Donnie Yen started making movies in the 1980’s starting off as a stuntman and eventually moving into co-starring roles. His big break was starring as the evil villain in Jet Li’s Once Upon a Time in China II in 1992. In 1995, he starred in a TV show based on Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury as Chen Zhen. 15 years later Yen returned to the role in 2010’s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen.
The film is set in the late 1930’s Shanghai during the Japanese occupation of China. Donnie Yen is working against the Japanese, working for the underground he takes on various identities because Chen Zhen was believed to be killed after avenging his master. In the Bruce Lee film, it ended with him jumping at a firing squad. In the Jet Li remake Fist of Legend (1994), the Japanese ambassador fakes Chen Zhen’s death. Either way Yen starts working at a night club, romancing a possible double agent and he learns of an assassination attempt on a Chinese General. He intercepts but dons a costume similar to Kato from the Green Hornet in order to save the day.
Fist of Fury
Fist of Legend
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
Donnie Yen’s other big film of late is Ip Man (2008), a biography of the real life grandmaster of the martial art Wing Chun and master of Bruce Lee. The film is also set during the Japanese invasion of 1937 and it fictionalizes Ip Man’s struggles with the Japanese. It won several awards and despite historical inaccuracies, it’s still an very entertaining movie. The sequel Ip Man 2 focuses on Ip Man setting up his kung fu school in Hong Kong after WWII and fighting an evil British boxing champion. Strangely the plot is extremely similar to the 1945 Akira Kurosawa film Sanshiro Sugata Part II where the judo master Sanshiro Sugata fights an evil American boxer. Still it’s always cool to see how different societies view the Western world.
Ip Man 2
Sanshiro Sugata Part II