Donnie Yen is already a massive star in the kung fu movie universe thanks to both his highly successful background in competitive wushu and his starring role in the wildly popular Ip Man franchise. He’s not entirely unknown in Hollywood, either, thanks to appearances in films like Blade II and Shanghai Knights. But Yen is about to be exposed to a whole new galaxy of fans when his latest project, a little something called Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, opens this week.
For Yen, this role is a dream come true. “I watched the very first, A New Hope, when I was living in Boston [where his mother, Bow-sim Mark, was a renown martial arts instructor] when I was 13 or 14,” the actor and martial artist told Yahoo’s Kevin Polowy at the top of the year. So when he was offered a part in the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise, he jumped at the chance. “Of course I never expected to be the first Chinese actor to be invited to the biggest film [series] in history.”
In a recent interview with Geek Culture, Yen also admitted that his children influenced his decision to participate in the film. “I asked them ‘would you like to see your father in Star Wars?” And of course the answer was ‘Yes!’”
Although Yen wasn’t allowed to say much about his role at first – he could only promise Yahoo that “it’s going to be a great film. And I will get to kick some butt. That’s all I can say,” last January – some details about the film are starting to become available now.
In Rogue One, Yen plays Chirrut Îmwe, a blind warrior monk and firm believer in The Force who is part of the rebel team who attempts to destroy the Death Star. The role, which sees the staff and lightsaber-armed Chirrut engaging in a lot of martial arts-inspired combat, sometimes taking on legions of Storm Troopers all by himself, wasn’t entirely out of Yen’s wheelhouse. “In my films nowadays, no matter what films that I’m in, I think that influence is automatic,” he says of his wushu background. “If I’m Donnie, obviously you’re going to see a lot of Donnie Yen’s characteristics in any role that I play. Not just this role. You see that when I’m fighting, it’s part of me.”
Literally fighting blind did pose some new challenges for the veteran star, though. “That was difficult, a lot more difficult than I expected,” Yen recently told People Magazine. The thick contacts that he wore for the role – which were so uncomfortable that he could only wear them for a few hours at a time – actually did significantly limit his own sight, which meant that he had to adapt both his action sequences and his interactions with his fellow performers. “How do you find the confidence [to deliver] the character’s performance when you’re losing the security of being personal? And how do you interact with other actors?” he continued, saying that it took him a “whole week of adjusting my facial expressions and body movements” to get used to them.
Although fans will be able to spot hallmarks of his Donnie style in the film, Yen has also suggested that there’s a whole new aspect to this performance that we’ve never seen before. “I’ve done a lot of martial arts,” he told the BBC. “I was nine years old when I started martial arts, and I studied many different styles of martial arts. Every movie, I would create a unique martial arts for each movie. For example, in Rogue One, my character Chirrut, I designed a bit of martial arts specifically for Star Wars.”
And it’s not just his fighting that’s grown with this film. As he told Variety: “In the past six or seven years, I’ve been fortunate to be able to choose things that inspire and challenge me. I’ve played all kinds of roles: comedy, drama, romantic. There have been a lot of obstacles, because martial-arts films have always been perceived as less sophisticated about acting and I don’t think that’s the case. I’m known as an actor and a martial artist. Now, as an actor, I want to grow as an artist.” This doesn’t mean that Yen is looking to leave more physical roles or his martial arts past behind, though.
He’s even been talking up the next installment of the Ip Man series while promoting Rogue One. “There is room to tell stories between the student and the teacher, between Bruce Lee and Ip Man. And the producers and the director [Wilson Yip] really want to make Part 4,” Yen teased Yahoo at the beginning of the year.“I have to take a step back and really see how the story turns out when they finish writing the script. Never say never.”
In September, he confirmed that Ip Man 4 was a go.
Each movie each transformation , my character in this new movie – well-developed physiques obtained by extensive physical training and strict exercise accompanied by a strict dietary regimen – We need to be a complete athlete before becoming a true master in the martial arts! ✌️ #donnieyen #甄子丹 #actionmovie #ipman #martialarts #xxxthereturnofxandercage #xxxthemovie #xxx3 #nike #nikerunning #athlete #training #sport
A photo posted by Donnie Yen (@donnieyenofficial) on
Are you a Donnie Yen fan? Are you looking forward to his performance in Rogue One? Let us know in the comments!