TAKE ACTION Hey, Donnie Yen fans! Director Wilson Yip's Flash Point in which the charismatic martial arts star (2002's Hero, 1993's Iron Monkey) plays an aggro cop on gangster-beatdown detail is actually getting a local theatrical release. Currently, Yen is in Shanghai shooting Yip Man, which he describes as "the story of Bruce Lee's teacher, a master of the Wing Chun kung fu style." He's a busy guy, and he could probably flatten any fool with a flick of his pinky finger. Fortunately, he typed up some answers to my e-mailed questions instead.
SFBG On Flash Point among other films you're credited as the "action director." How does that role differ from "fight choreographer," which you've served as on films like 2002's Blade II and 2005's SPL (a.k.a. Kill Zone)? Is it difficult to direct yourself when you're also acting in the scene?
DONNIE YEN I think it's a difference between the way action is treated in Hong Kong and in Hollywood. [In Hong Kong,] my job is to "direct" the action, and when I'm shooting the fight sequences, I take over the set. I choose the camera angles and see how the drama intercuts with the action. In Hollywood, you "choreograph" working with the main director. In the old days of Hong Kong action cinema, when the action director worked, the "drama" director went home!
SFBG Which fight scene are you most proud of?
DY Of my own stuff? I'd have to say the final fight in Flash Point, between Collin Chou and myself. That was definitely the toughest action scene of my career, and I think it shows! I really like the way we managed to apply MMA [mixed martial arts] techniques on-screen, especially some of the dynamic takedowns, which we haven't really seen before.
SFBG You've worked on both Chinese and American films. What's the biggest difference between the two industries? Are you interested in having a Hollywood breakthrough like Jackie Chan or Jet Li?
DY As I mentioned earlier, I have much more control over the final product in Hong Kong. I mean, on Flash Point, I'm the producer, the star, the action director.... Of course, I have to give credit to [director] Wilson Yip, who I have a great relationship with. This is our third film together. However, I would still like to work in Hollywood, providing it's the right role in the right project.
SFBG Flash Point is a "modern" film, but you're best known for period films like Hero. Which do you prefer?
DY Honestly, I just like to keep challenging myself. For example, Flash Point has a really raw action style, very MMA influenced, but now I'm starting Yip Man, which is about Bruce Lee's teacher, and so it's all classical kung fu movements but presented, hopefully, in a new and dynamic way. I would say that, technically, period films are more challenging, because, like with Hero, you're performing in traditional Chinese clothing, and the movements tend to be more complicated. The modern films, like Kill Zone and Flash Point, are tough because of the degree of real contact when you get slammed about during a fight scene. They're both challenging in different ways.
SFBG What are your thoughts on CGI-enhanced fight scenes versus the old-fashioned kind?
DY We used a lot of CGI in [2006's] Dragon Tiger Gate, because the story and the style of action demanded it. I think it's probably been overused in some films to compensate for the fact that the stars of the films can't actually do their own action! In my own films, I tend towards keeping it as real as possible, and we only use CGI for shots that would really be impossible to do live on the set.