Credit :Donnie Yen official site
Donnie Yen poses with
Director Doug Aarniokoski and Adrian Paul on the set of Highlander
By John Bierly
a dozen Highlander fans what they thought the most kick-ass part of
Highlander: Endgame was, and odds are they'll all mention the fight
between Adrian Paul as Duncan MacLeod and Donnie Yen as Jin Ke.
up and along a wall with scissors is dangerous enough, but Duncan MacLeod
does it with a katana in hand as he fights his way through a band of
Immortal bad guys in what's left of Connor MacLeod's New York loft. When
Duncan's wildly costumed and heavily armed opponents see that they can't
keep up with the Highlander's speed, agility, and power, they realize it's
time to take it up a notch.
my man Jin Ke deal with him," snaps the one called Winston.
there he stands with an introspective look in his eyes, a contemplative
hand on his chin, and a wicked-looking bladed staff stabbed into the
ground beside him. Duncan addresses him cautiously. "Jin Ke … who
served with the Emperor Chin." The man's reputation obviously
same man," Jin replies, still contemplating MacLeod.
say you're a man of honor," Duncan says, wondering why a man like Jin
Ke is running with this group of losers.
do you know about honor?" And in a flurry of hands and feet, Jin
kicks his weapon into his hands and moves at MacLeod with speed that would
make a cheetah feel inadequate.
says the weary Highlander, and charges. They lock weapons, each man as
fast as the other. Duncan leaps, spins, and swipes at Jin's head in a
strategic bid to end it quickly but Jin ducks low, matching everything
that MacLeod throws at him in a dazzling display of skill from both men.
Finally their weapons lock and Jin vaults himself around on his staff,
kicking his legs, but Duncan ducks under his furious feet and cuts the
staff out from under him. Like a cat, Jin lands on his feet, setting
himself into a stance that would make Bruce Lee nervous. "Honor is
not in the weapon," Jin says. "It's in the man."
MacLeod, a man of honor, wordlessly rolls his sword in his hand, stabs it
into the floor and engages Jin in a beautifully deadly ballet of martial
arts mania that's unlike anything ever seen in Highlander. When the fight
is interrupted, Jin and MacLeod share a nod of acknowledgement and respect
that adds yet another dimension to this exciting character.
Ke is an effective character because the actor who plays him, Donnie Yen,
has a screen presence so smoldering that it's impossible to take your eyes
off of him. It's in his eyes. It's in his voice. He commands the camera's
attention and the audience has no choice but to be swept into his
performance. But Yen is far more than just an actor. He's a filmmaker in
his own right who's directed and choreographed some of the hottest action
to come out of Hong Kong over the last two decades. Highlander Fan Central
recently caught up to Donnie on the set of his current TV series,
Codename: Puma, in Germany.
things first: Donnie Yen is cool.
I first spoke to him to set up a time for this interview, Donnie's first
concern was with time zones. He didn't want to do it at a time that would
require me to call in what would be the middle of the night on my side of
the Atlantic. "We must consider what would be the best time for
you," he said.
Yen. Asking me what would be most convenient for me. What a guy. We
decided on 2 p.m. my time, 8 p.m. his time. When I called, Donnie was busy
in the editing room. He's doing director and fight-choreographer duties on
We kick off the conversation by talking about martial arts. While many
young martial artists cite legends like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan as their
idols, Donnie found his inspiration closer to home.
mom teaches martial arts," says Donnie, who grew up in Boston.
"My mom is actually one of the top female martial arts instructors in
the country. Since I was a child, I was brought up in a martial arts
family. I traveled all around the world to study various styles of martial
of those teachers was Yuen Wo-ping, who choreographed the mind-blowing and
physics-bending action in The Matrix.
started my film career very, very early," Donnie explains. "In
Hong Kong, my mentor-the person who brought me into the film circle-was
Yuen Wo-ping. I started working with him way back when I was 19. He was
looking for the next Jackie Chan. Actually, he's the man who launched
Jackie Chan's career with the films Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and
Drunken Master, which put Jackie on his way to becoming a superstar. Yuen
Wo-ping was obviously one of the key players in terms of being a director
of martial arts films in Hong Kong. He wanted to launch my career. I
started working with him, doing features. I started building a lot of
followers in Hong Kong and I've never stopped working. I've made about 31
features, and I started doing a lot of action choreography for him for all
of his films, so I sort of became his number one man."
work found Donnie doing double duty in front of and behind the camera,
simultaneously performing actor and director duties on martial arts
features and television series. Six years ago he started his own
production company, and the quality of his work caught the attention of
a matter of fact, I was in the middle of another production when Miramax
called me," Donnie says. "They were looking for the next action
icon. They wanted to have their own action icon. They were very impressed
with my work."
main man Harvey Weinstein had seen Yen's film Iron Monkey and liked what
Monkey is one of the most influential martial arts films of the
decade," Donnie explains. "Miramax wanted to put me in a film,
but they didn't really have a film appropriate for me at the time, except
for Highlander. It was an action flick. So they talked to me about putting
me in the film but there was no specific role for me. They were so
enthusiastic about wanting me to be in the film that they had the
scriptwriter call me up. We collaborated and made up the character, which
eventually became Jin Ke. I'd just finished watching a movie called The
Emperor and the Assassin, and I had an idea about a character that would
fit into the world of Immortals."
based Jin Ke on his favorite character from that film. He also
collaborated on the set with director Doug Aarniokoski to further develop
Jin. But even given the important role he played in creating his
character, Donnie wasn't sure what to expect from the world of Highlander.
had no expectations whatsoever," Donnie says. "Miramax just sent
me to Romania, where I met up with the crew and Adrian Paul and Doug. I'd
only seen the first two Highlander movies. So I went there with an open
mind. The weather was very cold."
wanted Donnie to be the film's martial arts choreographer. Swordmaster
duties were already being handled by F. Braun McAsh, and Adrian Paul's own
martial arts arranger, Vernon Rieta, was not only working on martial arts
with Adrian but also starring in the film as one of Kell's henchmen.
"It was a mixture of collaborations," Donnie says.
was a mixture that certainly paid off. The Duncan MacLeod/Jin Ke fight is
a masterpiece of motion that combines weapons, hands, and feet. "On
Highlander, I just kind of walked in and collaborated with Adrian and
worked with him and his martial arts style and tried to work out mutual
ways to bring the best choreography to the film."
their mutual levels of skill and dedication, it's not surprising that the
fight was packed with so much kick-assitude.
Paul is a very nice guy and a dedicated, hard worker," Donnie says of
the Highlander himself.
also designed Jin Ke's awesome entrance in the film's Sanctuary scene, in
which the helmeted Immortal drives out of the fog on a motorcycle toward
shotgun-wielding Watchers. When shotgun blasts blow big holes in his
motorcycle, Donnie stands on the still-moving bike and spins in the air as
it explodes, sending a belching ball of fire into the air behind him. He
lands two devastating kicks on his opponents before his feet even hit the
follows is a flurry of martial arts action that includes one of the film's
most exciting visuals: Jin Ke rips off his helmet, tosses it high into the
air, leaps, and kicks it at an approaching gunman. When two more armed
Watchers approach him, he spreads his arms out to his sides with beautiful
grace and cool defiance.
Donnie talks about what Doug's enthusiasm added to the scene.
young, he's open, and he's willing to do anything," Donnie says of
Aarniokoski. "In the last couple of years, Hong Kong filmmakers have
kind of taken Hollywood by storm. It started with John Woo and now many
are crossing over, like Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and Yuen Wo-ping with The
Matrix. Doug was quite curious about what I could come up with. He was
very cool. He had a lot of respect for Hong Kong films. I asked Doug, 'You
want me to kick some ass, right?' He said, 'Yeah! What are you going to
do?' Again, this is the kind of stuff we do in Hong Kong. I wanted to
develop the idea but at the same time be confident that it would work. It
explains how designing the look and choreography of his entrance is
representative of how Hong Kong films happen. "First of all, American
martial arts films are totally different from Hong Kong martial arts
films," Donnie says. "The whole dynamic of Hong Kong
itself-because we work at such a fast pace-is because we come from a
different background. I've worked in Hong Kong for17 years and in the
beginning I don't think that I was used to a slower pace. In Hong Kong,
for example, I normally walk onto the set with a crew of people
overlooking the martial arts and action scenes required. Then I
choreograph the stuff with my own stuntmen and finally I edit my own
stuff. That is the true flavor of the end product."
ask Donnie if he did all of his own stunts in the Sanctuary scene. He did.
Even that move where he stands on the moving motorcycle?
I did that," he says, like it's an everyday thing. "Big John,
did you walk down to the mailbox today and mail that letter?" And I'd
say, "Yeah, I did that." That's how he said it.
me remind you again: Donnie Yen is cool.
talk a little more about the stunts. I ask him how he prepares for a scene
like that. "In Hong Kong, first of all we drink a lot of
whiskey!" he laughs. "We have a lot of balls and a lot of
American films slow down the pacing of their stunts. "They were quite
safe," Donnie explains. "In Hollywood, every department is so
addition to his lightning-fast hands and feet, Donnie wields a deadly
staff with blades on each end in Endgame. "They just gave me that
weapon, so I took the weapon and started swinging it around." Donnie
explains that in Hong Kong films, specific weapons are usually not
designed for specific characters. Weapons often come in the form of chairs
or whatever else happens to be nearby when the fight breaks out.
are trained to improvise on the set," Donnie says of Hong Kong
moviemaking. "We don't have any kind of specific planning or
preparation, unlike a lot of American productions, which is very fortunate
for the American productions, I feel, because in Hong Kong we never have
that type of luxury."
as awesome as Donnie's scenes that are in the film are those that aren't.
Some of the most important and powerful Jin Ke moments ended up on the
cutting room floor, casualties of the film's under-90-minute running time.
of Donnie's ideas was not pursued. Donnie, like many Highlander fans, felt
that Jin Ke should have taken a stand against Kell. "Men, for the
most part, can mend their ways only after they have made a mistake,"
Jin says to Faith (Lisa Barbuscia). Donnie talks about his ideas for a
confrontation between Jin and his master.
felt personally that there should be a fight between Jin and Kell,"
Donnie says quite firmly. "I believe so. Given the character buildup
in the first two scenes, I think the audience would have liked to see me
try to assassinate Kell. But they couldn't change it. I said, 'I
understand. I appreciate it.' It is a Highlander movie. I'm a guest. The
host is so warm, asking you to make yourself at home, and you really can't
make it into your own home, you know?"
Donnie turned his idea into something that did make it into filming but
was edited out of the final cut.
came up with an idea that perhaps would save the character. I came up with
the idea that Jin would plan to assassinate Kell." In a scene that
was cut from the theatrical release of the film, Jin expresses to Faith
(Lisa Barbuscia) his intent to kill Kell.
was a certain buildup and a subplot with her character," Donnie
explains. It culminated in what should have been Jin's true death scene.
Unfortunately, the scene was trimmed from the theatrical release. In the
theatrical cut, Jin leaps on the table and points his sword at Kell. Jin
shakes his head, Kell makes a cutting motion, and that's it. That may be
how it was edited, but it's not how it was filmed.
the dinner scene, I look straight into Kell's eyes and realize I can't
beat him," Donnie explains. "He wants to take my power, but I
will not give him the pleasure of killing me. I stab my sword into the
wall and behead myself. I thought that was a pretty interesting idea and
we shot it that way, but unfortunately it was cut. I was disappointed, and
a lot of Highlander fans, a lot of my fans, and a lot of hardcore martial
arts fans were really disappointed."
tell him that Doug Aarniokoski talked about a DVD director's cut in his
recent HFC chat and that I hope his scenes are restored in the DVD.
hope so, too." Donnie says. He speaks highly of the Highlander fans
who've shown him their support. "They follow the histories, the
concepts, and the stories."
Highlander fans are thrilled with Donnie's work in Endgame. So is Miramax.
"Miramax is very happy with what they saw, and they want to pursue my
career in the states," Donnie says. The studio has purchased the
rights to his Hong Kong films. The future is even brighter. Endgame was
the first film in a new three-picture deal Donnie has with the studio.
Currently in the planning stages is a role opposite Freddie Prinze, Jr. in
"an exciting and energetic film" that's heavy on martial arts
Donnie's career has been a path not just of success but also one of
growth. The acting and martial arts skills so formidably on display in
Endgame are just one facet of the man's talent. Actor? Director?
Choreographer? The same man.
what's the Donnie Yen Philosophy of Life? "I have to say
passion," Donnie says, not surprisingly passionately. "I have to
say a passion for life, and everything in life. I think that without
passion, it's not worth living. I'm talking about everything under the
sun. When you wake up in the morning, until you sleep at night, as time
goes by I think you should try to take a moment to appreciate all things.
You should have passion for your work, your family. Let me just use an
example: You and I should have passion having this conversation, because I
believe that everything is meant to be for a reason-that life is short-and
you've got to really live fully to take advantage of it."
a splendidly detailed account of Donnie's life, career, and philosophies,
check out his awesome official site: http://www.donnieyen.com
to Donnie was a pleasure: He is a polite, respectful, and very thoughtful
man who speaks enthusiastically about the amazing work he's done
throughout his career. It was an honor to talk with him about Endgame.
I mention that Donnie Yen is cool?
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