Donnie Yen, the Rogue One Shaolin warrior, is about to explode onto the American film scene in a big way, and you need to have witnessed his kung fu destruction so you don’t sound like a dum-dum when everyone at your next game night is talking about all the dope af Donnie Yen movies they’ve seen. If the fact that he’s in Star Wars Rogue One hasn’t jogged your memory, Donnie Yen is one of the great modern heroes of martial arts cinema. He popularized the Wing Chun style of fighting and helped normalize MMA in movies.
Yen’s dual nature seems to be instilled in him from birth; his mother is Bow-sim Mark, a Tai Chi grandmaster, and his father was a newspaper editor. His parents shuttled him back and forth between Hong Kong and Boston for most of his life, unintentionally turning him into the perfect international martial arts star. One wonders if he’s next in line to play Jason Bourne (yes please); some of Bourne's fight scenes seem to think so.
The world was first exposed to the legendary Donnie Yen ass whopping bonanza and his Hong Kong fists of fury in Drunken Tai Chi, released in 1984, and from there the Donnie Yen beatdowns only became more furious and fun to watch. As Yen’s star has risen, he’s been able to create scenes that are not only technically proficient but also cinematically beautiful (he's more often than not the fight coordinator/director on his films). Yen’s fight scenes, which combine the speed of Bruce Lee and athleticism of Jet Li with a unique ferocity. are some of the best and most fun to watch, and frankly the polar opposite of a few fight scenes you might be thinking of.
Special ID is a f*ck yeah hybrid of Hong Kong police thriller and martial arts slug fest. It swims the same waters as City on Fire, A Better Tomorrow, Infernal Affairs (on which The Departed was based) and countess other great Hong Kong films, examining the fracturing identity and allegiances of those caught between the worlds of cops and criminals, while also satisfying your ontological need to see Donnie Yen beat people so hard they're liable to see Jesus's face in a candle flame.
If you want to see Donny Yen excel, make him fight a bunch of guys who are dressed exactly the same and sit back with some pop corn. Not only does this fight make spectacular use of an empty wine bottle, it also contains one of the most brutal arm breaking/shoulder dislocating/OUCH scenes you'll see outside a Faces of Death VHS. It's also a classic Hong Kong set up evoking the work of genre masters like John Woo and Jonnie To - men eating together, sharing a fraternal and deeply meaningful meal, despite knowing they'll one day have to kill one another.
Sometimes Donnie Yen Whoops Too Much Ass and It Scares Bystanders
If there were ever a fight scene that proved that Donnie Yen should be the next Jason Bourne (or Ethan Hunt, Jack Ryan, James Bond etc.), it's this one. Every attack he doles out is done twofold, like he's trying to make a point about how tough he is, and who's going to argue with him? You've seen how many times you get kneed in the face if you catch him on a bad day. Plus he flying-kicks his way through a table because f*ck that table.
Word of advice to bad dudes: when Donnie Yen's got you cornered and he's wielding a gun, just give in. Don't start kicking moms and tossing kids. Even when he doesn't have a gun on him, Donnie Yen is armed with a lethal weapon - himself.
That Time a Fight Broke Out in a Car During a Car Chase & Led to a Car Crash and Another Fight
Here's what probably happened when Donnie Yen sat down the writer and director of Special ID.
Donnie: We need a great ending here, guys.
Director: I really like shooting car chases. We can blow all kinds of sh*t up.
Writer: I think the female character needs to take a more aggressive role. We could get her involved in a fight.
Donnie: Fights are awesome.
Director: Why don't we just do it all at once?
Donnie: You mean... a woman taking charge fighting a man after a car chase? Where do I fit in?
Director: No, Donnie. During the car chase. A woman fighting a man in a car that's being chased. By you.
All: F*ck yeah.
So was born the rare fight scene that begins with two characters duking it out, only to have a third character take over halfway through. Special ID is a rad movie where everyone is fighting for the entirety of the picture. There might be nine minutes of footage where people aren't diving through tables, crab walking down hallways, or smashing cars into each other. It's the best.
In a lot of fight scenes, especially when everyone is kung fu-ing the molten piss out of one another, only the main character gets to look cool. But in the final fight scene in this movie, everyone gets their own moment to do something insane. Jing Tian gets to slide around outside a moving car and kick Andy On in the head. On gets to do a bunch of insane grappling move (and a flying knee that's absolute perfection), and Donnie Yen gets to be Donnie Yen. Everyone wins, especially the viewer.
Fun fact: Andy On is Taiwanese American, grew up in Rhode Island, dropped out of high school, and was working in a bar when he decided he would rather be a movie star. So he moved to Hong Kong, and now he's a movie star.
Ip Man Battles All the Teachers
The Ip Man series traces the life of Bruce Lee's famous teacher. In the second film in the trilogy, the titular character, played by Donnie Yen, relocates to Hong Kong to set up a Wing Chun school, but invokes the ire of the established teachers in the area, who have staked their claim and don't want the competition. So, of course, Ip Man has to fight them all to gain their respect and establish his school in peace. The real treat in this scene is watching Yen go head-to-head with Hong King legend Sammo Hung, who throws down like a motherf*cker, despite being significantly older than Yen.
When Your Trusty Bucket Fails, It's Time for a Bow Staff with a Machete on the End
There's a lot of historical tension between the Chinese and the Japanese, and it figures big time in the plots of a lot of Chinese history films. Despite this, there's no denying the influence of classic '50s and '60s samurai cinema on Chinese martial arts cinema. This throw down from The Lost Bladesman owes as much to Masaki Kobayashi and Kihachi Okamoto as it does classic Shaw Brothers and King Hu.
You've got to give props to Donny Yen for trying to use a bucket to fight a guy with a long pointy staff thing. Literally. He needs props. By the time Yen pulls out a weapon that looks like it was dropped out of a Final Fantasy expansion pack, the audience has already been treated to one really neat stunt, and that's before the truly fun sword fight starts. The Lost Bladesman is full of gorgeous visuals and enough spinning weapon wizardry to have you playing with your sister's old baton for the next week.
There's At Least One Untamed Beast in This Kung Fu Jungle
Kung Fu Jungle has very little mega fauna for a movie with "jungle" in the title (maybe that's why it's also called Kung Fu Killer?), but there's at least one untamed beast in this wild kingdom of martial martial arts savagery, and his name is Donnie Yen. Lions, tigers, and bone crushing! Oh my!
If you don't say "WHAT?!" and/or "Hell no!" at least two times while watching this fight-chase-fight, you're dead inside. Everything about this scene, from choreography down to frame rate variations, works to make one of the most exciting and wildly organic fight scenes you'll ever see. By the time Yen gets to his flying knee you'll be begrudging whatever joker split this up into two YouTube videos. But don't worry little snowflakes, everything has been taken care of.
Don't Even Try to Be Japanese Around Donnie Yen
Apparently the Japanese dudes who invade Shanghai in Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, a reboot of a Bruce Lee franchise and a sequel to a Jet Li movie, didn't see Ip Man. If they did, they'd know nothing good will come of being Japanese and invading China on Donnie Yen's watch. He'll f*ck you up so hard you'll feel like you're being incinerated by the rising sun. All hail the mighty tradition of cinematic catharsis for historical atrocities.
Even though Donnie spends most of his time in this scene getting punched in the face, he still manages to do what only the best fighters in the world can do - rip off his shirt and start wailing on his nemesis. There are about a million body blows in this scene, the most painful hit of the fight comes when Yen stomps on his nemesis's foot. Bam! Try walking on that, jabroni.
Frosted Tips Gets His White Party Outfit All Bloodied Up by the Mighty Yen
You're a cool dude dressed all in white ready for a night out on the town. You even had your frosted tips touched up just the other day. You're also a triad assassin coming off a tough night of killing several cops. Your boss has one final task for you - kill Donnie Yen. At this point, you have a choice. You could be like, "Nah, dude, I'm good" and walk away into the sunset, pride damaged but life intact. Or you could do the macho thing and go toe-to-toe with a motherf*cker who will straight up end you.
This fight from Kill Zone (or Sha Po Lang, if you're from anywhere other than not the US) starts out savage and gets straight up messy. The fight is too fast to watch once, and the neon Hong Kong visuals quickly give way to a a bloody ending that comes out of nowhere. If you're stuck in a well lit alley with Donnie Yen, remember to change into your bleeding shirt. He will straight up ruin your all-white club outfit.