Donnie was born in the Guangzhou province of China, July 27, 1963. Moving to Hong Kong at the age of two, Yen lived there until he was eleven years old. The sharp-skilled martial artist would later move to the United States (Boston) with his family, where he would celebrate his 12th birthday. Donnie had started receiving martial arts training at the age of four from his mother – a super talented tai chi and wushu grandmaster. Although a big enthusiast of martial arts cultures and principles, his father, Kylster Yen – was a newspaper editor.
In the United States, young Donnie Yen would continue to exhibit an insatiable appetite for martial arts skills and knowledge. He continued practicing wushu and tai chi, but also took classes in other diverse martial arts styles, including kickboxing, taekwondo and boxing. At the age of sixteen, the teenage boy was sent by his parent to a top Chinese Martial Arts school named the Beijing Wushu Academy. The school was run by Master Wu Bin, a widely renowned coach who’d also trained other great performers – including Jet Li. During the 3 years of intensive training at the academy, Donnie began to build the self-discipline and confidence he needed to become a world-class wushu master. He also made history as the first non-China based student to be admitted to the school. Before his trip back home to the States, fate took its reigns and Donnie accidentally met (in Hong Kong) with one of the most influential figures in the Chinese film industry. This would be the starting point of his long and fruitful career in the film industry.
Action director/filmmaker/choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping served as the inspiration the young wushu graduate needed to break into the big screen industry. Yuen Woo-Ping was famous in the Hong Kong action scene and had apparently brought Jackie Chan to Super Stardom. Yen was granted a screen test that earned him places in 4 pictures. The young artist’s first appearance was a doubling duty on the movie The Miracle Fighters in 1982. His first film soon after, Drunken Tai Chi (1984), was a total hit. Yen was only 19 years old. He continued his early acting career working with Woo-Ping Yuen. His skills progressed as he gained more experience while working in the professional setting. By the late 80’s and the mid 90’s, Donnie Yen had already attracted significant national attention. He was as a result offered a contract by D&B Films Co., where he did major roles in well known films such as Tiger Cage (1988), In the Line of Duty (1989) and Tiger Cage 2 (1990), and further spreading his reputation within China. Unfortunately, D&B Films Co. however got bankrupt and Yen had no choice but to return to low budget film-making.
But this was not to last. The increasing popularity of Kung Fu in China made it possible for aspiring filmmakers to make a comeback when they had something good to show. Before long, Yen was selected for a position in Once Upon a Time in China II (1992). His performance had impressed the famous director, Hark Tsui, who eventually adopted Donnie into a role as General Lan. He was nominated for best Supporting Actor during the Hong Film Awards (1992). The combination of Yen’s screen appeal with the spirited motivation of Jet Li revolutionized the standards of Asian martial arts. To date, Yen’s pound-to-pound fights with Jet Li are still regarded as some of the most outstanding in the history of Chinese Film Making. During the years that followed, up to 1997, Donnie made prominent appearances in a number of other films – including the TV Show, Jing Wu men.
Production Company, Choreography and Directing
In 1997, Donnie started his own film production company and named it Bullet Films. He made his directional debut later in the same year with the film Legend of the Wolf, in which he also starred. His directing and choreographing practice was based on his extensive experience within the film industry. From his breakout days, Donnie had learnt so much from Woo-Ping Yuen and other brilliant talent he had rubbed shoulders with. Between 1997 and the millennium year, Yen invested his efforts in Ballistic Kiss (1998) and City of Darkness (1999). He was involved choreographing for fight scenes and also appeared in lesser roles in films such as Highlander: Endgame (2000) and Blade II (2002). His unparalleled focus saw him greatly enhance his cinematic skills both in the United States and in Asia. In the same year (2002), Donnie was awarded the role assassin Sky by renowned Chinese director Yimou Zhang in Hero. Also starring Jet Li, Hero staged the most anticipated fight scene of 2002 – resulting in overwhelming box office figures. The year was the beginning of Donnie success in big-budget films.
In 2003, Donnie appeared alongside Jackie Chan in Shanghai Knights, which furthered his reputation and increased recognition both in the United States and China. In the same year, Donnie flew back to Hong Kong and played a role in The Twins Effect (2003), courtesy of his friend Bey Logan. The film earned him an awards nomination for ‘Best Action Design’ during the Hong Kong Film Awards (2003). Later on, the now global-caliber actor directed Gin chap hak mooi gwai (2004), and acted The Twins Effect II (2004), where he once again appeared onscreen alongside Jackie Chan on a much charged fight scene. Between 2005 and 2007, Yen was involved in a number of film projects that increasingly put him on the spotlight as an actor – leading to multiple awards nominations and subsequent wins.
In recent years, Yen had a major role in the battle epic An Empress and the Warriors (2008), supernatural romance movie Painted Skin (2008) and martial arts biopic IP Man (2008).
From his early days as an aspiring martial arts student, to his debut years in the Hong Kong Film industry and later his major recognition in the global film arena – Donnie Yen has proved to be the one martial arts actor and director who’ll always break new grounds.
In 1994, Donnie was briefly married to Jowan Leung Sing-Si. They got a son from this marriage, which ended in divorce a year later (1995).
Yen has been married to Cecilia Cissy Wang, the winter of the 2000 Miss Chinese Toronto Pageant, since 2003. They have a daughter named Jasmine (born in 2004), and a son named James (2007).
- Yen likes to choreograph creative, unconventional and realistic fight scenes.
- He is known for playing tough and impulsive characters in his films.
- Yen likes to employ diverse kicking techniques – including but not limited to splits-kick, jumping front-kick and jumping back-kick while running forward, among others
- Yen often teams up with Wilson Yip.
- He prefers to work with real martial artists rather than mere actors in his films. Over the years, he has acted with popular martial artists such as Jacky Wu, Jet Li, Xin Xin Xiong, Yu Xing, Siu-Wong Fan, John Salvitti, Cung Le and Michael Woods.
- Yen is the brother of Christ Yen, and a big enthusiast of Bruce Lee
- He can speak fluent Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Casually, he can speak Korean, which he learned as a pre-requirement during the shooting of Seven Swords.
- His current wife Cissy Wang is 18 years younger
- He a trained pianist
- Born in China, bred in Boston, Massachusetts, USA
- Sustained a serious injury in his right shoulder while filming Mismatched Couples (1985), which still affects him today
- Well trained in diverse martial arts, including boxing, wushu, tae kwon do and kick-boxing
- Is considered the fastest martial artist by Michelle Yeoh
Height: 5ft 8in (1.73m)
Weight; 165lb (75kg)
Fighting style; Boxing,Wrestling,Brazilian Jiu Jitsu,Judo,Kickboxing,Muay Thai,Taikwando,Wushu and Wing Chun