Donnie Yen

This is a Chinese name; the family name is Yen.
Donnie Yen
Background information
Chinese name 甄子丹
Jyutping Jan1 Zi2 Daan1 (Cantonese)
Origin the former British Hong Kong
Born (1963-07-27) 27 July 1963
Guangzhou, Guangdong, China
Occupation Actor, martial artist, film director producer and action choreographer
Years active 1983–present
Spouse(s) Zing-Ci Leung (m. 1993-1995), Cissy Wang (m. 2003)
Children 3
Ancestry Taishan, Guangdong, China
Website DonnieYen.Asia
Donnie Yen Facebook Official Page
Donnie Yen Sina Official Weibo (Simplified Chinese)
Donnie Yen Tencent Official Weibo (Simplified Chinese)
Donnie Yen
Chinese 甄子丹

Donnie Yen (born 27 July 1963), also known as Yen Ji-dan (甄子丹), is a Hong Kong actor, Chinese martial artist, film director and producer, action choreographer, and multiple-time world wushu tournament champion.[1][2]

Yen is credited by many[3][4][5] for contributing to the popularization of the traditional martial arts style known as Wing Chun. He played Wing Chun grandmaster Yip 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 being opened up in mainland China and other parts of Asia.[6] 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.[7]

Yen is considered to be one of Hong Kong's top action stars; 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."[8] Yen is widely credited for bringing mixed martial arts (MMA) into the mainstream of Chinese culture, by choreographing MMA in many of his recent films. Yen has displayed notable skills in a wide variety of martial arts, being well-versed in Tai chi chuan, boxing, kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do, Hapkido, Taekwondo, karate, Muay Thai, wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Wing Chun, and Wushu. Seen as one of the most popular film stars in Asia in recent years, Yen was one of the highest paid actors in Asia in 2009.[9] Yen earned 220 million HKD (28.4 million USD) from four films and six advertisements in 2013.[10]

Early life

Yen's mother, Bow-sim Mark, is a Fu Style Wudangquan (internal martial arts) and Tai Chi grandmaster, while his father, Klyster Yen (甄雲龍), is a newspaper editor.[11] Yen was born in Guangzhou, China. When he was two years old, his family moved to Hong Kong, and then to Boston when he was 11.[12] 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 the influence of 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 then started karate when he was nine. Yen focused on practicing wushu seriously at the age of fourteen after dropping out of school. His parents were concerned that he was spending too much time in Boston's Combat Zone, so they sent him to Beijing on a two-year training program with the Beijing Wushu Team.[12] 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 finally started taekwondo at around the age of sixteen.

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.[13] From a young age, he was taught by his parents to play musical instruments, including the piano.[14][15] He also knows hip-hop dancing and breakdancing.[16][17][18]


Yen's first step into the film industry was 1984 when he landed his first starring 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 had a starring role in the film Iron Monkey in 1993. 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[19] in Legend of the Wolf (1997) and Ballistic Kiss (1998), in which he played the lead character. At age 34, Yen almost became bankrupt. Films produced by his own production company and directed by him were critically appraised but did not do well at the box office. Yen was forced to borrow money from loan sharks and his production crew to get by.

Yen later went back to the United States, where he was invited to choreograph fight scenes in Hollywood films, such as Highlander: Endgame (2000) and Blade II (2002). His choreography and skills impressed the directors and they invited him for cameos in both movies.[20]

In 2002, Jet Li was filming the movie Hero and insisted to the director that he wanted Yen to play the role of Sky, his adversary, due to Yen's martial arts ability. Li personally invited Yen back from Hollywood to star in the movie.[21] In 2003, Yen played the antagonist against Jackie Chan in Shanghai Knights.

Donnie Yen in Seoul in 2005

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 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 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 award for 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 featuring Yen in the leading role, grossing HK$25 million in Hong Kong and 100 million yuan in China.[22][23]

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 was considering the offer, had many films at hand, and would wait until deciding whether the script appealed to him.[24] Later on, Yen revealed to the Hong Kong media that he had rejected the role.[25]

In 2011, Yen revealed that he was venturing into other genres of movies, and had taken up two comedy roles in a row, All's Well, Ends Well 2011 and All's Well, Ends Well 2012 and would be working with Carina Lau in the former and Sandra Ng in the latter. Both films obtained huge critical and box-office successes and proved that Yen is a versatile actor.[26]

Yen took a six-month break in the second half of 2011 after the filming of Monkey King 3D, explaining that he wanted to spend more time with his family and be with his children more often during their growth.

In 2012, Yen returned to the movie industry and commenced the filming of Special Identity, in which he played the main lead, an undercover cop, and also took on the role of action choreographer. In 2013, it was reported that Donnie Yen would be playing the lead role for The Iceman Cometh 3D, a sci-fi action film dealing with time travel and which is filmed in 3D. Yen confirmed that MMA would be used in both of the above films.[27]

In February 2013, the Weinstein Company confirmed that it had purchased the rights to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel and contacted Yen to play the male lead. In March 2013, Hong Kong magazines surfaced photos of Harvey and Bob Weinstein travelling to Hong Kong to meet with Yen and persuade him to accept the offer. It was reported that Yen was considering the role and quoted as saying "The first is that my schedule this year is very packed. The second is that the first film is already such a classic. I am afraid of the pressure, that the original cannot be surpassed."[28]

In May 2013, during the annual Cannes Film Festival, the Weinstein Company announced that Yen would play the lead role of Silent Wolf in the Crouching Tiger sequel, titled Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, with leading female action star Michelle Yeoh reprising her role as Yu Shu Lien, and directed by Yen's mentor, Yuen Woo-ping. It was revealed that the movie will be filmed in both English and Mandarin to appeal to the international market.[29]

It was also revealed during the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II press conference that the Weinstein Company had obtained rights to Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, is planning a re-make and hence is negotiating with Yen, George Clooney and Zhang Ziyi to star in the upcoming film.[30][31] Donnie Yen has since declined the offer, due to scheduling conflicts for the filming of Ip Man 3.

In late March 2015, Ip Man 3 was announced. Yen will be reprising his role as the titular character, Bruce Lee's martial arts master, Ip Man. Retired boxer and former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson has been confirmed to join the cast.[32] Donnie Yen has since mentioned that he is a big fan of Mike Tyson, has watched many of his professional boxing bouts, and is excited to work with him. Mike Tyson stated during a press conference that he is a huge fan of Donnie Yen, and has watched the first two Ip Man movies more than three times each and is honored to be invited for the final installment of the trilogy.[33]

Principal photography for Ip Man 3 began on 25 March 2015, and the finished movie was released in December 2015 in parts of Asia and around the world in early 2016 to generally favorable reviews.

During Ip Man 3's announcement press conference, Yen appeared visibly thinner and has personally stated that at age 51, this might be his last kung fu film.[34]

In August 2015, Yen was confirmed on the cast list of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.[35] On February 12, 2016, it was confirmed that Yen will replace Jet Li in the role of the lead villain in the upcoming action film XXX: Return of Xander Cage.

Martial arts history, style and philosophy

Donnie Yen
Height 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)[36]
Weight 165 lb (75 kg; 11 st 11 lb)
Style Boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Hapkido, Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Wrestling, Wushu, Tai Chi, Karate, Hung Ga
Rank      6th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo
     Black Belt in Judo
     Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
     Gold Medals in Wushu Competitions

Yen describes himself as a mixed martial artist.[1] He learned Tai Chi from a young age, under his mother's tutelage. He then wanted to learn taekwondo in his teenage years, earning a 6th Dan in the process. 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.[37]

Upon his return to the United States, he won gold medals in various wushu competitions.[38]

Yen later went on to discover and to seek knowledge on other martial arts styles; he would later obtain black and purple belts from judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu respectively, and went on to study the art of parkour, wrestling, Muay Thai, kickboxing and boxing under various trainers. His exposure to 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 forms.[39] The progress was evident when he returned to Asia, where he implemented his newfound knowledge of MMA showcased in films such as SPL: Sha Po Lang (2005), Flash Point (2007) and Special ID (2013).

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.[40][41] 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 else he has taught.[42]

Yen believes that combining many martial arts together will produce the most effective and harmonious style. Yen has said, "When you watch my films, you're feeling my heart."[43] He believes in practical combat, and in his opinion, MMA is the most authentic type of practical combat.[44] He has mentioned that he would have competed in the Ultimate Fighting Championship if he did not have a recurring shoulder injury.

Real fighting experience and prowess

Donnie Yen was a rebel when he was young, due to the huge expectations and pressures from his parents as his mother is the founder of the Chinese Wushu Research Institute in Boston and his father was a scholar and a musician.[45] Yen joined a Chinatown gang in Boston, MA, in his early years. He was a very curious teenager who sought to exchange martial arts knowledge with people from different martial arts backgrounds which led to him gaining profound knowledge in practical martial arts, and having a reputation as a street brawler.

There's one reported occasion that confirms him being an efficient martial artist. According to news reports by Hong Kong news channels in the late 1990s, Yen was at a nightclub with his then girlfriend, Joey Meng. Inside the nightclub, Joey got harassed by a troublesome gang who had taken an interest in her. Yen warned them to leave her alone but to no avail. As Yen and Joey left the club, the gang followed and attacked Yen. According to the news, Yen beat up eight members of the gang who were hospitalized.[46] This incident is still known in Hong Kong to this day – with people bringing it up in discussions concerning real fights as well as when comparing the practical fighting skills of various Hong Kong martial arts actors.

Malaysian Tan Sri and Martial Arts Star Michelle Yeoh has said that Donnie Yen is the fastest guy she has worked with.[47] Other martial arts stars such as Jackie Chan and Jet Li have also stated that Yen may be the best fighter in terms of practical combat in the Asian Cinematic Universe.[48]

World class fighters such as former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Cung Le and former World Boxing Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson, who have worked with Donnie Yen in films Bodyguards and Assassins and Ip Man 3 respectively, have both claimed that Donnie Yen is an incredible martial artist and will do well in authentic combat.[49] While filming Ip Man 3, crew members were afraid that Mike Tyson, who had been a professional boxer, would forget the choreography and throw real punches to injure Yen. However, it was Yen who fractured Tyson's finger while using his elbow to block Tyson's punches.[50] Tyson has since said in various interviews that Donnie would beat him in a real fight. Yen remained humble and downplayed the entire event, claiming that it was purely an accident.[51]

Action choreography

Donnie Yen is considered as one of the premiere action choreographers in the world, being invited by Hollywood to choreograph Blockbusters such as Blade II, Highlander: Endgame and Shanghai Knights. In Asia, he is the action choreographer for most of his movies, and won multiple awards for his action choreography.

Yen's most famous works include films such as Flash Point and SPL: Sha Po Lang. He has mentioned that the main differences in film-making in Asia and Hollywood are with regards to freedom and control. In Asia, the action choreographer takes over the scene during the fight scene. This means that for action scenes filmed in Asia, the choreographer becomes the director and is in full control over camera placements, camera angles and the relationship between the drama and the action, therefore the main director is not needed at all. While in Hollywood, Donnie explains that action choreographer simply choreograph the actions with the director, full control such as settings and camera angles are still within the control of the main director.[52]

Yen's work as a choreographer won him "Best Action Choreography" awards at the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards and the 2008 and 2011 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.[53] Furthermore, he incorporated many MMA elements in the film, coupled with the utilization 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.[54]

He won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Action Choreography 4 times, being one of the most frequent winner for this coveted award, his winning choreography includes The Twins Effect, SPL: Sha Po Lang, Flash Point and Kung Fu Jungle.[55] Although uncredited, Donnie Yen was also action co-choreographer for Hong Kong Film Award winners such as Ip Man, Ip Man 2 and Bodyguards and Assassins.

Bodybuilding and transformation for roles

In his prime, Donnie stood at 5 feet 8 inches, and weighed 165 pounds. Donnie Yen is known to be a very well-built and muscular actor. Within the Hong Kong Cinematic Industry, Yen is renowned for his physical fitness, strength and speed, achieved through his use of a strict and disciplined fitness regimen to build up strength and fitness.[56]

However, despite his muscular build, he has gained tremendous attention for his dedication to the role and for the lengths to which he went to achieve the physical build and appearance of the characters he plays. In 2007, Yen lost over 30 pounds to reach the weight of 120 pounds to better portray the slender Ip Man and the techniques of wing chun which focuses on techniques and not strength.[57] He did so through a very strict diet regimen of having one meal per day.[58]

In 2010, still fresh-off Ip Man 2, he was cast as Chen Zhen in Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen which was originally portrayed by Bruce Lee. He had to regain his muscular physique for the role, and took 6 months through a very delicate and dedicated diet routine, focusing on having high-protein drinks and vitamin and mineral supplements, he managed to hit 165 pounds for the role. He maintained this bulk and physique while filming The Lost Bladesman where he plays Guan Yu, a Chinese general known for his size and spear-fighting abilities.

In 2015, he reduced his muscular physique for reprising the role of Ip Man in Ip Man 3 and as the blind warrior monk, Chirrut Imwe, in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.[59] He will then rebuild his physique when he is cast as Xiang in XXX: Return of Xander Cage opposing Vin Diesel.[60]

Personal life and philanthropic work

Yen has stated that he is a big fan of the MMA organization Ultimate Fighting Championship, and has watched almost every UFC event available. In various interviews, he has mentioned that he would have loved to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship if he did not have a recurring shoulder injury.[61]

In the October 2014, Donnie Yen was invited to be a guest speaker in front of a crowd of 20,000 youths for We Day Vancouver, where he spoke about the hardships he faced growing up, and how he overcame difficulties to become the reigning martial arts star.[62]

Yen is a known advocate of charity, known for his generous donations to various charity. In 2015, he personally visited refugee camps in Thailand, bringing donations and gifts for the refugees.[63] Donnie Yen is also an ambassador for the international charity known as Free the Children.

In December 2015, Yen established a Charitable Fund known as "Yen's Honour Protection Fund". The purpose of the fund was to empower more celebrities to utilize the law as a shield to protect and defend their own honour and reputation, Yen said that "[It seeks] to assist and render help to everyone who needs it, most importantly to heal and repair the hearts and dignities which have been affected". This fund was established in response to a lawsuit victory Yen won against Geng Weiguo (also known as Tan Bing), who intentionally slandered and defamed Yen, to attack his reputation through fabricating lies to portray him as an evil and hideous person and hired netizens to threaten Yen's family.[64]

Away from the cameras, Yen married former beauty queen, Cissy Wang. The couple now have two children, a girl and boy, Jasmine and James. Yen is also a fan of the American musical group Earth, Wind, and Fire.[65]


Awards and nominations

Year Nominated work Award Category Results
1993 Once Upon a Time in China II Hong Kong Film Award Best Supporting Actor Nominated
2002 Iron Monkey Taurus World Stunt Awards Best Fight Nominated
2003 The Twins Effect Golden Horse Awards Best Action Choreography Won
2004 The Twins Effect Hong Kong Film Award Best Action Choreography Won
2006 Kill Zone Hong Kong Film Award Best Action Choreography Won
2007 Dragon Tiger Gate Hong Kong Film Award Best Action Choreography Nominated
2007 Dragon Tiger Gate Golden Bauhinia Awards Best Action Choreography Won
2007 Flash Point Golden Horse Awards Best Action Choreography Won
2008 Flash Point Hong Kong Film Award Best Action Choreography Won
2008 Flash Point Taurus World Stunt Awards Best Action in a Foreign Language Film Won
2009 Ip Man Beijing College Student Film Festival Best Actor Won
2009 Ip Man Hong Kong Film Award Best Actor Nominated
2009 Ip Man Huabiao Film Award Outstanding Abroad Actor Won
2010 Bodyguards and Assassins Hundred Flowers Awards Best Actor Nominated
2011 Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen Hong Kong Film Award Best Action Choreography Nominated
2011 The Lost Bladesman The 3rd Macau International Movie Festival Best Actor Won
2011 Dragon Golden Horse Awards Best Action Choreography Won
2012 Dragon Hong Kong Film Award Best Action Choreography Nominated
2014 Special ID Hong Kong Film Award Best Action Choreography Nominated
2014 8th Asian Film Awards 8th Asian Film Awards Asian Outstanding Actor Won
2015 Youku Night Awards Youku Night Awards 2014's Most Influential Actor Won
2015 The Monkey King 15th Huading Awards Best Actor Won
2015 Kung Fu Jungle Hong Kong Film Award Best Action Choreography Won


In 2011, Jacob & Co unveiled Donnie Yen as brand ambassador.[66]

In January 2016, Resorts World Sentosa announced Yen and his wife Cissy Wang as brand ambassadors and spokesperson. The Marketing campaign will launch in March where Television commercials and print media will allow audiences to experience RWS "through the eyes of Donnie and Cissy".[67]

See also


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