Azn Badger's Blog

What About the Lysine Contingency…?

A Tribute to the Greatness that is Donnie Yen: Part VII – Mr. Yen, to the Future and Beyond!

"I want you... to suck my cock."

The year is 2010, and as of last year, Donnie Yen is now the most, or is among the most highly paid actors in Hong Kong.

Since finishing Ip Man in 2008, Donnie Yen has gone on to release 5 films, 3 of which being high-profile blockbusters.

The first of these was Bodyguards and Assassins, an action-drama set in turn-of-the-century Hong Kong.

With an all-star, ensemble cast, the film sported impressive production values, perhaps most notably the set, which consisted of a brick for brick recreation of several blocks of 1906 Hong Kong.

The film is essentially split into two halves, with the first being drama-heavy and ultimately responsible for setting the stakes, and the second being action-heavy, taking all the pre-established pieces of the plot from the first half and running wild them non-stop until the final reel.

While occasionally weighed-down by protracted bouts of melodrama, particularly in the film’s action-heavy second half, the film saves itself by providing an impressive level of characterization to what at first glance would appear to be an overwhelmingly bloated cast of characters.

Despite my ignorance in regards to pronunciation and recognition of Chinese names, I never found myself puzzled as to who was who or how every character related to one another.

Donnie Yen has a small but important role as a down-on-his-luck gambler seeking redemption for his past sins.

The role is minimal, with Donnie Yen being used primarily as an action element among the players, however he does have some truly effective dramatic moments.

The highlight of his performance, and perhaps the entire film however, is of course, a fight:

The above bout between Donnie Yen and former MMA champion, Cung Le, was reportedly re-shot and re-choreographed sometime after filming had officially wrapped.

Apparently Mr. Yen was unhappy with his performance, and thusly organized a reshoot, without supplemental pay or benefits.

The result is a fight that, while inspired, and certainly beyond the norm in terms of choreography, is somewhat uneven and ultimately, unbalanced.

The parkour element of the fight was brief, but effective, with much of the camerawork being downright spectacular, particularly when use of steadicam is used to weave between bystanders.

The sparring between the two players is crisp and on point for the most part, with great sound effects and music to back it up, but the MMA style joint locks and grappling seem largely out of place given the time period.

Perhaps most disappointing though, is the awkward use of wirework.

Though I’ve said before that wuxia isn’t really my thing, the fact of the matter is, that if one is going to incorporate fantastical wirework into a film, it’s implementation should be consistent rather than sporadic.

In all, the fight was a highlight for this film, however it doesn’t rank very high on Donnie Yen’s resume.

And as previously established, it's a pretty long resume. Yes, they boned.

Donnie Yen’s next film, also released in 2009, was the 90’s wuxia throwback, 14 Blades.

I have not seen this film, so I feel I have no right to comment on it in detail, however I will say this:

I have very little desire to see this film anyway.

In fact there are many films Donnie Yen has made, particularly in the 2000’s, that I have almost no interest in seeing.

As I mentioned in previous articles in this blog, Wilson Yip was a blessing on Donnie Yen’s career.

In between the classics that Yip and Yen were cranking out in the late 2000’s, Donnie Yen also released a number of smaller, poorly regarded films, most of which were, you guessed it: wuxia films.

Twins Effect I and II… ‘Nuff said.

Seven Swords seemed overblown and lacked the proper “Yen Quotient.”

An Empress and the Warriors didn’t peak my interest in the least, given the plot and Donnie Yen’s presence as a character who exists for no other reason than to hit people.

And then there’s Painted Skin

Well, Painted Skin just plain looked like ass.

AAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!

I haven’t seen any of these films, including 14 Blades, but to my knowledge they have all received poor reviews, and while impressive to look at in some cases, and not terrible films in their own right, they simply don’t offer the Donnie Yen experience I’m looking for.

THIS on the other hand.... No, wait, this sucked too...

Despite being of the relatively advanced age of 46, Mr. Yen remains the top dog in terms of Hong Kong action cinema, with many of his upcoming films having him cast in action-heavy roles.

As I type this, Donnie Yen has more than 3 major films in the works,  not the least of which being Ip Man 2, which was recently released in theaters.

The film reunites nearly all of the principle cast from the previous entry in the series, however this time the story has moved to 1930’s Hong Kong, and includes Sammo Hung in a co-starring role as an overbearing Hung Gar master at odds with Ip Man.

Highlights in the film look to be a long overdue rematch between Yen and Hung following the impressive nature of their brawl in SPL, as well as what appears to be Sammo and Donnie pitting their form based Hung Gar and Wing Chun against English screen-fighter, Darren Shahlavi‘s more fluid Western boxing.

Sadly, from what I’ve read, Fan Siu Wong‘s role in the film is very small, and totally devoid of action.

A shame really, as I was very impressed by his performance in the first film, both as an actor and a combatant.

Although I can't say the same for his performance in this film.

Also on Donnie Yen’s plate for this year, is Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, a truly bizarre semi-sequel to Bruce Lee‘s 1972 classic, Fist of Fury.

I call the film bizarre due to the fact that the protagonist of the first film, Chen Zhen, was supposed to have gone down in a hail of gunfire at the end of Lee’s film, and yet, based on recent teaser footage, the sequel appears to have Yen cast not only as the same character, but as a masked vigilante practitioner of parkour.

Though I can’t say my hopes are up for The Return of Chen Zhen, it’s this continued process of adaptation and innovation that, in my eyes, keeps Mr. Yen’s performances from going stale.

That, and lots and lots of hair spray.

Despite being discovered  in the 80’s by one of the great directors and choreographers of our time, Yuen Woo Ping, Donnie Yen would not rise to prominence in the industry until more than a decade later, well after he had already begun to direct and choreograph his own films.

Unlike so many screen-fighters, in particular Jet Li, Donnie Yen has proven himself to be a student of the game.

Beyond being a fantastic martial artist, he has also displayed a remarkable sense of awareness in regards the kinetics of filmmaking.

Truly, particularly in recent years, he has come to embody the role not of screen-fighter, but that of a physical actor.

Some men, when placed into a fight scene, do nothing but hit their marks, keep to the beat, and wow with their physical prowess.

Donnie Yen does all of these things while injecting a sense of dramatic weight to his actions.

You care when he throws his punches and more importantly, you know why he chose to throw the punch the way he did.

Donnie Yen is of the rare breed of men that can not only teach, but also do.

Not only that, he is of the even rarer breed that can do both well.

At 46 I understand that Donnie Yen most likely has maybe 3-4 years left in him to produce truly great physical performances in his career.

Unlike Jackie Chan however, I believe Donnie Yen’s vanity and pride will keep him from stretching his fighting career beyond his means.

It saddens me to know that I was among those that overlooked Mr. Yen until such a late stage in his career, only to find that he was already beginning down the road to the inevitable end of his career.

I guess I should look at it not as me having missed the first 17 years of Yen’s career, but as me having witnessed the past 9, which is more than most can say.

I look forward to whatever the Mr. Yen is able to produce in the coming years.

Here’s hoping we’ll all be “wowed” one last time by the greatness that truly is, Donnie Yen.

Thank you to all who took the time to read this epic tribute of all I know and love about Donnie Yen!

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A Tribute to the Greatness that is Donnie Yen: Part VI – Old Man Yen

Allow me to be serious for a moment.

In 2008, Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen gave us the film Ip Man, a heavily fictionalized biographical-account of the life of the Wing Chun grandmaster of the same name.

Donnie Yen was 45 years old.

Throughout his career, Donnie Yen’s acting has been criticized for consisting of little more than him preening, posing, and more often than not, flexing his way through his films.

Yeah, kind of like that.

Ip Man gave us our first glimpse of a more restrained, more mature Donnie Yen.

Gone were the trademark leaping back-kicks. Gone were the cocky, “bring it on” eyebrows.

Even the cheesy windmill uppercut feints failed to make the cut.

Okay, that's not really a feint, but whatever.

Donnie Yen was 45 and finally ready to act his age.

The result was a gorgeous film that earned 2 awards out of 12 nominations at the 28th Hong Kong Film Awards.

One of those awards went to Sammo Hung for Best Action Choreography.

The other went to the production itself, as it just happened to be the award for Best Film.

While much of the film’s success could be attributed to Chinese nationalism (the plot concerns the Japanese occupation of China) and passion for martial arts culture, it’s hard to deny that the film is a solid contribution to the action-drama genre.

Production of Ip Man brought Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung together for the second time in their careers.

The first time was in SPL, where the two would clash onscreen for a climactic battle that, amazingly, matched the intensity of Yen’s alleyway duel with Wu Jing just minutes earlier within the same film. (See “Donnie Yen: Part IV – The Real Donnie Yen”)

This time around however, Hung would serve as fight choreographer, bringing his unerring cinematographic eye and untold years of experience to the production.

The above sequence, from the film in which Sammo Hung directed, choreographed, and co-starred, Wheels on Meals, (the third film to include the Peking Opera Trio of Hung, Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao) showcases the first of two epic battles between Jackie Chan, and American kickboxer, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez.  This sequence is widely regarded as one of the finest sequences in screen fighting history, and is a testament to Mr. Hung’s skills behind the camera.

How’s that for credentials?

Seriously, do NOT fuck with this man.

Hung’s attention to detail and penchant for injecting his fights with realistic passion and violence made him perfect for the job.

Ip Man gave Hung the opportunity to explore and put on display a number of different martial arts, most notably, Wing Chun.

The simple fact that he was able to convey each of these styles largely through pure physical expression, rather than superfluous exposition, is a testament to Mr. Hung’s skills as a choreographer.

Donnie Yen’s movements as Ip Man clearly reflect the Wing Chun principles of countering and establishing a “line” with one’s opponent.

Fan Siu Wong’s character, Jin, effectively portrays a practitioner of Northern Kung Fu, relying on solid stances and aggressive circular strikes.

Hiroyuki Ikeuchi’s General Miura, as well as the other Japanese characters, all include the straight punches and mechanical blocking motions of Karate.

Mr. Hung managed to communicate all of this through nothing but body language.

"So... You wanna' like, do it?"

It’s interesting to note that, stylistically speaking, Donnie Yen, while versatile and athletic, is not really the first person that came to my mind in casting a master of Wing Chun.

For one thing, Mr. Yen has never studied Wing Chun, and for another, the fighting style he employed in most of his films prior to this is contrary to the principles of Wing Chun in that it utilizes wide, flashy kicks to the head, techniques Wing Chun places little emphasis on.

But that was the old Donnie Yen, not the old Donnie Yen.

As you can plainly see, Mr. Yen managed to get the hang of Wing Chun pretty handily.

Despite this, another challenge for Mr. Yen, and Mr. Hung for that matter, was in staging and planning the choreography in such a way that it matched the tone of every scene.

The sequence above took place at the end of the first half of the film, during which the tone is bright and lively, and the drama is largely restricted to standard genre fare I.E. squabbles between rival martial arts schools and principles.

The sequence below however, takes place midway through the second half of Ip Man, within which the tone, and color palette for that matter, become engulfed with darkness.  As a result, the choreography becomes harsher, more violent, and altogether more intense.  Even the soundtrack reflects this.

A tip of the hat to Mr. Yen and Mr. Hung…  and a pat on the back to all those who may have been injured during the filming of this sequence.

Regardless of how much praise I shower upon it, Ip Man is not a great film.

It is however, a great kung fu movie.

Every cliche and trope you would expect to find in an entry from the genre is present here in some form, and I think that was the point.

Ip Man doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, it merely tries it’s best to give it a spit shine and more importantly, do it with heart.

Sure, the story can be hokie at times.

Sure, the script was largely forgettable.

I’d sooner accept both of those shortcomings in exchange for a decent film with a handful of scenes where Donnie Yen beats people like a fucking drum.

You know you'd buy it...

End serious moment.

Well okay, maybe that wasn’t all that serious, but hey, I tried.

Check back for the exciting conclusion to my MASSIVE tribute to Donnie Yen, in “Part VII – Mr. Yen to the Future and Beyond!”

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A Tribute to the Greatness that is Donnie Yen: Part V – All Hail Emperor Yen!

2005 was just the beginning of Mr. Yen’s newly established reign in Hong Kong action cinema.

... And he can pull off a skinny tie. Man, it's hella' not fair...

With the exception of 2009, Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen would continue to team up for a film every year after this, leading up to the present.

’06 brought us the forgettable and effects heavy comic book movie, Dragon Tiger Gate, within which Donnie Yen, a complex wire crew, and dozens of CGI artists banded together to make pop stars Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue look like martial arts masters.

Behold: The Original Masters of Emo Fu.

The result was a film that wasn’t bad, just kind of bland.

To their credit, Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue legitimately put some time into the fight work, coming across as competent action stars. In fact, both have remained impressive screen combatants ever since and are sincerely on my “good” list in regards to their performances.

2007, brought us Flash Point, a prequel to SPL.

Needless to say, as soon as the trailers started popping up online, I was psyched.

All the bad ass atmosphere of SPL with a new, brighter color palette, and the promise of even more bone-crunching fights.

Make no mistake though, between SPL and Flash Point, SPL is definitely the better film.

However that’s not to say Flash Point wasn’t special in it’s own right.

On the contrary, it was very special.

Flash Point had no less than 3 fight choreographers involved in the production. Donnie Yen, his longtime friend, John Salvitti, and Japanese choreographer Yuji Shimomura of Versus and Death Trance fame.

Together, the 3 constructed some of the most intense and skillfully crafted fight sequences ever seen, incorporating complex grappling and other MMA based techniques in the process.

The results were, as you can plainly see, magic:

Click here for awesomeness. (Sadly, you can’t plainly see, because the stupid link won’t embed.  Sorry!  I’ll try to get this fixed sometime down the road.)

The brutality of Donnie Yen and Collin Chou’s climactic balls-out, no hold’s barred throw down at the end of Flash Point is matched only by it’s beauty.

The choreography is intentionally “ugly”, with many of the movements and strikes being executed with a clear emphasis on displaying power and ferocity, as opposed to the more elegant motions found in traditional kung fu movies.

In addition to this, Donnie Yen and his crew managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible by incorporating grappling and holds while maintaining a constant level of energy throughout. Even though the action does in fact come to a stop during some of these moments, they never once break the rhythm of the fight.

In stark contrast to the hard-edged choreography, the cinematography throughout this sequence is smooth and focused. Combined with the bright greens of the background foliage, as well as the hanging glass bottle props, many of the crane shots are just plain breathtaking, in particular the one that kicks off the fight immediately after the fall from the roof.

Kudos to whoever managed to choreograph the camera work amid the various pillars and obstacles.

Flash Point was the movie that solidified Wilson Yip’s role as Donnie Yen’s go-to director, as well as cemented Mr. Yen’s position as the guy in Hong Kong action cinema.

But of course we knew that already now, didn’t we?

Check back for the second to last post in my MASSIVE tribute to Donnie Yen, “Part VI – Old Man Yen!”

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A Tribute to the Greatness that is Donnie Yen: Part IV – The Real Donnie Yen

A funny thing happened in the 2000’s.

Jackie Chan got old.

Jet Li was tied up doing movies with rappers.

Guess who stepped forward into the spotlight?

Close, but not quite.

That’s right, Donnie Yen, and he was bringing the sexy back!

2005 marked the first collaboration between Donnie Yen and Bio Zombie director Wilson Yip.

The film was called Sha Po Lang, (S.P.L.) and it kicked some serious ass.

See that baton? It's goin' right up your ass.

In the late-90’s one of my brother’s videophile friends screened for me a laser disc of John Woo’s The Killer.

With Jackie Chan having just become the next big thing in the states with the domestic release of Rumble in the Bronx, the climate was just right for me to get into Hong Kong cop and robber movies.

Needless to say, Tiger Cage, Hard Boiled and Beast Cops were old hat in my book by the time I was in high school.

SPL was a throwback to the Hong Kong “hard boiled cop” movies of the 80’s and 90’s, and it accomplished what very few Donnie Yen films had done before it.

With a star studded cast including the likes of Sammo Hung and Simon Yam, SPL presented us with an emotional and dramatic story, populated with characters we cared about, and did it all with a smaller than expected dose of action.

However nobody said that what fighting was there wasn’t some of the best of Mr. Yen’s career.

This brutal fight, between Donnie Yen and, then, up-and-comer Wu Jing, is what I proudly refer to as “The Best Weapon-Based Fight Scene of All Time.”

No fooling, I’ve watched it dozens of times and I’ve never once felt any doubt in my sentiments.

I love how you can read the intent behind every move in the fight just by looking at the intensity in both men’s facial expressions.

I love how the pace of the choreography has a natural and realistic sense of progression and crescendo to it.

I love the energy of the camera work and how it darts in and out like a fencer on the sidelines, hinting to us the perceived openings in each man’s guard from each fighter’s perspective.

I love this movie, and I’m glad it was the one that finally introduced me to the real Donnie Yen.

It was well worth the wait.

Check back for “Part V – All Hail Emperor Yen!”

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A Tribute to the Greatness that is Donnie Yen: Part III – My Relationship with Mr. Yen

I first ran across Donnie Yen in 2001.

I had just purchased Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: All-Out Monster Attack on DVD from a mail-order bootleg service.

While the movie itself was great, (leading up to this I was suffering from post-Gamera trilogy Shusuke Kaneko withdrawals) there was an Easter egg on the disc menu (just click on Godzilla’s eye!)that included a number of trailers for upcoming Japanese films.

The first few were for older Godzilla movies that were finally seeing DVD release.

'Bout mother fuckin' time!

The last few however, were some of the coolest trailers I had seen up until then:

Ichi the Killer

and Shura Yuki Hime (2001)

I like the guy with the Fozzie Bear ears at 1:06 in the Ichi the Killer trailer. He’s silly.

Okay, now picture what it’s like seeing those for the first time when you’re a bloodthirsty 14 year old boy who’s only just starting to identify with his racial background.

I watched those trailers more than I watched that Godzilla movie.

And I loves me some Godzilla.

While neither of these movies were all that good in my opinion, (remember, I’m not a Miike fan) I was very impressed by the fight scenes in Shura Yuki Hime.

While he wasn’t in the film, after watching the trailer for Shura Yuki Hime so many times, my limited katakana comprehension at the time allowed me to read at :46 into it, that the “Akushon Direkuta” of the film was “Doni Iiyen.”

That’s Donnie Yen to you an me. Well, me anyway.

Unfortunately, the bootleg service I used only specialized in Japanese films at the time, with only a limited number of Chinese ones, leaving me with no real way of getting a hold of any Donnie Yen films.

Then I discovered that Donnie Yen had been featured in a number of American films.

I promptly looked them up and was treated to stuff like this:

… and Donnie Yen being mysteriously killed, OFF CAMERA, in Blade II.

Needless to say, I felt cheated.

In almost 4 years of searching, I was only able to see Donnie Yen in Iron Monkey, 3 shitty American films, and I guess if you get technical about it, I got to see his choreography in Shura Yuki Hime and Onimusha 3.

Where was all the good stuff?

Almost forgot... In his pants.

I figure you guys are a little sick of having Donnie Yen’s man-package thrust in your faces every day, so I think I’ll give you a reprieve tomorrow.

Check back the day after next for “Part IV – The Real Donnie Yen!”

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A Tribute to the Greatness that is Donnie Yen: Part II – Director Yen

Around 1997, Donnie Yen began directing his own films.

As I mentioned previously, the results were far from stellar.

In most cases, the storylines of Yen’s films were muddled, confusing, and often times just plain tedious, even by Hong Kong action movie standards.

Being as Donnie Yen was, at this point, already a supremely talented performer and fight choreographer, you would think he would put his best work on display in the films he directed, right?

Sadly this was not the case, just look at this example from Legend of the Wolf:

Yikes.

I don’t know how much coke they were on when they edited this, but I know someone had one hell of a time dubbing in the audio.

To be fair, the fight isn’t actually all that bad.

The fight is conducted at an incredibly frenetic pace, and some of the sparring is modestly complex, but the excessive use of confusing close-up shots and exaggerated undercranking result in a sequence that is just plain off-balance.

Although I do have to admit that the numerous “arm fencing” sequences are just plain fun.

Cinematography: It's what's for dinner.

The use of strange and experimental cinematography was rampant throughout most Donnie Yen directed films.

From the strangely artistic colored lighting in Ballistic Kiss, to the over-the-top undercranking in Legend of the Wolf, Yen was not a man afraid to deviate from the norms of Hong Kong cinema.

When you think about it, that’s actually a pretty admirable feat.

Though most of his movies were mediocre at best, (I personally thought Shanghai Affairs was his best, and even then it kind of sucked) they were always different, and never solely relied on his physical prowess to carry the show.

... Although it probably could anyway.

Check back later for “Part III – My Relationship with Mr. Yen!”

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A Tribute to the Greatness that is Donnie Yen: Part I – The Early Years

Okay let’s get one thing straight: Donnie Yen is the man.

Blue Jeans and Donnie Yen... All you'll ever need, baby... All you'll ever need.

Outside of his surgically altered face, and sculpted physique, his perfectionist tendencies and picture perfect form, both in front of and behind the camera, have blessed him with a colorful film career spanning 4 decades… and a super model wife.

Okay, things were cool at first, but now I'm starting to hate this guy a little.

Oh yeah, did I mention that he’s also a concert pianist, as well as a former breakdancer?

Okay, well maybe that whole breakdancing thing didn’t pan out so well, but hey, nobodies’ perfect.

The man is a living legend in the art of cinematic fight crafting and performance, and yet despite this, for most of his career he was regarded as sort of a middle-tier star in Hong Kong cinema.

In some ways its easy to see why though.

At age 46 he is only just now learning how to act, and in the few instances he set out to direct and star in his own films, the results were, how shall we say… ASS.

"Why did I let you convince me to be in this shitty movie? Did you really have to film every fight like it was straight out of Dragonball Z!?"

Combined with the fact that some of his contemporaries just happened to be Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Donnie Yen’s career was largely overlooked early on.

Despite this, he was always busy, turning out solid performances throughout the 80’s and 90’s, in the form of fun flicks like, Mismatched Couples, In the Line of Duty IV, Crystal Hunt, Iron Monkey I and II, and my personal favorite of his 80’s films, Tiger Cage II.

During this time, he often worked under the guidance of the great Yuen Woo Ping, as well as shared the screen with a laundry list of screen legends such as:  Ken Lo, Dick Wei, Billy Chow, Yu Ruong Guang, Michael Wong, Collin Chou, Yuen Biao, Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li, as well as his good friends, John Salvitti, and Michael Woods.

Oh yeah, and he also got to beat Robin Shou’s ass on at least one occasion.

THAT'S RIGHT! GOT YOUR ASS BEAT, LIU KANG!

His pair of battles against Jet Li in Once Upon a Time In China II as the villainous General Lan are often considered the scenes that put him on map among Chinese action film enthusiasts. In fact, the reception for these fights was so high in China, that the public anticipation of a “rematch” between the two figured into the promotion of the film, Hero.

Personally, I felt these fights were technically well crafted, but have never really been considered some of my favorites. Too many camera tricks and fantastical wire gimmickry for my tastes.

As you can probably tell, I’m not really a traditional wuxia enthusiast.

... Although this is pretty fucking cool.

Well, that concludes the introductory segment to my MASSIVE tribute (not innuendo, I swear) to the apex of pimp himself, Donnie Yen.

Check back for “Part II – Director Yen!”

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