Donnie Yen's Fists Of Fury: His Five Best Fights Of The Millennium

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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Donnie Yen's Fists Of Fury: His Five Best Fights Of The Millennium
Donnie Yen peaked late. Despite a boat load of talent and obvious early promise, a number of factors kept Yen off screens more than on them throughout what are normally an action star's peak years. There was his restrictive contract with Miramax. There was a public feud with former mentor Yuen Woo-Ping and the entire Yuen clan that saw Yen effectively blacklisted for a period. There have been persistent rumors of a large and difficult to manage ego.

But whatever the reasons it is only recently that Yen - now age 47 - has risen to the top of the martial arts world, risen so high that he is now widely considered the greatest screen fighter on the planet. And it seems quite clear looking over Yen's filmography that despite some key early titles it will be the 2000's that go down as his peak period, the decade where he topped the martial arts world.

And so, with the US release of Ip Man 2 coming this week, I take a look at Yen's five best non-Ip Man related fight sequences of the millennium. If you want to talk a good game when it comes to Yen, these are the movies you need to see.

Legend of the Fist
Yen reprises a role made famous by his idol - Bruce Lee - and later taken on by the great Jet Li in a film by Andrew Lau that re-imagines Chen Zhen as a masked hero. And while I have been pretty clear in my opinion that the film as a whole is fatally flawed the opening sequence of Legend of the Fist is probably the single most astounding moment of Yen's career. It's big and epic, staged on a massive scale, stretching the bounds of realism just far enough. It sits in the five spot only because there are some conflicting reports about how much of this is actually Yen versus how much is his stunt team. But either way it's brilliant.

Shanghai Knights
Yes, one of Yen's mainstream Hollywood pictures makes the list. Why? Because Shanghai Knights remains, to my knowledge, the only time Yen has appeared on screen with the legendary Jackie Chan. The promise of a Yen vs Chan fight was what got me to drop money for a ticket and I was not disappointed. Yen's not given very much to do dramatically but the fight sequence is excellent and a sterling example of what it looks like when you match an actual martial artist (Yen) with a stunt performer / comedian (Chan). In short, Yen takes Chan to school. Yes, it's staged to be that way but the difference in the speed and precision of the two is immediately obvious.

Yen's second on-screen showdown with Jet Li comes in Zhang Yimou's sumptuous period epic. Yen's excellent spear skills are on display here in a classic battle against one of the all time great screen fighters as staged by one of China's greatest arthouse directors. It's gorgeous and exhilarating at the same time.

Flash Point
The film that cemented Yen's reputation as one of the most badass action choreographers in the world as he fused MMA grappling techniques with his normal kung fu styles to create something entirely unique for its time and brutal in its execution. Flash Point makes you wait a bit to get to the action but once it arrives it simply does not stop. Yen's character punches someone so hard that he gives him brain damage in this movie, but the key moment is the extended hand to hand battle between Yen and Colin Chou (The Matrix sequels, Bodyguard From Beijing) battering each other to a pulp.

SPL / Sha Po Lang / Kill Zone
Yes, the Sammo Hung fight is very good, too, but the very best moment of Donnie Yen's career is the SPL alleyway fight with Wu Jing. Reportedly shot over a single night and heavily improvised with the action between the two men - who share a master and thus are intimately familiar with each other's fight style - turning into a contest to see who could really hit the other first. It's fascinating to see the two men think on their feet and have to adjust as blows miss as they go at each other at ridiculous high speeds, both of them wielding weapons. Wu Jing told me in a later interview that Yen broke three of his extendable metal batons over Wu's forearms during the shooting of this fight.

I know we've got other fans of Yen out there, so speak up. What are your favorite Donnie Yen moments?
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Ard VijnApril 18, 2011 11:49 AM

And for those who want to see that stunning (STUNNING I say!) SPL fight, here it is on our very own site:

wisekwaiApril 18, 2011 12:55 PM

Yep. Legend of the Fist. Donnie singlehandedly defeats the Germans to win World War I. Victory!

Have to watch Flash Point again because maybe it was also in that movie, but I thought it was SPL where Donnie punches a stoolie so hard he makes the guy a retard and in the process crushes a car's roof in. Mighty is the Donnie.

SPL made me Donnie fan. Love the Wu Jing fight scene, especially the way Donnie strips off his leather jacket at the end, throws it away in disgust and stalks away on a huff to go fight Sammo Hung.

ImprovisationApril 18, 2011 1:01 PM

Any fight from Ip Man or Ip Man 2. Donnie's speed and execution of Wing Chun really need to be seen to be believed.

ironfaderApril 18, 2011 1:17 PM

Yea you guys pretty much nailed it. I would substitute the finale fights of Dragon Tiger Gate or Bodyguards and Assassins for Shanghai myself. I guess i'll list his older movies. Iron Monkey any fight from there of course, Once Upon a Time in China II fighting Jet Li (insane),Wing Chun where he fights the perverted monkey styled dude, Legend of the Wolf and Butterfly and Sword have some good fights as well.

celluloidburningApril 18, 2011 1:26 PM

Donnie Yen and Jackie Chan had a follow up fight a year later in the absolutely horrible Twins Effect 2... the fight itself was very blah. As for Yen's great screen fights of the millennium, don't forget Seven Swords. The movie is very flawed but there is a great fight at the end with Donnie Yen fighting in a narrow hallway, jumping and flying up and down the walls....very cool.

Todd BrownApril 18, 2011 1:54 PM

Oh, damn, you've got me second guessing myself now. That bit may have been in SPL ... guess now I've got an excuse to re-watch them both ...

Todd BrownApril 18, 2011 1:55 PM

Oh, that's right. I had successfully blocked Twins Effect 2 from my mind and shall do so again as soon as I'm done typing this comment.

I know the Seven Swords fight you mean. That's a great one, yes.

Todd BrownApril 18, 2011 1:56 PM

I left the Ip Man ones out intentionally because ... well, there's enough Ip Man on the site right now. Heh.

AlbertVApril 18, 2011 2:34 PM

I have to agree with Legend of the Fist's opening sequence. That was one of the most mind-blowing sequences I have ever seen in recent films. While the film ultimately seemed more campy, Yen truly recreated the Chen Zhen-Japanese students fight really well.

Speaking of Yen vs. the Japanese, IP MAN has one of my favorite moments, where Yen takes on the 10 black belts. Sammo Hung and Tony Leung's choreography looked superb here and I noticed in LEGEND OF THE FIST, Yen used the multiple punching attack he used in IP MAN against one attacker the first time he wears the Kato-like costume.

DooKApril 18, 2011 2:46 PM

Just 5? Oh well... (in no order): Flash Point (end fight), SPL (alley fight), Legend of the Wolf (temple fight), Legend of the Fist (intro), and Iron Monkey (Wong Kei-Ying vs Shaolin Monks)

arnoApril 18, 2011 3:00 PM

Rhaaaaa ! Once upon a time in China 2 & Dragon Inn : he's great when he's the bad guy ! I love him in Blade 2 too (two-too !) : short scene but as it's shot by Del Toro, well : that's simply amazing. When Donnie points out he's so charimatic ! The last 15mn of Tiger Cage 2 are quite impressive too...

But he's credible as a bad guy, that's all. When he's trying to smile in Flashpoint, or when he's trying to be nice with a kid in Yip Man, I just don't believe it. And please, Donnie, don't touch any gun in a movie, that's not you ! Useless in Flashpoint, sueless in Bodyguards (...) SPL forever, anyway :-)

wisekwaiApril 18, 2011 3:22 PM

Ok, watching Flash Point now. And the brain-dead victim motif is used here too. It's referred to in a hearing where Donnie's being questioned about his brutal methods. "Just stop," he tells the hearing officer, owning up to it.

And now I have a new favorite Donnie scene: He's a band director, and gets talked back to by an uppity tuba player. Instead of taking that big horn and ramming it down over the guy's head, Donnie shows restraint by walking away and letting his mother scold the tuba player.

I used to be a tuba player in the school band. And if Donnie were my band director, I wouldn't talk back to him. I'd say, yes sir, you're right. That is an E-flat. Sorry. I'll get it right from now on.

Al YoungApril 18, 2011 3:26 PM

Without a shadow of a doubt, the end fight scene between Donnie Yen and Collin Chou in Flash Point set the bar pretty damn high on the most thrilling, non-stop, eye-popping piece of fight choreography, not just by Donnie's standard but beats any of his action peers a mile away. Heck, I even willing to say its the best scrap-fest ever put on screen. This fight scene was groundbreaking for its no-bull "I hit you, then you hit me, then I hit you...etc" routine but both attacking each other almost at the same time at breathtaking speed and intensity. It doesn't have this staged/telegraphic or too rehearsed quality to it but rather something raw and spontaneous. I think the best fight choreography are usually those that doesn't look too choreograph and this got it down in spades. Both Donnie and Collin went on record saying this was the hardest and grueling they ever worked on a fight scene in their entire career and it really shows.

I would like to mention Ip Man as well because I feel strongly invested in the character. I think setting the motivation for the protagonist is just as important and the fight itself is just an extension of the characters. When the action kicks in to full gear, my experience of watching him do battle is enhanced. For example, before Ip Man fight the 10 black belts, he respectfully place a potato near the site of his fallen martial arts comrade or when Ip Man uses Hung Gar in Ip Man 2 to pay tribute to Sammo. I appreciate these moments of chivalry.

xinoApril 18, 2011 4:19 PM

" There was a public feud with former mentor Yuen Woo-Ping and the entire Yuen clan that saw Yen effectively blacklisted for a period. "

damn man...what's Yuen's problem man!?
i love Donnie Yen!:)

Flashpoint is my favourite movie, I was actually impressed by Dragon Tiger Gate, badly executed but a lot of stuff I saw in the movie are really inspirational to me.

Todd BrownApril 18, 2011 5:36 PM

I like that tuba bit ...

Todd BrownApril 18, 2011 5:39 PM

From my understanding of the situation Donnie TOTALLY brought the feud on himself by trying to take credit for some of Yuen's work and by publicly trash talking him. You don't disrespect your mentor and expect that not to bounce back on you in a tight knit community like this, particularly not when your mentor is an absolute LEGEND and the most prominent figure in one of the most prominent families in the martial arts film community. Donnie was young and brash and he paid for it.

aznbadgerApril 18, 2011 8:27 PM

I'm sorry, I don't do this very often; but in this case I feel I need to disagree with number of the entries on this list.
I haven't made a list of my own, but it's hard for me to imagine a top 5 that doesn't include any of Yen's fights with Michael Woods or John Salvitti in Tiger Cage 2 and In the Line of Duty IV.
Donnie Yen and Jackie were indeed in a couple of other movies together, Twins Effect 1 and 2. Including Shanghai Knights, I'd say the 2 haven't collaborated on a single film that was of any sort of quality, even in terms of action and fighting.
In my eyes, their fight in Shanghai Knights was mediocre at best, largely due to the wear and tear Chan had sustained up to that point in his career. The whole thing felt too gimmicky to me. Less of a fight and more of a vaudevillian affair.
While the fighting in Legend of the Fist was indeed pretty impressive, especially considering Yen's relatively advanced age; I'd hesitate in calling any of the sequences in it some of Yen's best work. Besides, as savage as the knife work was in the WWI sequence; the Pirates of the Caribbean-esque music and rope had me laughing too much to take any of it seriously.
Finally, in all honesty, I felt that Yen and Jet Li's fights in Once Upon a Time in China 2 were a bit better than the one in Hero. I definitely see where you're coming from in picking it, being as it was beautifully shot and choreographed; but that's just my opinion. I suppose it doesn't help that didn't really like Hero all that much...
Anyway, I didn't mean for any of this to be inflammatory.
Please read this article from my blog, as I feel confident in saying that you, along with any other would be Donnie Yen fans; might learn a thing or 2 from it:

J HurtadoApril 18, 2011 10:56 PM

Most of the films you named are from before 2000. The list is post-millennium, which may explain the disconnect.

billydakingApril 18, 2011 11:10 PM

Well, it depends on who you talk to. The other story is that Yen disagreed with the traditional way that Woo-Ping was doing them and that led to their break (and he went to television to gain experience as an action director), and another one is that Yen did have a lot of input on his scenes (and considering several of his early films had him fighting his own students, there's some support for that). Who really knows?

But blacklisted? Yen did two films for Woo-Ping as late as 1993 (Iron Monkey and Hero Among Heroes), which was the last great year of Hong Kong cinema. I think the total collapse of the film industry (and with Yen barely established as a lead actor) had more to do with his limited theatrical output during the mid- to late-1990s. The man still worked constantly during that period, just splitting it more between television and and film.

Ard VijnApril 19, 2011 7:45 AM

Ah Aznbadger, thanks for that link again. That article is awesome and had me laughing when you originally posted it. I've already sent the link on to several friends who are either Donnie fans themselves or who asked me "Who is Donnie Yen"?

kungfueurotrashApril 19, 2011 9:41 AM

It will only be a bittersweet ending to his career if he just fights Tony Jaa for one time, come on, please let that happen!!!!

aznbadgerApril 20, 2011 5:05 AM

Thanks for the publicity Ard Vijn! Boy, can't tell you how glad am to not have to pronounce that name verbally... Oh yeah, to everyone else who may have read my comment above, I apologize for my ignorance in referencing movies from the pre-2000 era. Somehow I missed that part of the post heading. We badgers can be kinda' "slow" at times...

Ard VijnApril 20, 2011 7:50 AM

No worries Aznbadger (and don't worry about my name either: say "Hard Wine" and nobody English will hear the difference...).

Roland ChyopelJuly 13, 2012 10:45 AM

really an amazing, extraordinary person......i remember the first movie of yen,i myt hve been at the 3rd standard. the iron monkey,i really enjoyed the movie but didnt actually know who the actor was at that time. but then after watching his movies like ipman 1 n 2, kill zone, wu xia, flashpoint.....etc...,it really got me hooked to watching his movies. so i wish him that he continues coming up with more loads of action n yes make up for the FANS. hats off.....