Diehard martial arts fans have known Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen’s moves from his man action films, most notably Yuen Wo-Ping’s 1993 classic Iron Monkey. Since then, he’s made memorable appearances in movies like Shanghai Knights, Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II and who can ever forget the fight between Yen and Jet Li in Zhang Yimou’s Hero?
It’s been a few years since we’ve seen him in an American production but he’s kept busy in China making one or two movies a year, most of which have only been released in the United States on DVD. Fans of Yen’s martial arts skills who’ve been dying to see them on the big screen where they’re meant to be seen should be thrilled that Flash Point, Yen’s third film with director Wilson Yip (Kill Zone), will be getting a theatrical release in a few cities this Friday. In the movie, Yen plays one of two policeman brothers who has to avenge acts of revenge made against his family and loved ones by a trio of young gangster thugs.
Mr. Yen was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule to answer some of ComingSoon.net’s questions:
ComingSoon.net: This is your third film in a row with Mr. Yip, so how has your working relationship evolved over the three films, especially in terms of filming the fight sequences for “Flash Point”?
Donnie Yen: First of all, we get to understand our weaknesses and strengths. He’s always trying to think of ways to present the characters and situations in new and unusual ways. For me, I like to have explosive moments, whether it is a particular movement itself in the whole sequence. I like to have shocking moments; for audiences to feel, like, “Whoa!” It’s always been my forte.
CS: The police/gangster genre has been very popular in China in the last few years
and I’d be interested in your take on why the genre has gained so much interest especially in the last seven years.
Yen: Police/gangster films always have a huge following and huge audience because of the power, glamour, and certain fantasy aspect they have to them. When people watch movies they like to fantasize being in a surreal world, and sometimes a criminal world can be attractive because you possess so much power and money, not like the average 9 to 5 guy.
CS: I’ve noticed that many of these movies (including “Flash Point”) are set in the late ’90s. Has Hong Kong changed a lot since the transfer of HK back to China that makes it important for this story to be set during that time?
Yen: Well, of course the censorship tightened after ’97. Subject matters needed to be taken into consideration, to be approved in China. Before ’97, it was anything goes. In that respect it’s not very good for the filmmakers, but you have to make films according to how markets change.
CS: The big difference between “Flash Point” and some of the other police films we’ve seen from Hong Kong is the inclusion of your martial arts fights, so how did you evolve that style from your earlier films to fit into this environment?
Yen: Obviously, I try to be more involved as I get more mature with filmmaking. Whether I’m acting or making it, at the end of the day it’s telling the story; action, drama. You want the audience to feel it–the story, the action, the scene, or a particular shot. I just keep working on crafting my art, on how to make action movies.
CS: Is it common for the police in China to be trained in martial arts and to use it in the field while facing opponents?
Yen: I don’t think it’s specific to Asian culture. It’s no longer just a Chinese thing. It’s a skill that requires self-discipline.
CS: A big part of the movie is whether it’s okay for your character to be so violent with these despicable criminals
what are your own feelings on that?
Yen: It’s a movie! I act according to the requirements of the character, and if I try to play the role, then I play it truthfully. In my daily life, I’m a laid-back, peaceful guy. I’m just doing my job to act.
CS: Can you talk about the casting of Louis Koo as your brother and working with him? Most Americans will know him from “Election” and “Election 2” and this seems like a very different role for him.
Yen: Actually, not really. He’s a pretty versatile actor. He’s done a lot of gangster films but he’s been in lots of comedy. I think he’s just testing out different things. He’s an actor! He’s exploring his talent.
CS: Many of your fight sequences for “Flash Point” you had to do in your street clothesleather jacket, jeans and carrying all the police equipmentwhich seems like it would be harder to pull off some of the stunts and movies. Was that the case?
Yen: Well, of course it’s easier with martial arts gear, but it’s filmmaking!
CS: When you make a movie like this, do you save all the big action and fight sequences–particularly the one with Collin Cho–until the end of the shoot to avoid getting hurt or bruised before doing the dramatic sequences? How long did it take to shoot that fight with Collin?
Yen: Collin had to go back and forth to the States, and we were shooting through Chinese New Year, so the whole time was about two weeks. Yes, we usually leave the ending fight scenes to the end of movies. For any movie, you try to finish off the lighter scenes in the beginning and leave the final, most complicated one for the end to wrap up then and to avoid injury.
CS: I can’t tell you how great it was seeing your movie on the big screen because so many Chinese martial arts films are released only on DVD here. How do you feel about this and do you think it’s important to get these movies to the States sooner to avoid the piracy problems?
Yen: You want as many people to watch as possible and a theatrical release means more people watching. No, putting it in the theatre doesn’t avoid piracy, I don’t think. Plus, “Flash Point” has been out a long time. Put it in the theatre; that’s great!
CS: How have things been going on “Painted Skin”
have you finished shooting yet?
Yen: Like any other movie! I worked hard, get paid, you know! For me, it’s another film!
CS: Will you be directing another movie soon?
Yen: Not anytime soon.
CS: In this film, you definitely seem to be doing more drama and comedy along with the martial arts. Jet Li has stated that he’d like to stop doing as many martial arts films. Do you have the same aspirations and do you see yourself doing films without any action or martial arts in the future?
Yen: Yes, if someone wants to hire me, why not? Why not get paid the same and have less of a physical demand? But I would absolutely not stop. It’s great to do martial arts films, and rep martial arts films, and be a successful icon, and set trends. I feel it’s an honor to set a trend in the martial arts film world.
CS: I loved the dream fights between you and Jet Li in “Hero” and your work with Jackie Chan in “Shanghai Knights.” Any chance we might ever see you in a dream fight against someone like Tony Jaa and do you think you’ll work with Mr. Yuen Woo-ping again sometime in the future?
Yen: Anything is possible in the future. I don’t really have a dream project with anyone. I’ve made too many action movies in my lifetime for me to be too eager and look forward to it. I just focus on each film one at a time and do the best I can.
CS: Any plans to do more Western films in the future and is that something you’re actively seeking out these days?
Yen: Anything goes! (With the) right project right script, I’ll do it! But you can only make so many films a year; you have to choose the one that you want to make!
CS: You worked with Edison Chen on the two “Twin Effects” movie. Have you had a chance to talk to him after the problems he’s had to make sure he’s okay and do you think it’s fair what happened to him and that he had to leave Hong Kong over the scandal?
Yen: I don’t really have anything to comment on that. It’s too complicated. All I can say is that as an adult and entertainer, we have a responsibility towards the things we project to society and on screen. That’s all I can say.