So you want to become the next great martial-arts master? All you'll need is a lifetime of training and a stringently dedicated mind and body. If you strain without ceasing you just may be able to attain your goal and rival the masters. That is of course, unless you are born with the soul of a warrior. Many people have the spirit of the warrior within them, but a rare few have a soul that has incarnated throughout the ages always as a soldier, a fighter, a warrior. Bruce Lee was one, and Donnie Yen is another.
These souls can live any life they please but they will be inextricably drawn back to their destiny. Donnie Yen's first discipline was the classical piano, picking the discipline of the master Chopin to model himself after. But Yen also grew up in the streets of Boston where he saw as many kung fu films as he could, watching and imitating the moves of Fu Sheng, Ti Lung, Bruce Lee, and Jackie Chan. His mother is the world famous Wushu and Tai Chi master, Bow Sim-Mark. As Yen learned how to walk, he learned the ancient arts of fighting with his entire body. But Yen did not find discipline early, instead running amok in Boston's notorious Combat Zone. His parents feared for his future and sent him back to China to find discipline with the famed Beijing Wushu Team, studying under the same master as Jet Li.
With his path now set Yen sought out even more rigorous training and new challenges to sate his wandering soul. It was on a trip back to America that he met Yuen Woo Ping, the action choreographer for 1999's The Matrix. It was Yuen who had launched the career of Jackie Chan. He found the new master of the martial arts he was looking for in Donnie Yen. His fighting skills and extreme physical ability was apparent, and Yuen Wo-ping pushed his talent to its breaking point. Drunken Tai-Chi found Yen fighting sometime from 5am in the morning to 2am the following morning. Whereas most fight scenes filmed today take 2-3 days, Yuen Wo-ping would push Yen to work on one fight scene for an entire month. At this time it was the extreme abilities of the martial arts masters that would create the amazing stunts of the cinema.
With the varied fighting skills of a Bruce Lee in one hand, and the cinematic wizardry of Jackie Chan in the other, Donnie Yen took the next logical step, which was to direct behind the camera for 1997's Legend of the Wolf. The original storyline and mix of drama and action garnered critial acclaim worldwide, but is was an especially big hit in Japan.
"Many have asked me how to distinguish shooting action and drama," he remarks. "Well, I don't. Martial art is a form of expression, an expression from your inner self to your hands and legs. Like all forms of life in our universe. A gesture, a smile, or just walking down the street is an expression. For me, shooting, editing, and scoring rely on rhythm. It must be part of you. Certainly there are fundamental and technical aspects, but at the end it's the harmony of the whole."
Fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, born in China, having spent his early childhood in Hong Kong, youth in Boston, recent years in Hong Kong, and now based between LA and New York, he gives new meaning to the word cosmopolitan. His world is a blend of music and images, the flow of his movements simply a conducter to the external world. He has choreographed fight scenes, acted and directed in films, even singing in a score, and continues to push his limits in American and Asian film markets. His fighting style is comparable to Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do. He believes that his art has been suffused with so many varied disciplines that he can flow from one to the next whether he has studied them or not. If you have any appreciation for a well crafted fight-scene, to watch him on screen is to be captivated, with the small question, 'Is that even possible?' ringing lightly in the back of your head.