Donnie Yen and Cinnamon Lion!
As he walks into the room, there is little doubt that Donnie Yen's leading man status is anything but bona fide, if his turn as the Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man in the 2008 film "Ip Man" was any indication. However, during his hey days, Donnie Yen had more than a little difficulty securing jobs, which he will elaborate further below, but you'd be hard-pressed to find fault with the Hong Kong actor for not only can he converse in English, Cantonese and Mandarin fluently, play musical instruments and kick ass in a hundred different ways using mixed martial arts, he is also a gentleman all around.
While playing Ip Man has given him a massive boost of exposure, the 50-year-old actor is more than eager to shed the role behind for greener pastures, such as playing an undercover cop in "Special ID", Sun Wukong in "The Monkey King", a Ming Dynasty warrior frozen in time in "Iceman 3D" and Silver Wolf in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II: The Green Destiny".
"Special ID", which is set to release on 18 October, sees Donnie Yen in his first role as an undercover cop named Chen Zilong, who grows wary of his life as a gangster, but is forced to stay in the game to build evidence against the gang. At the same time, the rise of a rival gang leader threatens Chen's safety, and Chen must now race against time to put them behind bars. Besides Donnie Yen, the film's cast includes Andy On, Zhang Hanyu, Collin Chou, Ronald Cheng, Tian Jing and Paw Hee-ching. Clarence Fok directs.
We managed to sit down with the famous martial arts star to talk about his latest film, how intimidating it was to take on three roles for the film, his upcoming projects, his secret to success, and his little quirks in-between.
Cinema Online's interview with Donnie Yen was conducted on 10 October at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Hi Donnie, welcome to Malaysia! What was the first thing you did when you landed?
Eat durians! I really love durians, so when I knew that I was coming to Malaysia, I told my assistant to prepare some for me. In fact, if I didn't have so many activities during my promotional tour, I would just stay in my hotel room and eat. One of my secret talents is that I'm a master eater. [Laughs]
Besides eating, you can also act, direct and produce! How intimidating it was to take on three roles for the film?
It was really, really tough. I only had three hours of sleep every day. I nearly had a nervous breakdown. Being a producer is harder than being an actor or director. Everything is your responsibility. For example, if they are not happy about the quality of the coffee served on the set it's your fault. If the actors' schedules clash with the filming schedules you have to rearrange their scenes. When the script has problems I have to help out in writing. Being an action director comes very naturally to me because I'm also my own stuntman and who better to direct me than myself because I know best what I can do and what others should do in response.
Whoa, that's really tough. How did you come to accept the project?
In the beginning, the company hired a famous scriptwriter, but unfortunately, he didn't how to write the movie for mainland China audience, so I had to bring in a good friend, Szeto Kam-Yuen, to help out. I wasn't the producer for "Special ID" at first, only its actor and action director, but there were a lot of problems with the project such as the script, and the company had already invested a lot into securing the location and the crew and everybody turned down their own jobs for this movie and I saw that if I didn't take on the role of a producer for the film, a lot of people will have no jobs. I even did it for free.
You're already 50 this year. How do you stay so fit and youthful?
The abs you see in the film is just CGI! [Laughs] A lot of people think that I go to the gym every day to train, but that's not true. Sadly, I don't have the time. But I do train specifically for a role. For example, they told me that Ip Man has to be thin, so I only ate one meal a day to lose weight. For roles that required me to look heavier, I followed special diets and work out. As to my youth, all I can say is have a pure heart and mind. A pure heart is to spend time with family. I am really blessed to have a wife like Cissy [Wang] and three kids. Every time I go home after a long day, I see them and I feel relaxed. A pure mind is to take things easy. Life is short, so there is no point to worry about every little thing, every day. Just go out and do what makes you happy.
Donnie Yen in "Special ID".
Your career now spans 31 years. What is the secret to your success?
I didn't start out as a successful person early on. It took me a long time to get to where I am now. The secret is to believe in something long enough and it will come true. There was a period of time when I only had HKD 100 in my bank account. I was almost bankrupt. I think that was in 1997. I turned down a lot of project in order to focus all my efforts into my first movie as a director, "Legend Of The Wolf", which I also produced, wrote, starred and choreographed. The good people at TVB did not really want me because they thought I wasn't good-looking enough, I wasn't tall enough, I wasn't fair enough. I was thinking about quitting the industry then, but I decided stick it out. One day I got a call from a Japanese film festival organizer, so told me that I was nominated for Best Stunt Coordinator. I cried then and there because I was so happy. Since then, my motto has always been, "Don't give up. Things may seem bad now, but they will always get better." Even when I was casted in "SPL", a lot of people said the movie will flop, but the movie turned out to be a hit; when I was casted as Ip Man, a lot of people thought that I was not suitable to be Ip Man, but now everyone calls me Ip Man.
You've starred in so many movies with many different actors and actresses. Is there anyone left that you would like to work with?
There are a lot of people that I really want to work with like Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio, but I'm not picky, so even if I have to work with someone I've worked with before again or someone new in the industry, I don't mind as long as that person loves movies. I think the most important thing to actors is to make a good movie.
You mentioned that you would like to move away from "Ip Man". What other types of movies would you like to try your hand in?
Anything! As an actor, I want to keep improving myself and be known for many different roles rather than just one iconic role. I know that my fans love me as Ip Man very much, but I can't just stay on that level of success. I could very well keep on making films like "Ip Man 4", "Ip Man 5", "Ip Man 6" and so on until I am old, but it's not fair for the audience. You have to grow with the audience if you want their respect. But when you ask me what kind of movies I would like to make or if I would like to star in another non-action, romance movie, it is very hard to answer because I think that a movie is not limited to just one genre. For me, there's a misconception about action movies. Even in an action movie we have drama, romance and suspense. As I've said before, the most important thing is to make a good movie.
What kind of movies do you like to watch?
I love watching all kinds of movies. I don't like watching action movies because I keep thinking "no, they should do it this way," or "maybe they should've done it that way instead," because that's my world. I actually like watching non-action movies such as biographical movies or drama because they make me think a lot and by thinking a lot, I get motivation and inspiration for my own movies.
What made you decide to pursue a martial arts career instead of music?
When I was a teenager, I actually thought about pursuing a music career. I practiced the piano a few hours a day at the same time I was practicing kung fu. Unfortunately, I had no time so I had to decide which one to pursue. I felt that I would not be the greatest musician as opposed to being the greatest martial artist, and because I thought I have a better chance at the latter, here I am.
If you were to produce another action movie and money was no object, which actors would make it into your cast list?
That's not a question because money is always an object! [Laughs] I actually talked to Jackie Chan and Jet Li about making a Chinese version of "The Expendables". But in the end, I feel that you don't necessarily have to have an A-list cast in a movie to be a good one. As long as you put all your heart into making a movie, the audience will be able to feel it and they will like it.
That's all for now. Thank you Donnie!
No problem, thank you Cinema Online.
Cinema Online, 14 October 2013