Donnie Yen is a Hong Kong actor, martial artist, director, producer, choreographer, and multiple-time world champion in kung-fu competitions. Yen gained notoriety for his 2008 performance as the Wing Chun grandmaster in “Ip Man.”
A rise in the number of persons learning Wing Chun has been attributed to the popularity of the aforementioned movie at the box office. Ip Chun expressed his appreciation to the artist for assisting in the success of his family’s art and preserving memories of his father’s talent.
Similar to how Ip Chun owes the actor for supporting his family’s artistic aspirations and safeguarding his father’s skills, Yen owes his success to his wife.
Donnie Yen credits his wife for helping him succeed
Donnie Yen’s career is still progressing; it isn’t only acting; it also includes his other pursuits, such as being a martial artist, director, producer, choreographer, and multiple-time world champion in kung-fu events. Because of this, he attributed all of his success to his wife, who he says brought out the best in him.
“A lot of people give credit to my wife, especially the local media here in Hong Kong. They say that since she married me, my career has just multiplied. I agree.”
He added: “It’s her whole perspective on life, and I’d like to think she’s brought the best out of me. I’ve been in the business for 31 years, and a lot of people question why it took until the past six or seven years for me to get really successful. It seems the older I get, the more success I get, which is unusual. Usually, an actor’s career flourishes in the late-20s to mid-30s, but I started booming after 40, and it’s not slowing down. For a long time, I was traveling on my journey, but I felt I hadn’t found a base. She’s given me that with our wonderful family.”
How has Donnie Yen’s lifestyle changed, and how has it affected his career?
Speaking of traveling, when asked if moving around a lot as a child had an impact on him, Donnie Yen responded, “Yeah, well, I emigrated to the United States when I was a kid, and my family was always so busy just making a living. I recall when I was young, I never really had the opportunity to have that family base. My father was busy working on a newspaper, and my mother was teaching martial arts. I don’t recall having a family dinner – ever – except for meals in Chinatown, but even then, we were never together. My mother had her schedule, and my father had his, and I was running around wild. So I never really had a sense of what a family is all about. My wife grew up in a very traditional Shanghainese family, a Hong Kong-rooted Shanghainese family. Every night all the family had to sit down together and bond.”
He also mentioned how his career was impacted by the shift in his lifestyle, stating, “When we were married, my whole lifestyle flipped, even though I was 40. For example, at the beginning of our relationship, I would have fans – passionate fans – who would come to me, and I would shy away. My wife would ask why I didn’t want to sign an autograph or whatever. I realized I was never good at socializing, at being with a group of people, and my wife asked why, as she knew her husband was a good person, a soft-hearted person. Maybe that was one of the reasons I couldn’t grow my career. I wasn’t being hostile; I was just being shy and in my box. But then I started to open myself up. People started to see another side of me.”
And since he talked about becoming more transparent with the audience and allowing them to see his other side, the actor claimed that it provided them as well as him, an opportunity to think about how he seemed on film.
“I think today’s audience can see more than just how you are up there on the screen. The energy you show off-screen is important as well. I could never have done Ip Man if I hadn’t changed. There was a freedom that came artistically because my family was secure. I believe most actors have insecurities, and I can’t say that I don’t worry about things, but I really don’t have too many insecurities anymore. It’s not because of my career being successful; it’s because I feel secure and confident of whom I am through that solid family support.”
Yen went on to say that his reputation as a family-oriented person was what contributed to his strong family support.
“It’s common knowledge in the film industry here that I have to be home for dinner each night by 7.30. It’s true. Everyone knows that I work my ass off. I’ll be up at 5 am and work all day, rolling around on the ground. I’ll come to work by myself; I don’t need 10 assistants. But I have to go at seven o’clock. I have to sit down with family, with my kids. And that security has helped in my acting over the last 10 years.”
Donnie Yen discusses his work in “IP Man”
The 2008 Hong Kong biographical martial arts movie “Ip Man” is based on the life of Ip Man, a grandmaster of the Wing Chun style of fighting and Bruce Lee’s instructor. Donnie Yen portrays Ip Man in the Wilson Yip-helmed film, which also incorporates Sammo Hung’s martial arts choreography.
Given that the actor already has experience with martial arts and is grateful to his parents for exposing him to them, playing the character came quite naturally to him, and he realized how essential such skills are.
“I’m forever grateful to my parents for introducing me to martial arts. If not for my mother’s teaching, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you. My father, as a traditional Chinese man, tried to put these values into me, but I was such a bad kid that I never listened until I became a father. That’s when I really reflected on what my father tried to teach me. I constantly think of that now – what my father went through with me. I wished I’d had a bit more appreciation for my parents, but I guess that comes with age.”
The film not only helped Yen become more well-known and financially successful, but it also had a profound personal impact on him and motivated him to work even harder to develop as an actor, allowing us to see his growth.
“I think before playing Ip Man, there were a couple of roles where I started to realize what was happening to me, the change. It was really when my daughter came along. I have a son from my first marriage, but that’s been over for about 20 years, and I never appreciated back then what it meant to be a father. I realized when my daughter came along that I needed to be a father. I was learning how to be a partner, how to be a husband, and to be someone’s father. And I’m still learning. The cool thing about it is I’m still learning. That has helped me in my work. I’m constantly trying to be a better actor.”
With this one, age is not a factor since even in his fifties, Yen will continue to strive to improve himself and learn new things.
“If you don’t remind me of my age, sometimes I forget that I’m 50. It’s like 30 years ago. Every day is a new day for me. I’m progressing as a human being, as a filmmaker, as an actor, as a student, and sometimes I just realize, ‘Oh, I’m 51!’ But my heart is young. I think as an actor you need to have that. I mean, how can a 50-year-old play the Monkey King and play it well? It’s not just the physical capability. You have to have that purity, that heart of a child.”
Since he is playing the significant role, the actor has his own opinion about what makes the movie such a popular topic for movies. However, he claimed that it is unfair for him to criticize other people’s interpretations of the movie while simultaneously offering his own.
“It’s not fair for me to judge other people’s interpretations of Ip Man, and I don’t want to do that either. But for my interpretation, he was actually an anti-hero. He didn’t want competition. He wanted to stay home. I think that appealed to a new type of audience – women, children. We took the image of this master and helped mold it into a perfect role model. Of course, the action looked great and all that, but I believe those films were so successful because here you had a guy and you wanted to be like him, you wanted to have a friend like him, a husband like him, and a father like him.”
According to what he stated, it sounded as though there was nothing more to discover about the character, and even Yen is unable to respond to this question because he is unsure. Nevertheless, he believes that despite the pressure he is experiencing, everything appears to be in order.
“To be honest, I don’t have any idea at all yet. That pressure will be on [director] Wilson Yip and the scriptwriter. There’s been a lot of pressure on me to play this role again, and the time just seems right. Maybe it’ll be my last time, but I just feel the time is right. Everything seems to be perfect.”
Donnie Yen on his involvement in the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”
Following the success of “Ip Man” and its sequel, the film The Monkey King, directed by Soi Cheang, became a craze. It’s common for him to become thrilled during the production process, but with this project, bringing her family to New Zealand is what got him the most fired up.
“To be honest, I’m calm. I’m not taking it for granted, but I’m more excited about taking my family to New Zealand. I told Harvey Weinstein that. He approached me for the last three years, and I kept turning him down. I told him I wasn’t really interested in the film. I said it’s not that I don’t have respect for the franchise and the brand and yourself – you’re one of the greatest producers in the industry – it’s just that as someone who has been in the business for a long time, it doesn’t appeal to me. I played these roles a thousand times, and I’m not looking to break into Hollywood. You have to give me a reason to look forward to the role. He was shocked.”
With all of these claims, there are many factors that convinced him to join this project, but the primary one is how it would enable him to accomplish something he has never done before.
“The fact that it’s being shot in English – a Chinese-language costume drama but in English. This is something I’ve never done before. As an actor, I still have a lot of passion to see how far I can go. And the other big reason is New Zealand, with the Lord of the Rings studio.”
Since this is a new project, Yen will play a different character from his prior works, and in recent years, he has clearly broadened his range of roles, so accepting this project is undoubtedly a purposeful element of his goal.
“I’ve tried so many different angles, especially coming off the success of Ip Man. There was quite an aggressive move from me several years ago to take on comedies, wuxia, things like The Monkey King. The Monkey King was a huge challenge. But I really enjoyed the challenge as an artist, the satisfaction of being able to achieve not just in terms of box office – which is great. That doesn’t have to be the main goal; it can be the sense of achievement you get.”
Recent endeavors of Donnie Yen besides acting
Donnie Yen has a lot going on in addition to his passion for acting, including numerous future projects, his wife’s business, charitable work, and his recent shift to the Creative Artists Agency. He began by mentioning how his wife’s business and philanthropic endeavors are progressing wonderfully.
“Well, my wife runs the business side of things, and there’s no better position I could be in than knowing that she has my back. In terms of charity work, I’ve always wanted to contribute. It’s not something we really publicize, but I think it’s important to give back to society. It’s important for our kids to know this too, to help keep them grounded, and it goes back to those traditions I mentioned earlier.”
As for his recent move to the Creative Artists Agency, he said: “I’m not trying to break into Hollywood. I’m quite comfortable making films here, and my home is here. I’ve had scripts and roles offered to me periodically, for example, The Expendables I and 2. I said I appreciated the offer, but I just didn’t want to spend three months on a movie where I’m one of the backdrops. I turned them down in a very gentlemanly way. But Creative Artists came along, and it doesn’t hurt to have the best agency in the world helping you. It’s still not my intention to ever say I’m going to move back to LA because this is my home.”
What types of projects does Donnie Yen wish to be involved in?
Despite the numerous parts that Donnie Yen has taken on during his career, he is still drawn to specific roles and projects. One such project is a movie that he could see with his children since his previous films are kind of “aggressive.”
“If it were a little bit more family-orientated. If it were a Pixar production, or Disney, or something from DreamWorks, there’d be more chance of me taking it no matter how prominent the role is because I can take my kids to watch the movie!”
He continued: “The Monkey King was the first time they’d seen something that I’m in. It was great. I’ve always wanted to do that, and I want to do it more often. Most of my films are pretty aggressive. When I look at Disney films, I always wish that I could be Hercules or something.”
Donnie Yen’s opinion on the impact that the Chinese film market’s growth has on the industry
Donnie Yen is part of the Chinese film market and is even one of the leading actors there, so he has a stake in the industry’s expansion and cares about it personally.
“I think it’s allowing all filmmakers more opportunities. In 2004, there were around 2,000 screens in China; now, there are around 20,000. Soon their box office will be bigger than Hollywood’s. The second-and third-tier cities are still to be explored. So obviously, this gives Chinese filmmakers more opportunities to find the market, as well as all filmmakers. Look at all the big-name actors from Hollywood coming over to China. That tells you a lot about what it’s happening, and that’s great for the industry here.”
He does producing and directing duties as part of his job in the aforementioned business in addition to acting, although, for the time being, this is not his primary emphasis due to the volume of projects he now has.
“Not any time soon. Directing takes a lot of devotion and time – two years at least to make a decent film. That’s too big a commitment for me. I don’t have the time. After Crouching Tiger, I have films to produce for my own company, and then next year, I have Ip Man 3 – my version of Ip Man. And by then, I’ll already be committed to other projects, and we’re looking at 2016. So I just don’t have the time.”