There's no stopping Donnie Yen! Labelled by the Chinese Press as “the Most Powerful Man in the Universe!”, he's keeping up a prolific schedule as both an Actor and Producer with such projects as the crime drama Chasing the Dragon, playing teacher in Big Brother, reprising his iconic role as Bruce Lee's martial arts master once again in Ip Man 4 and preparing a number of projects including the highly anticipated adaptation of the Hong Kong set video game Sleeping Dogs. I spoke to Yen while he was on location in New Zealand for Disney's live action adaptation of Mulan for the following skipchat.
Mike Leeder: The recent release BIG BROTHER was a Donnie Yen movie unlike anything people might have expected, I think the best way to describe it would be Dead Poets Society meets Dangerous Minds.
Donnie: I've always wanted to do a movie like this! In the last ten years or so most of the movies i've done have had very positive messages, regardless of the storyline or even the character. Even with a movie like CHASING THE DRAGON, yes I'm playing a real life gangster Bai Ho/Limpy Ho, the way I approached and created the character for the movie was that even he was a gangster, in his own mind he still was righteous, He had morals and was a family man, he cared for his people. These are the values I tried to inject that aspect into the character. You know, ever since Ip Man, I've lived through that kind of lifestyle and I think that people can benefit from this kind of idea inspiration, especially with movie making, it has such a tremendous influence on the world. So I feel that as a film maker its essential for us, we have a repsonsibility that no matter how creative we can be, there does have to be some social responsibility, we need to remind ourselves
So after Chasing the Dragon, I remember when we were shooting the ending, I was putting on all this make up, and it was my first time working with Wong Jing in such a close collaboration. You were there for a lot of it Mike, we changed a lot of things from the normal way of doing a Wong Jing movie, we raised the bar somewhat, and he accepted the challenge. And he was really happy with the way things had gone, and he liked the way the filmw as coming together. You know that I have a lot of input into production and post-production, I step in on editing and look over things, I want to make sure the vision is what we set out to deliver, I'm a hands on producer.
And Jing asked me what were we going to do next? And I told him, I want to do an educational film, and his face went ” an educational film?' I said that I understand that we need to make it commercial, we need to make money (Laughing) but maybe we can find a middle ground, where its fun and commercial, but still convey the messages. All the morals and messages in the movies that we just talked about, they all start with education if you think about it, what kind of message are we trying to convey to society? The first demographic is children, and where do they start, they start from school.
So I thought maybe we could come up with an idea that starts/has a focus on school, but of course we have to work out how we can fit Donnie Yen and his style into the story. Now at first I was thinking of maybe just doing a cameo, and use my name to help bring an audience in, and we could use some new actors and tell their story. But as the development got further and further, the buyers and investors said they weren't going to support the film or buy the film unless I was really in the film, and not just as a cameo! They wanted me to be in the film enough for it to be a real Donnie Yen movie, so then we expanded the idea and my character kind of became the central figure that connected with all the other characters, as that secured the investors and ended up helping shape the film that became BIG BROTHER. And using my influence, we could groom some new actors and give them the opportunity, give an upcoming director like Kam Kar-Wai the chance to do something different and also help rejuvenate Hong Kong film, by making a very Hong Kong centric film.
For a very long time, the Hong Kong industry has been very extreme, its either collaboration with China that can sometimes make the film lose some of that Hong Kong flavour, I am not saying its losing our identity but its changing somewhat so we can fit the requirements of the China market, which sometimes wants things that don't always click with a HK audience as much as the China one, and the other extreme where its “we're making this movie just for Hong Kong' and while it touches on a lot of Hong Kong elements and flavour, it doesn't make the film work very well commercially to investors etc, the release can be limited outside of Hong Kong, and if you're making a film just for the HK market, then the budget that an ivnestor will give you is very low, its very limited in what you can do. It was kind of like the early fall of the Taiwan market that anything that deals with local subject/aimed for the local market, it became very hard to maintain quality as the budget being allocated got less and less. The market isn't as strong as it used to be to support that kind of film anymore. People forget that when there's a lack of budget, it affects you in many ways, lack of talent both in front and behind the camera, lack of equipment, lack of shooting time, lack of support. The quality of movie making becomes less and less, its going backward. So I said if we can still make something that explores the ideas we wanted to talk about, by having me play a more substantial role, we could still address the things we wanted to but with a suitable budget, ok lets do it.
Mike: Now while there's some very familiar faces iin the movie, the main characters are a group of new young actors who get to make quite the debut.
Donnie: They're great right! I was looking around for some new actors, I didn't want to use people the audience had already gotten used to in other films and TV shows as the main kids, I wanted some new blood! And I wanted to tap on a number of subjects, so I didnt want kids that people already associated with certain roles etc, now we know there's a lot of problems in the world! And we can't address all of those problems in one movie, so I chose to focus on certain problems in Hong Kong society today, alcoholism, racism, the pressure of the education system, sexism for instance.
You know that there is still a certain amount of 'favouritism' towards boys rather than girls in a lot of Chinese family upbringing still, the issue of discrimination towards some of the local kids who aren't Chinese, they might have been born and raised here, but there's still sometimes that you're not a Hong Kong person mindset towards some of the minorities here. With regards to the twins, its actually a combination of things, but its really down to my wife, Cissy who is of course my business partner too. She's a friend of their mother, and while I know their father Tong Chun-yip, I worked with him on Chasing the Dragon, it was really the relationship between my wife and their mother, we met them at gatherings and friendly dinners, we saw these two boys and my wife, she's a manager for a few people, she saw the potential in them. They are good looking kids, but she liked their purity they grew up in the States, and not just because they grew up in the States but they have this kid of naive purity about them, that its hard to see in Hong Kong sometimes. A lot of HK kids are already very mature, very influenced by the society and good and bad influence around them.Kar-wai showed me a lot of kids, and I went through their pictures and info, and I chose these 5 kids to be the main characters for this movie. Chris and Bruce Tong, Luo Mingjie, Gordon Lau and Gladys Li, they became the 5 core kids in the film.
There's always pressure in finding the balance between creativity and the market demands. But you know me, I always take a risk, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but I don't like to play safe even with myself. It would be very easy for me to just play the righteous hero in everything, but it would be boring for everyone including me, so I like to vary the kind of roles and sometimes they are very well received by the audience and are very commercially succesful, and sometimes they're not! (Laughing) But I think if I didn't take these chances over the years, I don't think I would still be here, 35, 36 or more years after I started because I believe that has made me strive to maintain my position as an active force within the action movie industry in the world. I've always been a creator, I always try to move forward
Mike: The film has been very well received by audiences and critics, especially for being such a Hong Kong centric movie, and delivering far more drama than action.
Donnie: I'm happy that audiences and critics have responded well! It does make me feel happy that people responded to it in the way we wanted, its not just about making a succesful movie at the box office, but its for the society But with this films release, I have seen a lot of people be they students, teachers, parents etc touched by this film, it hits the targets we wanted to, it addresses certain local issues but without being preachy or pretentious. Its nice to have people tell me that watching a film like this or Ip Man etc has made an impact on them, it's nice to hear that but its not just about my satisfaction, nothing vain about that, I just feel really good that i've done something through my films that I've been able to touch people with this project, it makes me feel good.
I know people were expecting a very DONNIE YEN style of film, and thats understandable. And Mike, we both know people who will tell us there isn't enough action, or it wasn't hardcore enough and there's nothing wrong with that, BUT that wasn't the movie we were making this time. Now every actor should be proud of the films, the genre they represent, and in my case I know I represent action, and thats what has given me a career and I'm very proud of that. And also I really dont want to let my fans down, thats why we had to find a creative balance to sustain throughout the film, making sure that its fun, it doesnt get too heavy with the message, but it can still have a few action scene sthat satisfy the audience, but at the same time they connect with the story, its not lets just stick an action scene in there for the sake of it, it has to blend. So its a great feeling that for so manyf ans it works, the majority of the reviews and audience feedback for the movie has been very positive and very strong.
Now I know I can't satisfy every fan with every movie, and I know that for some people, even some of the guys we know, they will feel its not the movie they wanted from me, they want to see me in Ip Man 4, or SPL or Flashpoint 2. But I do feel confident that if they watch the movie, they will enjoy it, they will enjoy the action (laughing) even if they tell me there's not enough! But I also think they will benefit from watching the film in other areas, this film delivers on the content, on the story, the drama, the characters. I know some people just want to see action and while I am very proud of being a part of the action and martial arts movie industry, and thats what opened so many doors for me, I think that I can show there's more to me than just action, and I believe the audience can also broaden its minds. I think they can see the intention and feel the heart of the film, can feel what we are trying to say with this movie. I calculated what was needed to tell this story, if it was going to be a purely school focused movie, no action, with me either playing just a cameo or not appearing, i'm sorry to say but we wouldn't have been able to give it that much of a budget, especially with a cast of mainly unknown young actors. But I really wanted to tell this story, I wanted to talk about certain social issues in Hong Kong, especially ones that aren't often addressed in the right way, and with Big Brother we were able to do just that.
Mike: Now while the film isn't an action movie persay, it does feature two very impressive action sequences choreographed by your longtime protege, Japanese stuntman and action director Kenji Tanigki.
Donnie: Kenji is my disciple! (Laughing) I mean he's been with me for so long, and we've done everything from Hong Kong TV, German TV, local movies, International movies, movies I've directed and so much more. He was with me through the hard times, not just the good times, and it makes me very proud to see how far he has come as not just a stuntman and action director, but as a film-maker establishing his own brand.
I have worked with a lot of people over the years, people who you could say are the Donnie Yen Action Team, and they've all developed and grown over the years with what they can bring to the table on a project, as choreographers, as performers, as consultants and we have a mutual respect and understanding for each other. Kenji is someone that when we work together, he knows exactly what I want, and I know that he knows exactly what I want and that puts me in a good place to work, and even if he doesn't know what I want exactly (Laughing) he will understand as I tell him and know what I am going to tell him! It's very straightforward, I want it that way! (Laughing) Its nothing personal and he knows that, you know when I am shooting that I can be very intense and very focused on what I want, and sometimes especially with people who dont know me very well, they can sometimes take that intensity the wrong way and it can cause friction. But Kenji knows me very well, he knows where that is coming from, that I have a very strong creative drive and if I want to do something, I will do it, if I want that hit or reaction to be a certain way, thats the way I want it. And also he understands that while I am giving him the space to work as an action director/choreographer, there are times when I will make a call as to how something is done, because its very important to the vision for the scene. (Laughing) Maybe you should ask him how he feels about me? I think he feels the same way, I hope so! Its a very good working relationship, I like to work with him! And the audience can see that every time we collaborate there is something very special there! He is a very good friend, theres a brotherhood there!
The way I work with Kenji is very different to the way a lot of people work together, we have a very good understanding of eachother, what the other one wants, what the other one can do, there's almost a shared intuition. A big part of the way I work is on instinct, which I don't think suits a lot of people, but its the way I work and has been ever since the beginning, from the first day I stepped onto a film set and saw the way things were put together, my mind started telling me how I should approach it, from performing, to choreographing, to editing, I know I have this playing field and these parameters to work within and I go for it. Everyone has a slightly different way of doing things. Kenji, as we both know is a very hard worker, very meticulous, I think some of it comes from his upbringing, from Japanese culture, he's a lot more prepared and organized than I am. I can never go through all that preparation spending hours and days, working out the choreography and previz so exactly that he does. There's nothing wrong with that, it is the way he does it and it works for him, but for me (Laughing) maybe I'm more free spirited, more spontaneous, more lazy, more free style than him.
But I believe that because we have worked together for so many years, there's a shared knowledge and experience between us, there are a lot of theories and approaches to action movie making and choreography, that I don't want to say I created but i've gathered from all the years of working in front and behind the camera, these theories and philosophies for film making, especially action film making and I have no problem sharing with everyone and anyone, not just Kenji. So with Kenji, all these years from when we first started working together, be it in Hong Kong, in Germany, in Europe, in Japan, in China, i'm always talking, i'm always telling him about my ideas, my thoughts, my philosophies when it comes to movie making. Its almost become subconcious, me talking, him listening and absorbing them, and I'm always coming up with stuff, I might be shooting this movie one way, and I start coming up with an idea or thoughts on how I would shoot something else another way. So all these years, Kenji has been such a great student and hard worker, he's absorbed all this knowledge and experience from me, and some of the other people he has worked with, he's like a sponge for action movie making! (Laughing) So sometimes I will look at footage he's shot, and maybe I wasnt on set when he shot it, but I will ask him “why does this look like the last movie I shot?” and its just he automatically connects with my style, we work together very well, I think we complement each others abilities.
He brings in that knowledge, that preparation, that work ethic, so I know no matter what he's going to bring the action to a very good level, and then when I come in I have that comfort zone of knowing I can adjust and fine tune, and make some adjustments here and there. You saw when we were on set, Kenji had designed and run through the locker room fight with you & your guys, and then I came on set and we looked at it, and made some slight adjustments to the choreography and certain moves, but also setting the tone for the drama leading into the fight, we're not fighting to the death in the locker room, i'm taking on an entire MMA team and Jess (Liaudin) the champion. I had an idea of how I wanted that scene to flow, so Kenji set up the action and Kam Kar-wai the director set up the drama, and on both sides I did a bit of adjusting for mood and set up and then we went for it. But I also step in at a very important stage after that, during editing, I want to see how its coming together, and to see if there is anything I had in my mind that perhaps didnt go into the fight the way I want it, the editing of an action scene is just as important as the choreography. People forget that! With Kenji, its close to 25 years of knowing eachother and working together, thats a very long time to work together! He is one of the best and its been great to see him and his journey too over the years.
Mike: Now Kenji stepped up to be the Full Director for your next project.
Donnie: Enter the Fat Dragon! (Laughing) It's totally different, its nothing like Big Brother, its a totally different set of rules. From day one, I set the parameters, it doesnt matter who I am working with now, be it Kenji as action director or director, Kar-Wai as Director, the Cinematographer whoever, I set a tone! When you're making a film with so many different talented people, if you don't set a tone its so easy for everyone to come in with even a slightly different idea and you end up with something that just doesnt come together, a clash of creativity!
For this movie, I told them I want it to be bigger! Everything, the camerawork needs to be bigger, the framework, the feel, for Big Brother I wanted that real feeling, so we went hand held for everything, for this I wanted a more cinematic feel, like a Hollywood musical! (Laughing) Really like a big old Jackie Chan Chinese New Year movie, big lavish gigantic film, but we can still make it contemporary, my rhythm is different even if we set these parameters my approach will never be exactly the same as Jackie's, but with that direction being set for the tone, we all knew what we were working towards, Kenji now had that in his mind, the cinematographer too, how to set up the shots, how to give it that feel. Its a big project for him, you've been to see him in editing, he's going crazy with the post production, there's so much to do, a lot of SFX work he needs to supervise and its a lot of pressure for him. Its a big movie, and he's not only handling the action for Enter the Fat Dragon, he directed the drama and comedy too, so he's got to oversee the whole film! He had a good team around him, eben myself, we all like him, we support him, we want him to do well, we didnt want him to feel he was on his own, and also to make sure that he can deliver in all the departments.
Mike: Its funny because when I sat in on the edit and watched the rough cut a few weeks ago, I told him that it reminded me, gave me the feel of a Jackie Chan or Cinema City Chinese New Year comedy, from the golden days
Donnie: Thats exactly what I wanted! From Day One when I said to Wong Jing about making this movie, I wanted to make that kind of film. I've analyzed the market and not just as a producer but as a film goer, I said to him “dont you miss that kind of film? I miss those films and the market wants it, so lets make one!” So that was the clear direction, and Kenji and his team would show me their ideas for the action, and even when we were shooting, they would shoot me and show me the edits of the scene and I would tell him what we needed to adjust or reshoot if necessary. You know I'm still hands on Mike
Mike: Now what was the inspiration for the movie. A lot of people still seem to think that its going to be a remake of Sammo Hung's version.
Donnie: Of course Enter the Fat Dragon was inspired by two things, the first one obviously being Sammo Hung's Enter the Fat Dragon from the 1970's, his film is very funny and has some great ideas and action, but this movie has nothing to do with it apart from the title. I always liked that title, Enter the Fat Dragon! And the other thing was when I did that commercial a few years back for the matresses, where I was wearing the fat suit and dancing and doing some kicks and stuff. (Laughing) I think a lot of people liked the idea of a fat Donnie Yen who could still fight!
Mike: You get to wear some pretty extensive prosthetics in the film, the fat face and full body suit. How do you find working with the make up? And does wearing that suit affect the way you move?
Donnie: But Mike, the prosthetics I hate them! I've worn them before on Monkey King and of course on Chasing the Dragon, but it never seems to get any easier! (Laughing) When we finished Monkey King, I said I would never do another movie where I have to wear full prosthetics, and then on Chasing the Dragon I was wearing prosthetic make up on my nose and lips to change the look of them, and once again I really didn't like it and then here we are again with Fat Dragon and I'm wearing even more prosthetics but not only on my face, but my whole body! I've got the face, my arms, my legs, the belly, my whole body augmented by the make-up. (Laughing) I really hate it , but i'm not only the actor, but the Producer so I have to be professional, wear it and hate it with a passion while doing the job!
Mike: Do you find wearing prosthetics for something like Monkey King or this helps you get into character? Does it let you escape being Donnie Yen and become the character?
Donnie: It's a very good question, I really thought about that. At first you think this is great, it can change my appearance, I can be somebody totally different but then again it can also be very restricting. Automaticlly it restricts your facial expression, you can't be free, you have to get used to the make up and work it, and see whats needed, how to make the expressions read through the make up, you have to learn about your face all over again, a small expression doesnt necessarily read so you have to make them bigger, exagerate so they register through the prosthetics.
And of course I'm not just restricted in the face, i'm wearing the whole fat suit, so everything is bigger, my legs, my arms, my stomach, so it affects the way you move, at first it threw out my balance and stuff sometines, it sound silly but even simple things like walking, jumping, doing up my pants, sitting down, they are all now slightly different due to the fat suit. And then when i'm throwing a punch or kick, thats now different too, it does make you feel like you're overweight. And especially at first I found it did affect the way I fight, suddenly i'm carrying maybe 30/40 lbs of extra weight that i'm not used to. (Laughing) But at least now I have some padding when somebody hits me!
Mike: Now the last few years have seen you doing a variety of movies, Chasing the Dragon where it's a much more dramatic role, Big Brother which was more of a personal message and the light hearted comedy that is Enter the Fat Dragon. Now on all of these movies, you've been shall we say a hands on acotor/producer, you're very invovled in the films, you don't just turn up, say your lines, throw a kick and leave. When are we going to see you direct a movie again?
Donnie: (Laughing) I've thought about it, you know that! There's been a couple of projects we've talked about where I did think about sitting fully in the Director's chair. Some times that spark really ignites and I really want to direct again, to run every aspect of the production. You know me, you know how I work, you've seen me work, you've spent so much time on my sets, you know that on pretty much the majority of the movies i've done in the last 10 years or so, i've been very hands on, very invovled in multiple aspects of the production, not just in front but behind the camera. You know I will pick up the camera and especially on films like Big Brother and Enter the Fat Dragon, I can be very honest with you, I'll not only pick up the camera but if I can be very blunt with you, I wont just pick up the camera to shoot something the way I want it, (Laughing) I'll take over the whole set! Thats just the way I work! When we did the locker room scene, when I arrived you know I wasn't comfortable with the way they had been shooting the set up for that scene. The gym was too clean, the mood wasn't right. (Laughing) Remember I arrived, and I told you, we have to change this, turn off the air con, crank up the music, lets get this feeling like a real gym, not a film set. Let's get everyone moving more naturally, lets make it feel real! Let's make it messy and sweaty! And it works for the scene!
On Big Brother, Fat Dragon and you saw even on Chasing the Dragon, if I feel we need to shoot something a specific way to tell the story, to fill in the blanks, I will speak up, I want these movies to be the best they can be and if I have to ruffle some feathers I will! I'm not trying to be rude, or to be the Big Boss to the crew, but its the way I am used to working! Same way for Johnnie To, even if he is just producing a movie, it has that Johnnie To feel, he will come and take over the set, he has the way he wants things done, he knows what people expect from a Johnnie To movie. And same or me, I know my crew so well, and they know me so well that they expect me to take over when I feel things arent going the way I think they should, when I feel inspired by an idea for something. I like directing, I do have a lot of fun when I direct but as we discussed earlier, for me to spend months prepping and planning like Kenji or Kar-wai, and always being the first one on set and the last one to leave every day. That kind of responsibility, unfortunately I don't have that time, that dedication to spend a year or a year and a half maybe on just one project every day.
You knew me when I was directing Legend of the Wolf & Ballistic Kiss, and the process consumed me! (Laughing) I like to do what I do now, I like being an actor and Producer, I get to come in and do my stuff, I have that freedom to step in and step up when I feel its necessary but I also have that freedom to let these very talented people like Kenji & Kar-wai do their work, and I can help them, and guide them and support them when needed. I just don't think I have that time or energy anymore to just devote myself 24 hours a day to a single project for months on end.
Mike: Star Wars! A recent comment you made regarding the success of Rogue One etc in China got a lot of attention, perhaps for the wrong reasons. Would you say you were misquoted?
Donnie: I don't think I was misquoted! I'm not going to take back what I said, but I think it was more taken out of context in regards to how I said it. People ran it almost like that was the headline, “Donnie Yen slams Star Wars!” as if that was the focus of the interview. The original interview was focused about Big Brother, and we were talking about the way the industry has changed and working in East & West, and the question was raised about why certain films have worked so well in China, and others like Star Wars perhaps haven't performed as well as originally expected. And what I said wasn't in any way knocking Star Wars, I am very proud of having been able to be a part of the Star Wars universe with Rogue One, and the reception we've had to that film from so many people has been so great. But and I stand by this, China especially doesn't really have that long history with Star Wars that the rest of the world has, and Star Wars isn't as immediately as accessible as something like a Marvel movie. I am very appreciative of Star Wars and having a role like Chirrut-Imwe.
I think its very unfortunate that China is one country where Star Wars hasn't done as well as hoped, compared to otherplaces. But as I said, Star Wars in most countries has generations of fandom handed down to the next generation and so on, the whole family knows the story and the characters and the universe. The China audience is still growing and still educating itself, I don't think the China audience is as technically sophisticated as audiences in America, something like a Marvel movie is a big spectacle which for a lot of audiences in China is what they are looking for, the while family gets together to go see a show, to be entertained. They don't necessarily want to have to learn something.
Mike: Now as we speak you are currently in New Zealand working on Disney's live action adaptation of Mulan.
Donnie: If you want assurance as an actor that you're making a movie of a certain level of quality, you can't go wrong with a Disney movie, it's a guarantee of quality. This is an iconic story. I've watched the animated version of this story with my daughter probably 100 times, i've sung all the songs, I know all the songs! (Laughing) in fact when they called me, I was really excited about the idea of getting to be in a musical, but its not the direction they're going. But its fun, and I get to share this adventure and experience very closely with my family. Mulan means a lot to my daughter.
Mike: So maybe that's it, if we get you to do a musical, you will direct?
Donnie: (Laughing) Its funny you say that, but I was chatting with some peers the other day and we were talking about projects and I told them, I would really love to do a musical! I mean it, I would love to do something like that, to come in and sing and dance and have some fun on sceeen in something like that. Can you imagine having the schedule like they do in America for a musical, where you get to spend the time, learning to dance, learning to sing, getting the chance to prepare properly for something like that, I want to do a musical! That's a personal desire, I think that would be a great challenge! (Laughing) But I don't know about directing it! Its hard enough being away from my family at times with filming, so all that extra time to be away, focused on preparing every single shot, every costume, everything, you know me, if I am full on director I will be 100% focused and then all I will be thinking about is that movie. (Laughing) But I would love to produce it, and have some one else to direct it and i'll just play a role! If you know anyone who wants to do a musical, let me know!
Mike: Well John Woo has always spoken of his desire to do a musical, and you guys did come close to working together before
Donnie: Yes, John Woo and myself talked about doing a TV show some years ago. I know he's a big fan of musicals, he said a lot of his action scenes were inspired by musicals. When Peter Chan (Chan Ho-san), when he did that project Perhaps Love with Takeshi Kaneshiro and Jacky Cheung. Its kind of a musical, when he did that film, I told him, you should have hired me! I would have happily taken a role in that and I think my singing and dancing would have been as good as almost anyone else in the movie!
Mike: Now you have a number of projects in development and pre-production including Benny Chan's Cross Fire and the video game adaptation Sleeping Dogs, whats going to be next for you?
Donnie: It's looking like the Benny Chan movie will be earlier than Sleeping Dogs. The script for Benny's movie is done, just a change in schedules. That's looking like a Mexico shoot. Now I know a lot of people are very excited about Sleeping Dogs, but we still have a way to go in development. Its taken a while but we've finally found a wriiter that myself and Neal Moritz the Producer have agreed upon, and he's got to work on the script, as we really want it to be accurate, we want it to reflect the real Hong Kong and the game. Its been a long journey, we;ve had to deal with some obstacles, Square Enix finally signed off on everything. Its taken a lot of time, international projects just take a lot of time even for prep, in Hong Kong I could have made 5 movies in the time its taken just to get started on this one! The good thing is that we're all on the same page, we all want this to work and ready to move forward.
Benny Chan's movie will be an all out action film, its going to be big! There's also a couple of other projects in the works that are top secret at the moment, that I think people will be very excited about, and of course I also just wrapped on Ip Man 4!
Mike: How did it feel to be stepping into the shoes of Master Ip Man for the fourth time?
Donnie: The 4th time! Its great but i'm always putting my foot in my mouth aren't I? (Laughing) I keep saying that this is the last one, and then a few years later I do another one! I said that when we did Ip Man 2 I felt like that was a good place to stop, and then Wilson and Edmond come up with the idea for Part 3 a few years later and I go ok, I like this we should do it, but this will be the last one and now Wilson came up with the idea for this one Ip Man 4, and we decided we should all work together and do this one, this is the last one! (Laughing) Its funny because its such an iconic character, and how many actors really get a chance to play such a role in 4 epic movies, there's a lot of people who've played a role once or twice, some who've done it three times, but its rare that you get to make the 4th! Its hard, making a trilogy is hard enough but to make a 4 film series that keeps the key crew, myself, Wilson as Director, Edmond Wong as scriptwriter and Raymond Wong as Producer thats a rarity! But people keep asking me to return as Ip Man, yes the audience has asked for it but we're not just doing it because thats what the market wants!
Now i'm so pleased to share with you through this interview some thoughts about the new Ip Man movie! Its not just for the market, we had people asking us to do Ip Man 4 since the minute we released Ip Man 3, but Wilson couldnt come up with an idea, storyline that he felt would do the character and the audience justice, until he came up with this one, and we discussed it and agreed this was the one to develop and make a reality! Wilson found a very strong idea that he felt we could build and when he told us, we all got excited and felt this would be very appealing to a wide audience and have a message that people will appreciate, he feels it has the scope and we're all confident that its going to deliver. So lets see! I feel its a very strong and powerful conclusion to the story of Ip Man, yes I think really this will be the last one.
Mike: So we won't be doing an Ip Man 5 interview in a couple of years?
Donnie: (Laughing) I should never say never again! Who knows Mike, you really never know. Look at Rocky, we all thought that story had come to an end with Rocky V, and then what 20 years later he picks up the story with Rocky Balboa, and its so good! And then he takes it further with Creed and now Creed 2, thats filming now right? (Laughing) and he's preparing Rambo V! With some of these iconic characters if you get the chance to expand upon their history, take them on one more journey, if the destination is good enough, the journey is worth it! Its going to be good, trust me, people are going to like Ip Man 4!
Mike: Now Ip Man 4 also sees you reunited with your mentor Yuen Woo-ping and facing off against British martial arts sensation Scott Adkins
Donnie: Of course, Yuen Woo-ping is the reason I got into the film industry in the first place, he is the one who invited me to make movies and started teaching me, so its great to be working with him again. We know each other so well, and we understand how the action needs to compliment the characters and the story.
As for working with Scott, he's very good! You had spoken to me before about him but I wanted to find the right role for him, and in Ip Man 4, his role is something very special. It was the right role and the right time for us to work together. His role is something that I think will suprise the audience, you know what his character is! Its very cool! I really feel very lucky when I get to work with people who are very skilled fighters, screen fighters, real fighters and also are very passionate about their work and Scott really loves the acting just as much as the action and that lifts the character. There's a lot of people who can do the fighting, and a lot of people who can do the acting, but its not easy to find someone who can do both so well, Scott is one of the few. You know when you are making a movie, its not just one person, everyone has to do their part, everyone needs to chip in and do their part, they can't just leave me to carry the whole boat on my own, if you do that the boat will sink! But if everyone loves what they do and gives their best, and has respect for eachother and their position on the project, the film will be lifted and we will get something special from it. On this film, Scott really brings a lot to his character and not just in the action, and I think the fights with him and another fighter Chris Collins (Paradox) will be very memorable, they aren't just going through the motions!
I really enjoyed making Ip Man 4, we really had a blast shooting this movie, everyone worked so well together, we actually came in under schedule! You know we shot some of the movie in England, in Liverpool right? You helped bring in the UK coordinator Jude Poyer to work with us right! It was good to have a coordinator who understood what Yuen Woo-ping and myself would need. Now it might seem funny that the movie features scenes shot in Liverpool that are set in San Francisco, but we had some issues with shooting in America, including the fact Wilson felt the Chinatown there looked too modern, he felt it didn't really look like 1960's America. So we shot some of the Chinatown stuff in China, and then we looked at Liverpool and it looked right for the time setting, not just the Chinatown stuff, some of the buildings had that old America look, and the UK crew were very helpful and welcoming to us
Mike: So What's next for Donnie Yen?
Donnie: I really want to take a break, and I want to spend some time with my family. (Laughing) But you know me, I really can't stop! I know I may not be as young as before, but my creativity and passion for making films seems stronger then ever. I really enjoy making films, i've been making films for over thirty years now, and i've had ups and downs, but i've never lost that passion for it.
Now I know people like to see me play Ip Man, and they've seen me play traiditonal kung fu movies and stuff, but you know what I want to return to, and I really think its what I do best? The contemporary action movie, I still think SPL, Flashpoint, Special ID, ok maybe the story wasn't as strong on that one, but I really like the modern day action movies. I'm always looking for a good script or stroyline that would allow us to deliver on the action in the present day, thats one of the reasons I'm really looking forward to Sleeping Dogs and Cross Fire with Benny Chan, as they're both modern day action, thats the kind of films I want to start making again and I feel the modern day setting give us so many options and opportunties for creativity when it comes to the action.
I look at a lot of these modern days movies now, movies like the Mission Impossible series, the Bourne Identity movies, The Raid, they all have that sense of excitement with the mdoern day setting, I want to see that Mark Wahlberg movie Mile 22, the trailer gives you that feel, martial arts, guns, the modern setting works.
I look around and I see its starting to reignite here, looking at some of my contempories, Max Zhang from Ip Man 3, he's got a couple of these modern day actioners coming out, he has that one with Anderson Silva, Wu Jing doing the Wolf Warriors, and I look at them and go, thats where I broke out with films like Tiger Cage 1 & 2, Line of Duty 4, thats what I do best! And it's resparked my fire to make that kind of movie again ! (Laughing) I have a lot of really cool ideas for action setpieces and some stories that I'm cooking up right now in my brain, I want to bring the passion and the fire back to modern day action! I will say, thats what I want to do, all modesty aside, I want to take the modern day action movie to the next level again!
Mike: Thats what I like to hear! Someone who still has the passion, and the fire! That's why i've really enjoyed working with you in the last couple of years on various projects and getting to see that! You're not simply willing to make do, you want to raise the bar! As with Chasing the Dragon, when yoy felt the finale needed more and we did the reshoots, through Big Brother, Ip Man 4 and what you want to do next. I think I said to you after the Big Brother premiere, that it reminded me why I fell in love with Hong Kong Cinema, you wouldn't get Dead Poet's Society that transitions into an action movie at certain points.
Donnie: (Laughing) The edginess! Thats what I wanted to bring back, polish it a bit but bring back some of that sense of sheer fun that Hong Kong Cinema used to have! I want to tell a movie with a message, how can I find a way to make a movie that talks about some of the problems in the education system, ok what if I'm this teacher with a past who gets drawn into their lives! With Fat Dragon, lets make one of those big Chinese New Year extravaganzas like they used to make in the 80's at Golden Harvest and Cinema City!
Mike, we both love movies! You love Hong Kong Film, thats why you came to Hong Kong all those years ago! You do a lot of stuff here, casting and consulting, and helping Hong Kong films and International Films find Hong Kong talent etc. I see the enthusiasm you bring when we work on projects, thats what I want to see!
I like working with people who have the enthusiasm, the passion, like the fighters you brought in for Big Brother, those guys weren't going through the motion, they were on set getting slammed and thrown around, like Kenji's guys, and they wanted to be there! They are the people who want to be making movies! Those are the people I want to be making movies with, people who want to make movies, who want to raise the bar, who want to make better movies! Thats the way to make better movies and that what I want to do!