Profile of Donnie Yen

Name: Donnie Yen (Zhēn Zǐdān)
Date of Birth: 27 July 1963
Birth Sign: Leo (Rabbit)
Height: 5’ 8” (1.73m)
Weight: 165 lb (75 kg)
Country: China

To get us started let’s take a look at a tribute we found on YouTube!

Training Background

  • Yen’s training in tai chi and traditional Chinese martial arts began very young under his mother Bow-sim Mark.
  • Yen learned taekwondo in his teenage years, earning a 6th Dan in the process. It was in this period that he also obtained a medal in a wushu competition held in the United States.
  • Yen’s parents, worried that their son was hung out too long in the Boston Combat Zone after dropping out from school, arranged for him to go to Beijing for two years’ training with the Beijing Wushu Team.
  • While living in the Chinese capital, Yen began studying Chinese martial arts under Master Wu Bin at the Beijing Wushu Academy — the same facility where champion-turned actor Jet Li trained; this is where the two of them crossed paths for the first time. Yen was the first non-PRC Chinese to be accepted there.
  • Yen later went on to discover and seek knowledge on other martial arts styles; he would later obtain belts in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Yen also studied the art of parkour, wrestling, muay thai, kickboxing and boxing under various trainers.
  • 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 legend. He worked hard and studied wing chun under Ip Man’s eldest son, Ip Chun for nine months before tackling the role. Ip Chun has since praised Yen for his effort, and complimented Yen as a great martial artist and a fast learner, and on managing to grasp the full concept of wing chun much faster than anyone he has taught before.

Donnie Yen clip from the documentary Kung Fu Fighters where he talks a little of his upbringing and training.

Main Influences

  • Yen’s mother, Bow-sim Mark, is a wudangquan-fu (internal martial arts) grandmaster. At a very young age, under influence from his mother, he developed an interest in, and began experimenting with various styles of traditional Chinese martial arts.
  • As a teenager, Yen met legendary Hong Kong action director, Yuen Woo-ping, who took him under his wing and brought him to Hong Kong.
  • For years, Yen had looked to Bruce Lee as a mentor, being a Chinese man living in the US. “Bruce Lee is the man!” Donnie insists. Although Donnie didn’t know Bruce personally, he has studied all his books and teachings.

Donnie on martial arts:

“Martial art is a form of expression, an expression from your inner self to your hands and legs”

Donnie Yen on training:

“If I’m training every day, then I’d burn out. A specific character requires specific martial arts style, so I’ve pretty much tackled that particular character when the time is expected. For example, when I did Ip Man, I started training in wing chun and understanding and dissecting it, and alongside was dissecting and researching the character itself”

Here’s a fight clip from Kill Zone (2005)


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Donnie on Bruce Lee:

“Bruce is the man. He was definitely ahead of his time”

“For years, I looked to Bruce Lee as a mentor being a Chinese and Asian man living in this country”

Donnie on Sammo Hung:

“Sammo has always been the big brother of the industry — we have a lot of respect for him — and when I work with him, I empty my mind and just want to see what he can do and stay back and see how I can collaborate with his choreography and communicate with him in moments where it can enhance the flavour of the different moments”

Donnie on action choreography:

“There’s a lot of thinking when you choreograph something. You’re not just choreographing some bodies, arms, and legs flying around to look cool. It’s a lot more complicated and sophisticated. You also have to deal with the connection of the whole film, so when I choreograph, I think of the movement itself, the camera angles, the characters. “Does that fit for that character and their emotion at that moment? How does it play overall? Is that action scene in balance with the rest of the action scenes?” Because you can’t overpower the rest of the action scenes; you have to think of pacing, along with creating something fresh.”

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Donnie on film production:

“For me, shooting, editing, and scoring rely on rhythm”

“From my experience as an actor, choreographer, action director, and producer, I understand the elements and the dynamics of being a film maker”

Donnie Yen on UFC:

“The main reason I like UFC is not just the martial arts aspect, but it’s about one person against the other person. It’s about being able to test yourself with the truth. There’s a life to it, right? Of course, I love the science behind it. From UFC’s early fights to nowadays, and how they collaborate different core training to the traditional karate and Western boxing, or whatever. That was always my belief. I believe the very first person who came up with that philosophy was Bruce Lee”

Did you know…?

  • In his initial training with the Beijing Wushu Team in China, his instructor, Mr. Li Yu-man, demanded Donnie cut his hippie-style mullet, as it was deemed inappropriate.
  • Donnie became the first non-PRC Chinese to be accepted at the famed Beijing Wushu Academy, thus opening the door for others to follow in the future.
  • Donnie Yen skipped school many times to take part in several kung-fu movies per day.

Clip from Ip Man.  In this powerful, emotionally charged scene, we see ultra-talented martial-arts virtuoso Donnie Yen, playing Ip Man. Here he takes on 10 Japanese black-belts simultaneously. Some excellent wing-chun shown here. Varied manoeuvres combine into a quick, effective combat style, some culminating into direct centre-line attacks to the body. Some may find the last minute disturbing, but it all makes sense in the context of the storyline.



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Selected Filmography

1983Shaolin DrunkardStuntman
1984Taoism DrunkardStuntman
1984Drunken Tai ChiChing Do
1985Mismatched CouplesEddie
1988Tiger CageTerry/Action director
1989In the Line of Duty 4: WitnessCaptain Donnie Yan
1990Tiger Cage 2Dragon Yau/Action director
1991Holy Virgin vs. the Evil DeadShiang Chin-Fei
1991Crystal HuntLeung/Brett Chan
1992Cheetah on FireRonnie/Roano
1992Once Upon a Time in China IICommander Lan
1992New Dragon Gate InnEunuch Tsao
1993Iron MonkeyWong Kei-Ying
1993Butterfly and SwordYip Cheung
1993Hero Among HeroesBeggar So Chan
1994Wing ChunLeung Pok To/Action director
1994Circus KidDanton Lee
1995Iron Monkey 2The Iron Monkey
1995The Saint of GamblersLone Seven (cameo)
1996Satan ReturnsNam/Action director
1997Legend of the WolfFung Man Hin"/Director/Producer
1997High VoltageChiang Ho-Wa/Action director
1997Black Rose 2Boxing school owner
1998Ballistic KissCat/Director/Producer
1998Shanghai AffairsTong Shan"/Director/Action director
1999City of DarknessOzone
2000Highlander: EndgameJin Ke/Martial arts choreographer
2001The Princess BladeAction choreographer
2002Blade IISnowman/Action choreographer
2003Shanghai KnightsWu Chow
2003The Twins EffectCo-director/Action choreographer
2004The Twins Effect IIGeneral Lone
2004Protege de la Rose NoireCo-director/Action director
2004Love on the RocksVictor Tsui
2005SPLInspector Ma Kwan"/Action director
2005Seven SwordsChu Zhaonan
2006StormbreakerAction director
2007Flash PointInspector Ma Jun/Action director
2008An Empress and the WarriorsMurong Xuehu
2008Painted SkinPang Yong/Producer
2008Ip ManIp Man
2009All's Well, Ends Well 2009Wedding guest
2009The Founding of a RepublicTian Han
2009Bodyguards and AssassinsShen Chongyang
201014 BladesQinglong
2010Ip Man 2Ip Man
2010Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen ZhenChen Zhen/Action director
2011The Lost BladesmanArnold Cheng
2011Wu XiaGuan Yu/Action director
2012All's Well, Ends Well 2012Carl Tam

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Joseph Stannard

Joseph is an enthusiastic film lover of all things martial arts!

1 Comment
  1. I want to learn (Wing Chun). Please help me!

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