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.
When the Architecture Mirrors the Fight It's Art, Right?
Vertical geography is very important in fight scenes. When you start on the ground floor and start going up, you increase the danger of plummeting to a nasty death while also using the escalating height to mirror the ratcheting intensity of the fight. In this epic mutual beat down between Donnie Yen and Collin Chou from Flash Point, the fight gets more serious the further down it goes. When the fight stars, Chou and Yen, on the second floor of an abandoned house in the middle of a field, are getting a feel for one another's styles and strengths.
Then gravity kicks in and things get real. When the fight drops to the first floor of the house, the gloves are off, and Yen and Chou knows only one of them is getting out without being completely mangled. As the blows get heavier and earthier, the blood starts flowing, the stakes get higher, and the house falls down around them. It's an awesome piece of practical action filmmaking.