Home > Features > EXCLUSIVE: Now & Yen – What Donnie Did Next (Part 2)

EXCLUSIVE: Now & Yen – What Donnie Did Next (Part 2)

2016 will be a busy year for Donnie Yen. There’s the double-whammy of Ip Man 3 and the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel. Then there’s that little Star Wars project….

You can read the first part of this exclusive interview  with Donnie Yen here…

In the second and final part of our exclusive interview with Donnie Yen, we continue to discuss Ip Man 3, talk about his relationship with action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, and touch upon his experiences making Star Wars: Rogue One, as well as looking back at what he considers to be his best work and what the future holds for him.


Mike: I really liked the way the character Max Zhang was developed, he’s not the cliched rival kung fu master that you might expect him to be, you both have to fight for your own reasons…

Donnie: That was something we wanted, we didn’t just want it to be ‘Look they have a Bad Kung Fu Master here to fight Ip Man!’, we wanted it to develop out of the story. At the beginning of the movie, when our characters meet, we are on the same side, we respect eachother. When – by the end of the film – we have to fight, its for our own reasons. It’s not because we hate each-other, it’s him fighting to benefit his family. He is fighting for them, just as I end up fighting for mine. This is a movie about life. As I said earlier, for this film the dramatic elements of the story and the action elements really come together and compliment (each other).

Max is very talented, he’s been a stuntman and choreographer in his own right. He had really come across well in The Grandmaster, the Wong Fei-hung Rise of the Legend movie, and SPL 2 where he battles Wu Jing and Tony Jaa. For Ip Man 3, we really wanted to find a worthy opponent, someone that the audience would almost find itself rooting for. He’s an exceptional fighter, but he’s not really a bad guy… so you find yourself excited about the two of them fighting. With Max, he worked really well on this film… he is great with or without weapons. For our final fight, we did end up both taking the some big hits, and walked away with some cuts and bruises! He sliced my nose with the Butterfly Swords at one point, and then I managed to hit him with the Bo-Staff at one point just when we had finished a sequence…

Mike: The film also sees you reunited with your mentor, Yuen Woo-ping. Its been a long time since the two of you worked together. How was the experience of working together again?

Donnie: You know the reason that I got into the industry in the first place is because of Yuen Woo-ping… he introduced me to martial-arts movie-making as a stuntman first and then gave me my first films as a leading man: Drunken Tai Chi, Mismatched Couples, Tiger Cage, In the Line of Duty 4 etc. He also gave me my first opportunities to learn about choreography and also to be a choreographer. We worked together so much in the first years of my career… and we hadn’t really had the chance to work together since the Wing Chun movie in 1994. Then I got to have two projects back-to-back working with him again: the Crouching Tiger sequel and Ip Man 3, when he came onboard as choreographer for the third movie.

It was very interesting to work with him again after so many years. The last time I worked with him I was still very much a kid in so many ways,. In the years between our collaborations I’ve been able to progress as an actor, as an action choreographer and as a director myself. I’ve learned and experienced so much since then… I have a wife and family now. It’s all made me the man I am today. It was a very positive experience, to be reunited on Crouching Tiger. It was quite an experience – its an English language Hollywood movie – and then to get to work together again on Ip Man 3. He was coming on to my franchise, it was a very good experience.

Mike, you’ve worked with him, you know how he is… he’s in his 70s but still like a young kid at times. He still has so many ideas for choreography and action that he wants to explore. That’s what I like to see: someone who has so much passion for movie making and action. It was a great reunion, I think we were both quite excited to work together again after so many years and combine our experiences and also the technology that we have to work with these days.

Mike: While I think this film would serve as the perfect ending to the franchise, there was talk about a potential fourth film even before this chapter had come out. Will we see you returning to the character again?

Donnie: You never know! (Laughing) There is always the potential, and I know Wilson Yip (director) and Raymond Wong (producer) have some ideas about possible ways to take the story and the character further… and the film has been doing very well both in Asia and internationally. We haven’t even opened in China yet. So who knows? Maybe in a few more years, I don’t want to rush into making another one right away.

Mike: It’s been interesting to see how well the film has done in Asia. You went head to head against Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and held your own very well, beating it in some territories. Which is kind of interesting and ironic, considering that you will be seen in Star Wars: Rogue One

Donnie: Star Warsit’s a little difficult for me to say too much. It’s funny, I was just a kid myself when I first saw Star Wars, and I don’t think I ever could have guessed that all these years later, I would get the chance to be a part of a Star Wars movie myself. (laughing). When I was approached about being part of the Star Wars franchise… at first I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to play the character – one reason being that I would have to be away from my family for so long.  But my kids were more excited about it than I was, they were asking “The movie with the lightsabers and the spaceships? Dad, you have to do it!
star-wars-rogue-one1I was very lucky, they had me in mind for the movie and contacted me. The timing and everything was right, so I took the opportunity and got to be a part of it. It was very interesting to be back in the West on a big Hollywood movie again. We were shooting in the UK and the last American movie I had appeared in was Shanghai Knights – which also shot partially in the UK.  I also choreographed some action for Alex Rider: Stormbreaker in the UK a few years ago. But I’ve been very much focused on Hong Kong and China for the last few years. So it’s good to see how Hollywood is doing its movies these days – especially now I have more experience as an actor, action choreographer and director. I can see how things are done, and what aspects of both styles of film-making work best. I had a really good experience on the movie and I think that people will enjoy the movie, what we do with the story and the action. It was very interesting to be on a project of that scale and – once again- to see the differences in film-making styles. I’ve been making some big movies in China, but the scale of this one was so different. It was so organised and regimented, the schedule was so locked, whereas in Hong Kong and China, sometimes we have so much flexability. In the West its much more locked into a schedule and a specific way of doing things. There were tmes that I did almost wish we could bring a bit of HK speed to the way things were being shot… it did seem sometimes, for the amount of time I was there, I was sitting in my trailer waiting between shots and set ups a lot of the time. But then again that’s the way they do it.

Mike: Do you have plans for more International projects? And will we ever see you stepping back behind the camera as a director… or action director on a project again?

Donnie: When you say international films… I think nowadays that term can mean any film, no matter what the language, that has the potential to cross borders and reach audiences around the world. I think I’ve been doing international movies for some time. If you mean English language movies… yeah, I think I might be doing some more of them. As I said, I found acting in English to be very comfortable and very natural this time around. I think it depends on the project more than the language.

I am thinking about maybe doing more work as a producer, give some other talent the opportunity to star, and I will produce or consult, or maybe action-choreograph. I know you and I have talked about the possibility of me directing again a few times. (laughing). I have directed a couple of times, and I never had the resources I think those stories needed to really do them justice, and I do sometimes think about maybe I should direct again. But it would have to be the right project. It’s funny but when we were doing Wu Xia/Dragon the movie I did with director Peter Chan, I was acting and action directing and Peter said to me that he was very impressed by the way I controlled the set and worked with the actors… not just the stunt people and the crew, and that he felt I should think about directing again. He’d be the first in line to back me as a producer. That makes me very happy to have a director like him tell me that, and I do sometimes think if the right project comes along.

But Mike, I’m not like I was when I directed Legend of the Wolf and Ballistic Kiss, when I would shoot all day, edit all night, stay at the office, an hour or two of sleep, and for weeks, for months all I could think about was the film. I have a family now, a wife and kids –  I need to spend time with them, I want to spend time with them! I don’t want to block them out of my life for an extended period just so I can direct something…

Mike: If you had to recommend one Donnie Yen movie for someone to watch, what would it be and why?

Donnie: One? (laughing) That’s all I get? Come on, I think I need at least two to recommend. I’ve done a lot of movies over the years, from modern day police movies to traditional kung fu and Wu Xia/Swordplay movies. I think I have to suggest at least one from each of those genres…I don’t think I would be serving them right, if I just chose one film.

Wow… its a tough question. There’s so many movies and different reasons that make me want to recommend one or another. Do I recommend Once Upon A Time in China 2 where I fight Jet Li’s Wong Fei-hong?  Iron Monkey where I play Wng Fei-hong’s father? I have done some pretty good traditional kung fu movies! Let me think about this…I mean there’s of course Zhang Yimou’s Hero with Jet Li… thats’ an epic on so many levels. Its’ got such a great cast , such a strong director and action director and that fight with myself and Jet I do think is a highlight.

For modern day, of course Sha Pao Long/Killzone would have to be considered, and Flashpoint where, I think, the action is really strong. Special ID for the fights… but for the modern day movies, it’s really hard, a lot harder for me to choose one that I think I can say ‘That’s the modern day movie I can identify with the most, the one that I can look back and say YES‘ . I think a lot of the modern day movies I’ve done have had some very strong fight scenes but sometimes the fights have been stronger  than the drama. I mean I love SPL, that’s a very strong movie and I think the balance between the action and drama on that is very strong… and it was my first movie with Wilson Yip, but I really don’t think that my acting was strong enough in that movie. I think I was still trying to find my way and some scenes… I think I could have done a lot differently. It’s a very special film but…  I think the action in Flashpoint is a lot more powerful and dynamic, but I don’t think that the story was as strong.

I am very very proud of Ip Man 3. I think this is the film where I give my best performance as an actor. I think, as we discussed, that the balance between the action and the dramatic elements in this film is very evenly matched. It delivers on all the levels… there’s the really strong action, but the dramatic side, the acting and story really comes through too. I think that Ip Man 1 and 2 are also very strong and important to me for many reasons. I think the third film is the strongest of the franchise and it kind of bridges between traditional kung fu and contemporary modern day action. I have a lot to thank the first Ip Man movie for, it’s one of the movies that people identify me by. I had made a lot of action movies before that one… but it was the first time a movie of mine really clicked with the general public in such a big way, because of that movie a lot of people became supporters of mine.

That’s why I was saying that I think I need to do a few more modern day movies, I still need to make that one defining modern day movie. I really don’t think I’ve done that yet.

Mike: (laughing) You don’t think Mismatched Couples (your infamous Breakdance movie made for Yuen Woo-ping) is a defining work?

Donnie: (laughing) No, no that’s not a defining movie. You know what I mean! Although… I do think if you look back at that movie now, we really did do some very different physical action. I think there’s some moments in that which do really stand out and it’s a fun movie. But no, I don’t think as yet I’ve done that one modern day movie that I can really say, this is the defining one! I still need to do that! So I think that’s what I will be working on before too long…


You may also like
Donnie Yen stars in Ip Man 3
Ip Man 3: A Fined Romance…
Donnie Yen stars in Ip Man 3
Yen helps ‘Ip Man 3’ top Chinese box-office…
'Sword of Destiny' lacks cutting edge...
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s sequel lacks cutting edge…
What the XXX: Vin Diesel returns with Jaa, McGregor AND Yen.

Leave a Reply