The Best Donnie Yen Movies of All Time

The best movies of the 'Rogue One' and 'xXx: Return of Xander Cage' star

Ip Man
Mandarin Films

Millions of theatergoers recently became familiar with Chinese actor Donnie Yen from his role in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and more will see him in this month's xXx: Return of Xander Cage. But fans of martial arts films already know Yen as a legend—he's been one of the genre's best and most impressive actors for over two decades even though many of his films did not receive major releases in the United States.

After beginning his career in Hong Kong films, Yen's impressive choreography led to him receiving small roles in Hollywood films, like 2000's Highlander: Endgame, 2002's Blade II, and 2003's Shanghai Knights. But Yen's best films come from Asia, where he is hailed as one of the biggest martial arts stars of all time.

Here are several great films to check out if you want to see Yen's very best performances and some films where Yen is featured in the best action sequence.

Once Upon a Time in China II (1992)

Once Upon a Time in China II
Golden Harvest Company

Yen began his association with fellow martial arts movie icon Jet Li (the two actors were born only two months apart) in this sequel to Li's 1991 movie Once Upon a Time in China. Set in the Qing dynasty and based on the folk legends about Wong Fei-hung (played by Li), Once Upon a Time in China II features Yen as a military officer who is an ally of Wong.

Yen was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards for his role.

Iron Monkey (1993)

Iron Monkey

One of the reasons why Yen didn't break through in the U.S. until his forties was because of the long delays between the releases of his films. For example, though Iron Monkey was released in China in 1993, it wasn't released in the U.S. until 2001 in the wake of the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (with a push by noted martial arts movie fan Quentin Tarantino).

Like Once Upon a Time in China II, Iron Monkey is based on the legends about Wong Fei-hung. Yen plays Wong's father, Wong Key-ying. The climatic over-the-top final fight scene is one of Yen's best.

Hero (2002)


Hero was at one point the highest-grossing film in Chinese box office history—with good reason. It's one of the most exciting and most impressive martial arts films ever made. Though Hero stars Jet Li, Yen plays a key supporting role as the spearman Long Sky, who is one of the many assassins hunting Li's character.

Even though Hero is really a Li movie, its huge success introduced Yen to millions of new fans, particularly after it was released in the U.S. in 2004.

Ip Man (2008)

Ip Man
Courtesy of Amazon

Ip Man features Yen in his signature role as Yip Man, the Wing Chun grandmaster who is best known for training Bruce Lee. The original film focuses on the (mostly fictionalized) events that Ip experienced during the Sino-Japanese War. The film is filled with memorable action sequences, and Yen faces Louis Fan in a battle that might be the best fight sequence he ever filmed. Ip Man's choreography was created by Sammo Hung, who also appeared in the sequel.

Two sequels followed, Ip Man 2 (2010) and Ip Man 3 (2015). Though the original is the best of the three, the sequels are both solid Yen movies. A fourth film is currently in development.

Dragon (2011)

We Distribution

Yen's success with historical epics continued with 2011's Dragon. Yen stars as Liu Jinxi, a man who kills two robbers when they try to hold up a store. An investigator (Takeshi Kaneshiro) becomes suspicious of Liu's true identity based on the incredible skill he used. The film is a cat-and-mouse game between Liu and the investigator, until a third party, a leader of warriors played by Jimmy Wang, enters the conflict.

Kung Fu Jungle / Kung Fu Killer (2014)

Kung Fu Killer
Emperor Motion Pictures

In Kung Fu Jungle (titled Kung Fu Killer in the UK and the U.S.), Yen portrays Hahou Mo, a police martial arts instructor named Hahou Mo who is jailed for accidentally killing a man. When news emerges of a serial killer targeting martial artists, Hahou offers to help bring the killer to justice in exchange for his release from prison.

Kung Fu Jungle marked Yen's fourth and most recent win of the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Action Choreography.