Ten Questions with Flash Point Star Donnie Yen

Talking with the action star of Hero and Iron Monkey.

by | March 20, 2008 | Comments

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.

Tag Cloud

CMT TV Grammys sitcom Fantasy canceled TV shows Elton John Winter TV political drama crime Emmys Star Trek HBO Awards Tour Horror 24 frames Turner Classic Movies Apple finale comedies rotten movies we love Amazon Prime 007 franchise Mary Poppins Returns Television Academy Nominations Cosplay Kids & Family Musical TruTV directors spanish language Disney Plus Year in Review dark Cartoon Network werewolf spinoff IFC Films joker TIFF E! ratings Dark Horse Comics Discovery Channel Women's History Month Film Nickelodeon spy thriller Rocketman jamie lee curtis Rocky screen actors guild dragons foreign zero dark thirty slashers DirecTV cancelled television mockumentary Pop Certified Fresh Watching Series robots 2017 San Diego Comic-Con stoner Holidays Tubi Animation Mary Tyler Moore FX vampires Tarantino TCM crossover Disney Channel cancelled TV series video Mudbound Lifetime 2020 Pet Sematary Extras quibi TCA transformers The Purge Tomatazos Comic Book dceu scary movies Crunchyroll Superheroes comic Disney streaming service Binge Guide canceled Holiday The CW south america Calendar Chernobyl dc RT History Apple TV Plus historical drama series Sony Pictures VH1 children's TV DC Universe Mystery romance Hulu 20th Century Fox Spring TV Sneak Peek singing competition facebook NYCC TCA 2017 Bravo X-Men parents SDCC Shudder 2015 true crime Action cancelled Star Wars green book Comedy animated CNN Heroines Premiere Dates Mindy Kaling witnail unscripted Pixar Amazon Awards cats Drama critics NBC mission: impossible Rom-Com Super Bowl latino Disney+ Disney Plus Paramount Network composers 4/20 YouTube Premium History Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt cinemax Travel Channel Interview Western Box Office boxoffice supernatural cancelled TV shows reboot teaser kids FX on Hulu IFC TV Land FOX BBC America YA Valentine's Day Film Festival Brie Larson adaptation doctor who Cannes adventure Reality Competition a nightmare on elm street book Arrowverse ESPN game of thrones 2018 diversity Countdown reviews Photos psycho Crackle FXX BBC Amazon Prime Video Baby Yoda E3 Adult Swim Fall TV disaster nature TBS PBS Sundance Now New York Comic Con Comics on TV elevated horror binge Rock richard e. Grant TCA Winter 2020 RT21 American Society of Cinematographers Britbox dramedy cars Sundance TV die hard Lifetime Christmas movies Comedy Central MTV WarnerMedia Superheroe zombie Song of Ice and Fire CBS YouTube Red OWN Turner Mary poppins dogs Disney universal monsters Pride Month Writers Guild of America SundanceTV CBS All Access stand-up comedy Christmas Hallmark Christmas movies 2019 versus science fiction Fox News independent thriller Trivia Netflix Christmas movies GIFs politics renewed TV shows natural history Academy Awards PaleyFest Black History Month Showtime Trailer Logo discovery anthology The Witch Shondaland docudrama Marvel comics Character Guide Hallmark miniseries TNT name the review crime drama APB police drama ITV Netflix streaming war based on movie Classic Film President Schedule Apple TV+ National Geographic Country screenings Ellie Kemper First Reviews CW Seed BET sequel zombies Epix Red Carpet Biopics MCU Ghostbusters Marathons mutant Election TLC Amazon Studios Martial Arts Music Marvel Television SXSW toy story Teen Captain marvel Food Network Walt Disney Pictures free movies christmas movies what to watch hispanic 21st Century Fox concert First Look Syfy TV renewals Avengers LGBTQ DC streaming service ABC HBO Max Starz golden globes Toys Lionsgate Ovation DC Comics Peacock Video Games period drama breaking bad revenge casting USA Network OneApp cops Funimation space Spike Podcast DGA medical drama documentary Spectrum Originals Esquire travel WGN Nat Geo YouTube Family best MSNBC Stephen King ABC Family Warner Bros. Winners halloween Chilling Adventures of Sabrina aliens cartoon Emmy Nominations Opinion social media batman Sci-Fi GLAAD television Endgame Anna Paquin USA ghosts Polls and Games Infographic blaxploitation LGBT cults Marvel Studios Acorn TV Creative Arts Emmys indie tv talk Oscars festivals sports Freeform See It Skip It El Rey award winner VICE Musicals game show movie crime thriller anime romantic comedy 2016 Lucasfilm asian-american A&E Vudu spider-man justice league Black Mirror Summer Masterpiece theme song biography Hear Us Out blockbuster The Arrangement Sundance Columbia Pictures Paramount sag awards AMC Quiz hist movies Pop TV Pirates 45 Tumblr cooking GoT strong female leads talk show child's play technology 71st Emmy Awards Universal chucky Set visit spain Best and Worst serial killer harry potter Reality Trophy Talk The Walking Dead criterion psychological thriller A24 all-time comiccon Thanksgiving