Depending on whether you’re an action junkie or not, the name Donnie Yen will mean everything or very little to you. Granted, he had minor roles in Rogue One and Blade 2, but this Hong Kong actor is best known for his martial arts prowess and unless you’re a fan of the genre, perhaps a lot of his best work is. be under your radar. So in honor of John Wick: Chapter 4in which Yen co-starts as the main antagonist of Keanu Reeves, I thought this would be a great opportunity to recommend some of Yen’s best movies, but not Hollywood.
IP Man (series)
THE Ip-Man franchise is a series of loosely biographical films based on the life of Master Ip Man, the martial arts master of Wing Chun. The films broadly chronicle the life and struggles of Ip Man with Donnie Yen in the title role. The films showcase the many struggles that Ip Man and his family have had to overcome over the decades, from poverty, occupation in the Sino-Japanese War, the British occupation of Hong Kong, racism, internal fighting, and yes, his most famous student, Bruce Lee. The series has a series of memorable and iconic martial arts scenes to complement its more dramatic tone, which are a combination of practical stunts with some light “wire-fu” added. It’s a great entry point because it’s much more readily available. (currently on Netflix in Canada, for example) and its biographical and historical nature make it appealing to a wider audience. Legendary choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen, perhaps best known for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon And The matrix trilogy, would lend his talents to action in the third film.
Kill Zone: SPL
Possibly my favorite Donnie Yen movie, SPL: Sha Po Lang (Or Killing area for Western audiences), is a detective story set in Hong Kong that features some of the best martial arts fighting to come out of Hong Kong while having an interesting and compelling thriller story at the same time that features a bunch of offers policewomen trying to bring the Triad to the head. The police, unsuccessful in their campaign, realize that the only way to win is to break the law, which goes against everything they stand for. The film is directed by Wilson Yip, who directed Ip Man, and features many of the same cast members, from Donnie Yen, Simon Yang, and Sammo Hung. The alley fight between Yen and Wu Jing in particular is downright awesome and I’ll never forget how amazed I was to see Sammo Hung fight for the first time. He’s a tall man, but he moves so fast that I was caught off guard.
The story of Flash point lacks some of the nuisance found in SPL, but that doesn’t stop the film from being an entertaining action flick. The most memorable aspect of this movie, which is the idealized goal of any martial arts movie, is having an amazing fight scene and Breaking point achieves this with his final fight, in which Donnie Yen dramatically throws himself with Colin Chou, perhaps better known as Seraph in The Matrix Reloaded And Revolutions. You’re definitely watching this one for the action and less for the story, which isn’t bad by any means, but doesn’t push the envelope either.
iron monkey is directed by Woo-Ping Yuen, who we’ve already covered, so if you’re an action fan, that alone should make this 1993 Hong Kong action movie worth checking out. The pic was re-released in 2001 in the United States, but with numerous changes that proved controversial for fans of the original cut. So if you can find yourself a copy of the original version, I would try to prioritize that. Either way, it’s a fictionalized tale of father/son folk hero duo Wong Fei-hung and Wong Kei-ying and their encounter with the titular Iron Monkey.
One of Donnie Yen’s newest films at the time of writing may be a little light on plot, but it more than makes up for it in action. Admittedly, I haven’t seen this one, but it enjoys great reviews and fans of the Hong Kong action will no doubt recognize the names of the cast, which includes Nicholas Tse and Simon Yam with Benny Chan in the director’s chair. ’nuff said to pique my interest I want to check it out and considering it seems to have slipped under the radar I thought I’d highlight it for those who might have been interested but were unaware .
I put hero as a bonus for one simple reason: Donnie Yen is neither the lead role nor the co-star of this film, yet it’s such an exceptional film that it deserves its place on the list. Directed by legendary director Zhang Yimou, the film is set in ancient China and involves Jet Li’s Nameless telling the king how he defeated three assassins who had previously tried to claim the king’s life. Nameless brings each assassin’s weapon as evidence and tells the story of their defeat. With each story, Namless is allowed closer to the king, who initially for safety limits all visitors to 100 paces from him. Donnie Yen plays Long Sky, one of the assassins and features in a big scene where he and Jet Li have a really nice fight in a rainy yard, which I’ll link below.