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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 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!”

Filed under: Kung Fu, Movies, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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