Azn Badger's Blog

What About the Lysine Contingency…?

A Tribute to the Greatness that is Donnie Yen: Part VIII – Donnie Yen In The “Post Yip” Era

Finally startin to look his age...

A long time ago I wrote that I felt that director Wilson Yip was probably the best thing to ever happen to Donnie Yen’s career.

First teaming up in 2005 for the cop drama/action flick SPL, the 2 would end up collaborating on 5 consecutive films.

With the sole exception of the somewhat lackluster Dragon Tiger Gate, all of said films were of stellar quality; easily ranking as some of the best in Mr. Yen’s career.

While Yen’s incredible longevity allowed him to effectively outlast the majority of his contemporaries, namely Jet Li and Jackie Chan; and his innovative fighting performance and choreography skills certainly put him ahead of the pack, this writer would argue that Wilson Yip’s cinematographic skills and eye for detail had just as much to do with his rise to prominence as any of the aforementioned factoids.

Besides, any man that makes shit like Bio Zombie clearly knows what theyre doing. No sarcasm intended.

That being said, it’s now 2011; and while he’s been detached from Wilson Yip ever since the production of Ip Man 2, Donnie Yen is still the reigning king of Hong Kong screen fighters.

So, why am I not happy?

I’m just about as big a Donnie Yen fan as you’ll ever meet, but truth be told; as much as I like the man’s work, like most screen fighters he’s made an alarming number of shitty movies.

In fact, if you don’t count Blade 2; a movie he choreographed by held maybe 5 minutes of screen time in, I don’t think I’ve genuinely liked a non-Wilson Yip Donnie Yen movie since Shanghai Affairs back in ’98, and even that kind of sucked.

Sadly, now that Yen doesn’t seem to have any projects lined up with Wilson Yip in the foreseeable future; I’m left feeling like things are going to go back to the way they were, with Donnie Yen steadily churning out crap movies with decent fights.

...Or in the case of the Twins Effect movies, crappy movies with crappy fights. Thats Jackie Chan on the right by the way.

Despite an astoundingly well cut trailer for it’s U.S. release, make no mistake Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen, Yen’s first film of the “Post Yip Era”; is most assuredly hot garbage.

I own a Hong Kong blu ray of Legend of the Fist, and while Yen’s physical performance was actually pretty amazing, as detailed here; the movie itself was one of the most boring kung fu movies I’ve seen in a long time.

At present, Mr. Yen has a handful of movies on his plate, most notably a mysterious Peter Chan film called Swordsmen, and 2 other films titled The Lost Bladesman and The Monkey King.

I’ve purposely decided to forego any mention of the most recent All’s Well, Ends Well, as while it does in fact include Donnie Yen in it’s cast; no force on Earth could make me see it as a “Donnie Yen film.”

Yeah, not exactly high on my "must see" list...

Anyway, The Lost Bladesman sees Donnie Yen taking on the role of famed Chinese general and folk hero Guan Yu in a wuxia film.

Trailers for this one have been popping up pretty regularly as of late, with most of the footage doing little to light a fire in my pants.

Sure, it has Donnie Yen.

Sure he’s hitting people while sporting a pimp beard and guan dao.

Even so, the production values seem a little below standard, and the cinematography and choreography seem about on par with the mediocrity of Yen’s own 14 Blades.

For those that may be unaware, any film that draws comparisons to 14 Blades has it’s work cut out for it in terms of not sucking.

Pictured: Donnie Yen squaring off against Captain Jack Sparrow.

That leaves 2012’s The Monkey King as the one Yen movie to bear the weight of making up for the past couple of years of “meh.”

While it’s certainly far off in terms of being released, in all honesty; The Monkey King actually seems like it might be worth the wait.

No footage exists as of yet, but given that the story is a retelling of the Journey to the West, essentially the Chinese myth of myths; and given the incredible assortment of talent involved in the production, I’ve got a good feeling about it.

Sure, it’ll probably be CGI’d to shit and make Donnie Yen look like a complete goof ball; but the art style of the poster and Cheang Pou Soi’s involvement as director will likely make up for it.

I don't know about you, but if you ask me that's a pretty awesome fuckin' poster.

Seriously man, if the same Cheang Pou Soi that made Dog Bite Dog and Shamo shows up for this one, we’re in for one helluva’ ride.

Despite all the pessimism of everything mentioned above, let it be known; I remain hopeful for Donnie Yen’s career.

In many ways, I think my “disappointment” in some of his recent projects spawns from my general lack of enthusiasm for mainland China productions as compared to Hong Kong ones.

Wuxia works when it works, but for the most part it’s not what you’d call my favorite genre.

Whatever the future holds for Mr. Yen, I only hope that whatever crappy or mediocre productions he’s involved in continue to be the fault of writers and directors as opposed to Donnie Yen himself…

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Thoughts On Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

Donnie Yen’s butt.

That, my friends; is the one element of Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen that I can honestly say I’ve never seen elsewhere.

That one goofy and slightly embarrassing little detail aside, Return of Chen Zhen is a bipolar mess of a film that can only be recommended to the most hardcore of Donnie Yen fans, I.E. me.

The basic plot is as follows:

Picking up after the conclusion of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury, Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) flees China for the French battlefield of WWI.

How he managed to survive charging headlong into a hail of gunfire after the events of Fist of Fury, is never explained.

During the war, one of Chen Zhen’s friends is shot dead, prompting him to go apeshit and kill a bunch of Germans via the combined techniques of parkour and shank-fu.

*Cue shitty rip-off of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme* What? You think I'm kidding?

Much violence and badassery ensues.

With that, Chen Zhen opts to assume his fallen friend’s identity as he sets off for Shanghai; declaring his homeland his new battlefield in fighting against Chinese oppression.

Why he decides to take out his aggression on the occupying Japanese (embodied by the decidedly flacid antagonist played by Kohata Ryu)  instead of the German forces that were directly responsible for his friend’s death, is not explained.

Once in China, Chen Zhen uses his resources to build himself a network of newsies, students, war vets, and cops to serve as his Shadow-esque eyes and ears.

He also invests in a pencil-thin fake mustache, seemingly just because pencil-thin mustaches are pimp.

"Hello, I'm Donnie Yen, and you sir; have just stumbled upon my secret Pimp Party. Prepare to be kicked in the face... Repeatedly."

How Chen Zhen acquires said resources to put together said network, and purchase said mustache, is never explained.

Now firmly established as a wealthy entrepreneur of sorts in Shanghai, Chen Zhen links up with fellow wealthy socialite and nightclub owner, Li Yutian (Anthony Wong) in order to spread his influence… At least that’s what I got out of it anyway.

Li’s nightclub also happens to play host to a foxy singer named Kiki (Shu Qi) whom Chen Zhen quickly becomes attracted to.

Donnie Yen would hit it, but y'know; supermodel wife...

The wikipedia entry for this movie states that Chen Zhen “is romantically attracted to Kiki,” however this is hardly evident in the film.

I know they’re Chinese, and they’re not good at that whole “love” thing, or y’know; talking to each other, but when 2 characters never so much as hold hands throughout a movie, I find it hard to believe they’re “romantically attracted” to each other.

Not only that, but their most intimate moment is actually when Chen Zhen threatens to kill her.

ROMANCE.

Anyway, in case you couldn’t tell; Kiki really ruined the movie for me.

Usually I kind of like Shu Qi’s bubbly cutesy-ness, as was the case in the delightfully, uh, adequate Jackie Chan flick, Gorgeous; but this time around her role was just plain ugly.

Her character’s arc, much like the flow of the entire film, is predictable; yet somehow all over the place all at the same time.

Not only that, she’s shitfaced for roughly 3 quarters of the film, making her a very difficult character to like.

I’m guessing her character was supposed to be tragic, but in the end; she just brought the whole movie down by needlessly slowing the pace with frequent, and boring dialogue scenes.

Speaking of boring dialogue scenes, Return of Chen Zhen has a fuck ton of ’em!

In most cases I can deal with inane and extraneous dialogue, but in the case of this movie; I actually found myself muttering the words:

“Jesus fuck man, I DON’T CARE.

Well okay, I didn’t exactly “mutter” those words so much as yell them, but you get the point.

Needless to say, Return of Chen Zhen has some writing issues… And pacing issues…  And it smells funny.

Now, when I said Return of Chen Zhen was a “bipolar” movie, I was of course speaking of it’s up and down pacing, specifically the jarring contrast between it’s action sequences, and the rest of the film.

In short:

Return of Chen Zhen has some pretty spankin’ fight sequences.

Heh heh, I like the part when the one dude gets kicked in the face. That was cool...

While nearly all of it is of the classic, Dynasty Warriors/1 man vs. the world style, most of it is well choreographed, and perhaps more importantly; competently shot.

Make no mistake, while the staging of the fights was indeed very good in Return of Chen Zhen, the editor, and perhaps more importantly; the cinematographer deserve a special pat on the back for their contributions.

While not so great a fight, this shot was pretty enough to redeem it.

Donnie Yen served as action choreographer for this one, and if there’s anything Donnie Yen is good at; it’s making himself look good.

While I heard reports that indicated an excessive use of stunt doubles for this film, I can honestly say that I didn’t notice them.

I’m assuming most of the parkour and stunt work was filmed using doubles, but everything that counts in my book, that is; the punching and kicking of people’s faces, was definitely all Yen.

Trust me, nobody throws kicks like Donnie Yen, nobody.

So… Where are his balls during all of this?

Speaking of which, from an action standpoint, Return of Chen Zhen serves as a sort of “best of” for Donnie Yen’s various trademark moves.

From the leaping spinning back kick above, to the cheesy windmill uppercuts of old, to even some of the joint locks and MMA style moves seen in SPL and Flashpoint; pretty much every cool thing Donnie Yen has done to someone throughout his career is featured, and ably performed in this movie at some point, with satisfyingly brutal results.

Though sadly there’s no breakdance fighting ala Mismatched Couples…

Kung Fu B-Boy Donnie Yen!

Getting back to the movie, seeing as most of the fight sequences in Return of Chen Zhen have Mr. Yen clothed in a Kato-esque mask and suit, the movements and strikes incorporated into the choreography bear a satisfying and altogether appropriate “superhero-y” quality to them.

That is to say:

When people get hit in this movie, they fly across the room and then some.

Yeah, that guy's goin' through a wall... Or 2.

Normally I’m not a fan of wirework in my kung fu movies, but their use in this film was largely used for the simple effect of slamming people into bookcases/windows/walls/platypuses, instead of the more fanciful bullshit as in Dragon Tiger Gate and other such films.

In all, Donnie Yen’s physical performance was nothing short of incredible in Return of Chen Zhen.

Given his relatively advanced age for the genre, (47) dreading the day when Donnie Yen suddenly gets old overnight and can’t perform as well he used to, but goddamnit; Father Time must owe him money or something, ’cause if anything he looked better in this movie than he did 2 years ago.

My guess is, the Ip Man movies actually served to smother Mr. Yen’s performances a bit over the past few years.

Wing Chun is a very practical, and straightforward fighting system; and one that is foreign to Donnie Yen’s martial talents.

As I mentioned earlier, Return of Chen Zhen was choreographed by Donnie Yen, for Donnie Yen, and in getting back to the basics, I think Mr. Yen showed us all that he’s still got it.

Anyway, enough cock-sucking.

In closing, I’d just like to point out a few little tidbits I felt needed mentioning:

Yasuaki Kurata and Shawn Yue have cameos in this movie.

They’re brief, and largely pointless; but it was fun seeing them nonetheless.

Would’ve really liked to have seen Kurata do a bit of fighting, seeing as he seemed relatively spry in Master of Thunder a few years ago, but oh well; take what you can get.

If you didn't see it already, then you probably shouldn't...

The vast majority of the sets for Return of Chen Zhen were very obviously recycled from the one used for Bodyguards and Assassins.

While it’s an incredible set, and definitely worth revisiting, there’s no denying that it was framed with a lot more love in Bodyguards and Assassins, and thusly comes across as kind of cheap looking this time around.

Also, if you’ve seen Bodyguards and Assassins, then it’s kind of surreal looking at little things like staircases and windows and remembering them, very clearly; from their use in that movie, which is peculiar being as Bodyguards and Assassins took place in Hong Kong, while Return of Chen Zhen is set in Shanghai.

I suppose it’s worth noting that, yes; the Japanese are the villains of this movie, and yes; they are portrayed as the most vile, baby boiling, dog kicking sons of bitches you’ve ever met.

Xenophobia has always been marketable in Chinese films, and nothing is ever gonna’ change that.

Regardless of how bad they make my people look, as long as Hong Kong keeps pumping out awesome movies about people kicking each other in the brain, I honestly don’t care.

Anyway, the plot sucked, the characters were boring, the dialogue was excessive and dull… but the fighting was pretty good.

If you love to see Donnie Yen do his thing, see it.

If not, then all you’re really missing is Donnie Yen’s butt.

Can you live without seeing Donnie Yen’s butt?

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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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