and started training the iconic Bruce Lee. The trilogy has earned great praise both in Hong Kong and the United States, with the first film earning various awards. Yen also gained popularity in the US when he appeared in 2002’s Blade II. Not only did he choreograph the entire movie but he also played in the role of Snowman, a member of a group of vampires who help Blade.
Overseas, some of his most notable work include films like Flashpoint and Dragon, both of which earned Yen several awards for Best Action Choreography for his heavy incorporation of Mixed Martial Arts. Apart from acting in movies, he has also appeared on the small screen, starring in Hong Kong television shows like The Kung Fu Master and Fist of Fury. He has also directed several movies including the massive Hong Kong hit The Twins Effect.
"As much as I love classic martial arts theory, most of which is very valuable to fighters, building high levels of skill demand versatility and an ability to improvise like a jazz musician or actor. Being able to move in and out of styles, movements, and rhythms with ease is the highest skill." — Donnie Yen
His most recent appearances as an actor are in the film Ip Man 3 and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, a sequel to the worldwide critically-acclaimed original movie. You can stream both films now on Netflix. He has also been cast to star alongside Tony Jaa, Samuel L. Jackson and Vin Diesel in the upcoming sequel of the xXx film series, The Return of Xander Cage.
More On Donnie Yen:
- Outside of film and entertainment Donnie Yen is also a philanthropist and an avid UFC fan.
- He is 52 years old.
- Yen has a black belt in Taekwondo and Judo, as well as expert-level skills in many other martial arts (Muay Thai, Karate-Do, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, among many others).
"From Spider-Man to Batman to James Bond, every one of them possesses martial arts skills." — Donnie Yen
Hopefully you have learned a bit more about the great Donnie Yen. This is part of a series of articles where I explore the great actors and actresses of the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Next up we will be exploring the voice behind Darth Vader, James Earl Jones!