[Many thanks to all involved for providing us with this opportunity to run this photograph of a young Donnie Yen in short shorts.]
The end of July will see Kenn Scott’s Eastern inspired martial arts action comedy adventure “’Adventures of Johnny Tao” hit Region One DVD. We spoke to the film’s director Kenn Scott about the film last week, and now its leading lady the petite powerhouse that is Chris Yen, sister of martial arts movie legend Donnie Yen talks about the project to Mike Leeder, the Hong Kong based editor of Impact.
Chris, introduce yourself to those who don't know ya...
Hey Folks! I'm Chris Yen, the proud daughter of legendary martial arts master, Bow Sim Mark. I'm also the baby sister of Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen, and for those of you who has never heard of his name, look for the only Chinese hardass from 'The Blood Pack' in BLADE II, or the formidable 'Wu Chow' in Jackie Chan's SHANGHAI KNIGHTS.
I'm also a professional actor and accomplished martial artist myself, thanks to years of arduous training at my mother's dojo since the age of 4. I love all arts and music, especially jazz and classical, my favorite instrument is the piano, which I started playing at age 5 under the strict guidance of my dad. I think the bass and sax deliver some of the sexiest sounds. When I'm not working, I like to devote my time to the humane society and my 2 furry rescues, Rex & Yogi, whom I am totally in love with. I look forward to writing when I can as well as producing my own projects very soon. Did I also mention that I'm always open to a game of pool (billiards)? Anybody up for the challenge?
You got a great introduction to film-making through Yuen Woo-ping, can you tell us about the experience of working on that project?
Ah CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH A VAMPIRE! Let's just say, it was Hong Kong action, acting, and disciplinary training all in one. I think for my very first taste of filmmaking without any prior film experience or even knowing how to speak the native language, I think graduated with honors. Master Yuen Woo-Ping's work and success is a true inspiration. There have been a few extremely memorable moments in my life thus far, and the chance to be swept away by such an amazing experience and influential director, at a tender age, is definitely one of them.
What made you decide the time was right to get back into acting and action film making?
After my first film experience, I went straight back to school and tried to have a "normal" life like all my other friends. I never planned on cultivating a film career or even try to follow in my mother or brother's footsteps. But I guess the family ties and artistic influence had always been strong, so it was inevitable that I'd be heading in that direction. The opportunity came along when Jay Chow, Asia's King of Pop, was interested in Donnie and his team to choreograph a new music video/short film, DOUBLE BLADE, which Jay had, written himself. At the time, Donnie was busy and recommended me along with the rest of our entourage to lead the project. I was the stunt coordinator and assisted John Salvitti, the action choreographer and Michael Woods, long-time martial arts brothers of Donnie Yen(check out IN THE LINE OF DUTY & TIGER CAGE 2, to see Donnie battling John in two spectacular face off’s!), and Michael (the martial arts powerhouse from TIGER CAGE 1 & and IN THE LINE OF DUTY to help train Jay and some of the other actors involved including Danny Trejo. After DB, I went to Tokyo to work with Kenji Tanigaki, Yuji Shimamura, and the rest of the Japanese stunt crew on PRINCESS BLADE. I helped train the lead actress, and tried to absorb every bit of detail that I possibly could in a relatively short period of time. That experience was a total eye-opener, and I haven't stopped learning since.
While I was working in Hong Kong, I met a producer who wanted me to star in his film, BLACK ROSE (aka PROTEGE DE LA ROSE NOIRE), and said that he was writing a role for me. The character turned out to be so well liked, that a famous Hong Kong comic-book artist adapted the character and created a whole other story in itself, based on the character I played. After the release of the film, I was invited to appear as a special guest on a live broadcast interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show.
At the time, there were additional offers in Hong Kong which looked promising, but I discovered that I truly had a passion for acting and wanted to train formally and go to auditions and really hone my craft. I was serious about it and Hollywood was the only place where I felt that I could do all of that. I was invited by Sony Pictures to come to LA for my very first audition, so I left Hong Kong and never looked back.
How did you get involved with the Johnny Tao project? And how would you describe your character?
I auditioned for the lead role, MIKA, and was called back 4 times before they finally offered me the part. The opportunity to work with a real, professional A-level Hollywood cast and crew doesn't just happen to everyone. Til this day, I am forever grateful to Director Kenn Scott for offering me my first American film role, and to the awesome stunt team who approached this project like it was a big budget Hollywood action film, something that those guys were all used to working with. The only difference with JOHNNY TAO is that we had less money, and not enough time. Everybody worked extremely hard, and we all had an amazing experience together.
In ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY TAO, I play MIKA, a mysterious kung fu princess who joins forces with Johnny to conquer demons and stop them from terrorizing and taking over the town. I would describe Mika as someone who is sexy, very strong-willed, likeable, but somebody you probably wouldn't want to mess with. Naturally, I had a lot of fun playing that character.
How would you compare the differences between shooting HK action and more American styled action?
In the East, it's pretty common to just jump right in and shoot. Everything moves at a super-rapid speed and most of the time actors don't have the luxury to rehearse and prepare that much. Whether you know how to fight or not, you're going to have to learn on the spot. When I prepared for BLACK ROSE, I had a week to learn the nunchuckus. My inspiration and teacher at the given time? Bruce Lee in GAME OF DEATH, and a reliable DVD player with super-slow motion speed.
Although Hong Kong action films have been one of the biggest influences on Hollywood filmmaking, I think action films these days incorporate a lot of different variations with old and new styles combined. I see that in all kinds of films, even Hong Kong action films. I don't know if there's really such a thing as 'American' styled action. But I can tell you the major difference between shooting a Hong Kong action film and shooting an American film in Hollywood. If JOHNNY TAO was shot in HK with HK actors and their stunt crew, then the film probably would've finished in 15 days, almost half the time.
How would you describe the film to the audience
ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY TAO is a fun-tastic, family-adventure film that promises to deliver powerful, non-stop action and excitement. You'll laugh out loud, maybe even shed a tear. It's a film that you won't want to miss.
What’s next for Chris Yen?
I'm currently in talks to star in an action project with Jason Scott Lee attached. I'm also in preproduction on another film, which is based on a book about changing people's lives in an unimaginable way. There’s an independent art film I was in, which screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival that recently got picked up by Magnolia Pictures and will be released this Fall, so I'm really looking forward to that. The film is called A Good Day To Be Black & Sexy, where I play a comical and mischievous teen with annoying habits.
And lastly, I'm shopping around a few script projects, which I've been developing with my writing partner. One of them is an action-fantasy story based on a Greek mythology character. I'm very passionate about this project and I want to find a director with a certain kind of depth and understanding to be able to tell this unique and complex story.
For further information on Chris Yen log onto http://www.chrisyen.com/ and for more information on Johnny Tao check out www.johnnytao.com .The film hits the shelves with an extras packed DVD on July 29th 2008.