Whether you know his name or just recognize his face, Donnie Yen is one of the biggest action stars in the world. This 52-year-old Chinese superstar has been a lifelong expert on martial arts and has brought his passion to the screen in one way or another for the last three decades.
Donnie’s newest film, Ip Man 3, finds him returning to the series that broke box office records in Asia with its first two installments. We recently chatted with Donnie over the phone from LA, and he spoke about his current, past, and future adventures on the silver screen.
With this being your third go-round as the character, did you find new ways to keep it interesting or challenging?
With each movie, we hope to make something very different. After three installments in a franchise it’s hard to keep up the quality; sometimes you can run out of ideas or freshness in the material. But from the reactions we’ve received, a lot of people are feeling that this installment is better than the first two.
Did you learn anything different about Ip Man – the character or the real life inspiration – making this movie that you didn’t know before?
Well, you can’t be playing a different character, so it really becomes more about retaining the character. In the eight years since I’ve last played this character, I’ve definitely matured with age. So I’ve tried to bring some of that maturity with me to the character.
How was it working with Mike Tyson?
Awesome! I’m a big boxing fan and I’ve watched all of his fights. I never imagined I’d be sharing a screen with him, let alone fighting with him. But he was really great to work with, and very nice.
Can you tell me a bit about the collaboration between you two and the action choreographer on set?
With [action choreographer] Yu Win Ping, who I’ve worked with many times, I understand how he works and his cultural and requirements for choreography. I’ve studied all forms of martial arts, including boxing, but obviously not to the same degree as Tyson. But because I was so familiar with the man, I was able to know what to bring out of him. I was then able to help convey these requirements as a go-between. The three of us wanted to make one of the best fight scenes in movie history, and I think that we did that.
Did you feel any pressure to follow up the success of the first two films?
With every movie, we always try to create something groundbreaking. From Drunken Tai Chi to the first Ip Man and now 3. We know we’re going to bring the best fight scenes possible to life, but I also had to embody the character outside of the fight scenes and how he deals with the situation with his wife. Capturing the character’s inner emotional problems – that was something I knew I must nail down.
I have to tell you – I’m a massive fan of Blade II. What would it take for you to reteam with Guillermo Del Toro someday on another movie?
It’s funny that you mention Guillermo! About a year ago, Guillermo actually approached me – and I can’t say about what project – but he talked about wanting me to be part of a film he’s developing. After over ten years since we last worked together, I’d love the chance to be in another one of his movies.
I have to ask about the upcoming Star Wars: Rogue One. How is filming going?
We finished shooting already! We shot for five months in London. Every single person on the cast and crew was great, so cool, so friendly. The director, Gareth [Edwards], is such a wonderful, cool dude. I had a great time filming Rogue One.
Were there any cast members you got to work with more than the rest?
I spent most of my time with Felicity, Diego, and Wen Jiang – the other Chinese actor in the cast. My scenes were mainly with our little group – the ‘Rogue One’ squadron. I had a really great time filming in London.
You also have the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon coming out soon.
Last year was so good for me, filming Rogue One and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Ip Man 3. I actually filmed Crouching Tiger before Ip Man 3. Now that they’re all being released, I’m feeling really good about this year!
Do you think you’ll return for another film in the Ip Man series?
Well, as we’ve seen with a lot of franchises, the quality – the sexiness – goes down by the third movie. It seems, in some opinions, that Ip Man 3 is better than 1 and 2 so who knows, we might yet see Ip Man 4!