Biography and Profile of Donnie Yen

Donnie Yen
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Donnie Yen was born on July 27, 1963, in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China.

Moving Around the World and Parents

Yen was born in the province of Canton in China. He moved to Hong Kong at the age of two, living there until he was 11. That's when he came to the United States (Boston).

Yen's mother, Bow Sim-Mark, is an internal martial arts grandmaster who ran the Chinese Wushu Research Institute in Boston. Donnie's father, Klysler Yen, is the editor of Sing Tao, a Chinese daily paper in Boston. He has a younger sister named Chris Yen.

Martial Arts Background

Yen's first martial arts experiences came early, as his mother is an internal martial arts grandmaster. In fact, it is said that his training in Tai Chi and Chinese Wushu began as soon as he could walk. However, his training in wushu really picked up once he dropped out of school while living in Boston.  It has been said that he tried other styles during this period as well.

Eventually, Yen's parents became concerned that he was spending too much time with a bad crowd, so they sent him to Beijing for a two-year training program with the Beijing Wushu Team. Yen was the first non-PRC (People's Republic of China) Chinese person to be accepted there.

Martial Arts Philosophy and Bruce Lee

Quote from Donnie Yen's website: "I take martial arts into a whole philosophy. I respect Bruce Lee so much because his whole martial arts is about the way to live. You look at martial arts...My martial arts when I was a beginner. It all began... A punch was just a punch. Then it derived to more than just a punch. It became many things. It became many styles. It became many punches. But as I progressed a punch comes back to just a punch. But this punch is no longer the same punch. It's deep. Wow, it's pretty cool, you know."

Movie Beginnings

Yen's break came when he traveled to Hong Kong on his way back home from Beijing and was introduced to film director Yuen Wo-ping, the action choreographer for "The Matrix". Yuen had launched the career of Jackie Chan in Snake in Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master. Soon he would do the same for Yen.

Yen started as a stuntman in Shaolin Drunkard (1983) and Taoism Drunkard (1984). He nabbed his first acting role in Drunken Tai Chi (1984). But his breakthrough acting role came as General Nap-lan in Once Upon a Time in China II (1992), where he fought Jet Li onscreen.

Production Company, Directing, and Choreography

In 1997, Yen started his own production company called Bullet Films. He made his directorial debut later that year in Legend of the Wolf, in which he also starred.

Yen also choreographed fight scenes and appeared in lesser roles in films like Highlander: Endgame (2000) and Blade II (2002).

Awards and Winning at the Box Office

Yen's work has certainly been noticed. He won for Best Action Choreography at the Golden Horse Film Awards and the Hong Kong Film Awards for his performance in the movie Flash Point.

In 2008, his starring role in Ip Man, a semi-biographical account of Bruce Lee's Wing Chun master Yip Man, was a huge box office hit for him overseas. Along with this, he grossed $25 million in Hong Kong and 100 million yuan in China.

Personal Life

Yen has been married to Cecilia Cissy Wang since 2003, the winner of the 2000 Miss Chinese Toronto Pageant. They have a daughter, Jasmine (2004), and a son, James (2007). Yen also has a son from a previous marriage.

Did You Know

  • Yen is a huge fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
  • Bruce Lee is one of Yen's idols. Considering his philosophy on fighting and how it matches up with Jeet Kune Do, it's no wonder that Yen connects with Lee.
  • Yen's wife, Cecilia, won the "Miss Vitality" and "Miss Perfect Figure" awards at the 2000 Miss Chinese Toronto Pageant.