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Asian Actors: A look at Donnie Yen (Hong Kong)

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Asian Actors: A look at Donnie Yen (Hong Kong)

When one thinks of Hong Kong actors in action-packed and adrenaline-pumped films, there’s a high probability that actors of old such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Sammo Hung will spring to mind. And when one considers memorable actors who exhibit style in the same genre, Simon Yam, Chow Yun-Fat and Andy Lau are surely familiar names.

But Donnie Yen?

For an actor who displays a flair for exhibiting varying fighting styles in various films, a quality that is somewhat intangible and not easily observed except for the most devoted fans, surely this pales in comparison with actors who are cheered on by their fans based on the memorable screen characters that they have forged?

Seriously, who is able to forget Jackie Chan’s remarkable performance as Chan Ka Kui in “Police Story” (1985) and  as Won Fei-hung in “Drunken Master”(1994), Jet Li  as Fong Sai-Yuk in “The Legend” (1993) and as Wong Fei-Hung in “Once upon a Time in China”(1991), and Chow Yun-Fat as Mark in “A better tomorrow” (1986)?

Even actresses prove their acting prowess through a deliberate crafting of their character, a feat that Maggie Cheung clearly exemplifies through her character as Su-Li Zhen in Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for Love” (2000).

Hinging on the memorability of a screen character is probably not Donnie Yen’s cup of tea since he has not done so ever since his early years, choosing instead to pursue a lesser travelled path of creating deep imprints in the audience’s mind through fight choreography, such the rope-spear tussle with Jet Li in “Once Upon in China II” (1992), the “shadowless kicks” in a Yuen Woo-ping directed action film “Iron Monkey” (1993), the spear fight with Jet Li (again) in Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” (2002),  the final show-down with Sammo Hung  in “Kill Zone” (2005) and wrestling-style fighting sequences in “Flashpoint” (2007).

 

But interestingly, it seems that it’s his portrayal of the character Ip man in the eponymously-named film that has ultimately won him international acclaim. The use of the Wing Chun fighting style  in the film may have fascinated many marital arts enthusiasts.

And the mentoring relationship between Ip man and fighting legend Bruce Lee may have contributed to Donnie’s stardom. But it’s hard to deny the fact that the gentlemanly mannerism and chivalry of Ip Man have also touched the hearts of many fans worldwide.

Challenging as it is to avoid being stigmatized by a screen character, there really is a benefit to be remembered as an actor who exudes charisma onscreen – complemented with either a stylistic presence or with a background in various martial arts to boot. It’s probably this combination that enables actors and actresses to create onscreen characters  that transcend time.

Nevertheless, Donnie Yen is moving on to the next film “Wu Xia” starring opposite Takeshi Kaneshiro, probably a move that exhibits a reluctance to be typecast as any onscreen character – choosing acting versatility and flexibility over stability.

Often deemed to be someone who chooses his own path, this trailblazer never cease to surprise and amaze his global audience with his filmic works.

As what one fan site has mentioned, Donnie’s philosophy of life can be somewhat surmised in an extract from Robert Frost’s poem “The Road not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And I – I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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