Ten Questions with Flash Point Star Donnie Yen

Talking with the action star of Hero and Iron Monkey.

Donnie Yen - Lee Celano/WireImage.com Donnie Yen is the connoisseur's martial artist. Quite possibly more than any other recognized Hong Kong action star, Yen's fight scenes have consistently "raised the bar" for the genre. His breakthrough role in 1992's Once Upon a Time in China II featured a fight with Jet-Li that's something of a yardstick for action in the genre. Americans might remember him best as Sky, the legendary swordsman and the first opponent (or ally) of Nameless (Jet Li). Though brief and shrouded in grey and rain, his fight in Hero is instantly memorable and full of the trademark feats of physicality you'll find in any film he commits himself to.

The son of Wushu master Bow Sim Mark, Yen's dexterity in the martial arts is hard to match. He's worked in so many varieties and trained so extensively it seems hard for a film production like Flash Point to hope for a more appropriate star to cast. With mind-boggling fight choreography, Flash Point was honored with multiple awards in it's native Hong Kong and will likely go on to engage the MMA attracted audiences stateside as well. The film stars Yen as a detective trying to save his undercover partner (Louis Koo) from a deadly trio of gangster brothers including Collin Chou, and is in limited release now.


Flash Point features some really impressive mixed martial arts. You have an extensive background in martial arts but I would still think the training would be challenging. Was it challenging? What new things did you have to learn to prepare?

Donnie Yen: The real challenge was in meeting my own expectations. I have such huge respect for MMA fighters, and I was determined that we should make every effort to present their art cinematically, without compromising on the techniques and "reality" of what they do. I underwent MMA training, I watched hours of fight footage and, in the end, I think we came close to capturing the MMA flavor in our fight scenes. The biggest challenge, for me was doing repeated takes of the movements that I choreographed for myself. Sometimes it really did feel like I'd been in a real fight!

I understand that part of the allure of Mixed Martial Arts is the realism of mistakes: Two people can punch at the same time, or sometimes punches won't make contact. Does this expose you to any harm? Is it easier to get hurt when you perform this type of action? Have you had many on-set injuries so far in your career?

DY: I don't think it's possible to have a career in martial arts movies, and certainly not Asian martial arts movies, without sustaining injuries. Ironically, one of my most serious injuries occurred very early in my career, and it wasn't even in a full on martial arts movie. On my second film, this break-dance comedy called Mismatched Couples, I did a stunt where I'm slammed backwards into a wall, and I hurt my shoulder really badly. I also suffered severe burns on my arm doing a scene in my first film, Drunken Tai Chi. All these things add up over the years, and it doesn't get any easier. There is definitely a greater degree of contact in an MMA style fight scene than there is in a more stylized kung fu movie. However, you can get hurt performing the simplest scene. You just have to stay on your guard.

In Flash Point, you're returning as Sergeant Ma, the character you played in S.P.L. What's interesting about this character to you?

DY: Actually, it's a different character with some similar characteristics. We had explored a prequel to SPL (Killzone), because I died in the first film, but it was too limiting in terms of the story. I've played many different characters in my career, but I have to admit that, going back to In The Line Of Duty and Tiger Cage, there's something about this tough cop that appeals to me. I think audiences like to see a film where this guy lays down the law against bad guys who are getting away with hurting innocent people.

What are your five favorite martial arts films of all time, and why?

DY: (I like) Enter The Dragon and Fist Of Fury, because they star my all-time idol, Bruce Lee. Prodigal Son,, starring Yuen Biao, directed by Sammo Hung. In terms of Wing Chun kung fu on camera: Sammo set the bar with that one. And we're trying to raise it (the bar) again with our new film, Yip Man. (I like) Drunken Master, with Jackie Chan, directed by my Sifu, Yuen Woo-ping. That created a whole new style of kung fu comedy. Heroes Of The East, by Lau Kar-leung. This is a classic Shaw Brothers film about a kung fu master who marries a Japanese woman, and finds he has to fight her relatives, all of whom know different Japanese arts. (It's a) Great concept, and someone should remake it. (It's not technically a kung fu movie, but I loved the last Rocky film, Rocky Balboa! Very touching, and the last fight was amazing.)

What's the biggest difference between making films in HK and the US?

DY: Two big differences: time and money! Actually, time, because you can give me all the money in the world and, if I don't have enough time, I can't give you a great action scene. The big difference in Asia is that the action director has complete control over that aspect of the film, from concept to shooting to editing. The Hollywood system is much more organized, and you have to deal with all these different producers etc. In some ways, that can be good. The development of scripts and the overall preparation for a film is definitely better in Hollywood. We have to try and bring the best from east and west together.

What's the biggest challenge to an Asian actor, especially one with a background in martial arts films, in branching out to a Hollywood career?

DY: I think getting a run of really good roles in decent films. You just have to see some of the films that Hong Kong stars have made in Hollywood to see how few good scripts there are for Asian leads. You need a run of films to sustain a career. For some reason, A list Hollywood directors don't tend to want to work with Asian stars, which is a shame. Also, everything takes so long, compared to Asia, meetings after meetings, and often with no result! Recently, there do seem to be more decent projects in development for Asian leads, so let's see what happens.

Are all of the stunts you did in your fights onscreen physically possible?

DY: In Flashpoint, absolutely. We kept the wirework to a minimum. Basically, we just used wires for safety, rather than to enhance the action. Most of what you see in the film's fight scenes is what actually happened on the set. The difference is that we maybe had to do ten or twenty takes, and you just see one! For a kung fu movie, you get a mixture of possible and less possible movements. For the swordplay films, with all the wires, it's all fantasy!

How is it taking direction after you yourself have been a director? Do you ever disagree with your director because you think there is a better way to handle a scene, both in dramatic and in fight scenes?

DY: It's a relief! When I was starring, directing myself, choreographing, producing my own film... Too much! I just worked with Ching Siu-tung (on Empress and her Warriors) and Gordon Chan (on Painted Skin,), and both experiences were just great. As an actor, you want to put yourselves in the hands of a great director, and I really enjoy just focusing on the character and the performance. Regarding the martial arts scenes, after all these years, I may have some comment on how to do something better or faster, but I generally just go along with the action director.

You must get along with Wilson Yip. Flash Point is one of many collaboration with him and you have more collaborations (Yip Man) in the works.

DY: I have a great time working with Wilson. We did SPL (Killzone), Dragon Tiger Gate, Flashpoint and now we're shooting Yip Man. (As I mentioned above, Painted Skin was directed by Gordon Chan). Wilson's very quiet, very focused. When we work together, he really helps me keep on track in terms of the story and character development. We make a great team, and I hope to work with him again!

Tell us more about your latest project, Yip Man!

DY: We're shooting Yip Man now, in Shanghai. Sammo Hung is the action director. I've wanted to do this film for years. I've been training in Wing Chun kung fu, and especially working on the wooden dummy, so I can do justice to this story and this character. We have the full support of Yip Man's family, which is great. Having just done Flash Point, it's great to do a completely different style of action for this film.

Flash Point is currently in limited release. Check out the trailer here.

Comments

DariusII

Minh Le

man, I love all of Donnie Yen's movies. This guy has given me such enjoyment out of watching him, I swear, he can't do anything bad. His latest movie, Flashpoint was so entertaining except for the one fault that it did not have enough action sequences. It had maybe 4 fight scenes in the entire movie (the last one being one of the BEST fight scenes I've ever witnessed in any movie).

Mar 20 - 05:51 PM

dakallin

Quoc Nguyen

I had no idea he was working on Yip Man until now I cannot wait to see how it turns out and also his other projects that are in the works. Finally he's getting the credit he deserves and I hope this continues for years to come as I can't wait to see more stuff come to the states. I'm a huge fan and hopefully one day I can meet him in person.

Mar 20 - 11:15 PM

John Z. Delorean

John Street

Donnie is nice and Flashpoint has more then enough action in it. The MMA fighting in it was nuts because Donnie is so quick and brutal with the moves. I love that he listed Prodigal Son as one of his favorite movies as well because Sammo Hung does not get enough shine, He and Donnie are my favorite fight choreographers even more so than mr. wire fu woo ping. Keep it on the ground and real forget the flying around.

Mar 21 - 06:36 AM

osiris3657

Chris Turner

Kill Zone was overrated, so I'm skeptical about this. I'd like to hear what Donnie has to say about Tony Jaa, they should pair up in a movie together.

Mar 21 - 12:45 PM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

Wow, I didn't know Donnie Yen's working on Yip Man either. Now, I can't wait to see it. I thought Tony Leung was originally starring in this... Anyway, I wonder if the role of Bruce Lee (a student of Yip Man) will be in the film, and if there is, who'll be playing him.

Mar 21 - 05:53 PM

MovieRator

Movie Scoring

****ING HELL YEAY! Donnie Yen has starred along side overrated martial arts phony Jet Li for years! He is faster, more agile and an all around more sophisticated martial artist. Its about DAM time he gets his own major US staring vid-release!!! I hope he doesnt follow the same path as jet li. His old hong kong movies were always great, if he follows those this one should be the pure essence of what a martial arts movie should be. Bruce Lee may be gone, but Donnie Yen is as close to Him as you will get!

Mar 22 - 10:55 AM

tempula

s t

movierator LOL?

jet li started practicing wushu when he was 8
his name, Jet, was given to him by the beijing wushu team cuz of his speed and grace when practicing wushu
he won 15 gold medals and 1 silver medal in chinese wushu championships
jet li was latered declared by China to be a "national treasure" because of his skills in wushu

movierator you're the one who is phony
next time get your facts straight
your stupidity amuses me

Mar 24 - 03:23 PM

WarCry75

Mike Sorensen

I would just add that Jet Li "retired" as a professional martial artist (moving over to film) at age 17...

At age 17, he felt he'd accomplished all he could in that profession.

Yeah, he's OBVIOUSLY not the real deal....

Mar 24 - 10:10 PM

WarCry75

Mike Sorensen

Sorry, to the topic at hand.....

I'm not all that familiar with the Hong Kong-style of action movies, but I'll say this about Donnie Yen: he is nearly the single-handed reason I purchased Highlander: Endgame. The movie was pretty decent, saw it in theatres, probably would have let it lay, but his character was pitch-perfect and flawlessly delivered, right down to his realization that he was being used and was on the wrong side of the fight.

Mr. Yen can make movies as long as he wants. I might not see them all, but that's more of a $$ decision, and it wouldn't reflect at all on him. If I could, I'd watch anything he made....

Mar 24 - 10:14 PM

LinoBrocka

Maynard Maleon

I loved SPL. The story may not be as deep but the cinematography was top notch

Mar 25 - 12:32 AM

tallaght24

Jonathan McEvoy

Since 'Dragon Tiger Gate', Donnie Yen has become my fave martial arts star. The guy rocks! What annoys me is, I live in the UK. I have 'DTG' on dvd, and 'Flashpoint' comes out on dvd here next week, yet 'SPL' (or KillZone) was made before those 2 movies and it has yet to see the light of day on dvd in the UK. What the F?

Mar 25 - 04:34 AM

DariusII

Minh Le

When I said Flashpoint didn't have enough fight scenes, I was comparing it to some of his other recent movies like SPL, and Dragon Tiger Gate. Each of those two movies had atleast 4 or 5 good/lengthy fight scenes.

As far as I remember, Flashpoint had like 3 major fight scenes.
- The fight at the driving range ( barely qualifies as major since this was pretty short and lame)
- The fight between Donnie Yen and that dude he chases out of the hospital
- The fight at the end between Donnie and that other bad *** dude

There were some other miscellaneous fighting/action scenes in the movie but they were so small and miniscule I'd hardly call them action scenes.

I guess I expected more fighting after watching SPL and Dragon Tiger Gate..

Mar 25 - 05:07 AM

the_last_rites

Last Rites

Oh in that case I beg you not to watch Tiger Cage 2, Legend of the Wolf, In the Line of Duty 4, IRON F'N MONKEY and many of his other older movies. They're chock full of action scenes that are right up there with the best of them. Anyhow I'm glad that he paid homage to Yuen Biao's Prodigal Son, becuase to me that is one of the timeless classics. I wish he and Yuen Biao had had a collaboration in their prime, or atleast one that was way better than that less than inspiring 'Circus Kid'. They're my two favourite martial artists of all time along with Kim Won Jin, Mark Dacascos and Sammo Hung.

Apr 9 - 09:07 PM

the_last_rites

Last Rites

Oh in that case I beg you not to watch Tiger Cage 2, Legend of the Wolf, In the Line of Duty 4, IRON F'N MONKEY and many of his other older movies. They're chock full of action scenes that are right up there with the best of them. Anyhow I'm glad that he paid homage to Yuen Biao's Prodigal Son, becuase to me that is one of the timeless classics. I wish he and Yuen Biao had had a collaboration in their prime, or atleast one that was way better than that less than inspiring 'Circus Kid'. They're my two favourite martial artists of all time along with Kim Won Jin, Mark Dacascos and Sammo Hung.

Apr 9 - 09:07 PM

xibanyae

Emilio Alpanseque

In terms of martial arts choreography, FLASH POINT elevates the already high level fights seen in SHA PO LANG with the all time great Sammo Hung and wushu-virtuoso Wu Jing into a whole new MMA (mixed martial arts) based movie-combat.

The result are great non stop fights combining standing techniques of punches, elbow, kicks, knees, head butts, etc. with incredible grappling and groundfighting skills such as triangles, armbars, lion killers and more...

The fights have really good tempo, you can tell Donnie Yen is in full liberty form the durector to do whatever he wants in terms of fights, Xing Yu does a great job receiving his punches to the face! But to me, Collin Chou is the one that steals the show!

Lastly, apparently Collin Chou had a ball making this project, on this interview he mentions something about it ;)

http://www.masteringwushu.com/collin.htm

Jan 27 - 10:56 PM

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