Donnie Yen is one of the very few actors of his generation to have worked at the highest levels of both Hollywood and the Chinese film industry. These days, however, he says that he is focusing entirely on the single project of enhancing the reputation of Chinese commercial cinema on the world stage.
Yen made a breakthrough comeback in 1992 in Tsui Hark’s classic Wuxia Once Upon a Time in China II thanks to a memorable fight scene against the film’s hero played by Jet Li. Many roles in Hong Kong, Chinese and Hollywood cinema followed, including those of Zhang Yimou HeroWilson Yip .’s brutal crime drama SPL: Sha Po Lang and Bright spotChinese tentacles like Monkey King 3D and The fire is ragingand most memorably the star of semi-biography Ip Man film, about Bruce Lee’s legendary teacher Wing Chun. While his Chinese film career continued at breakneck speed, Yen went on to star in the martial arts sequel The Weinstein Company, The tiger cuddles away with the cum of fate (2016) and Disney tentacles included Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and Magnolia Flower (In 2020).
Currently, Yen is producing, directing and starring in a hit Chinese movie akraan adaptation of Demi Gods and Semi Devils, a classic wuxia novel from 1963 considered one of the most influential wuxia novels ever. The film began production this summer, starring Yen as martial artist Qiao Feng, one of the central characters of the series. Demi Gods and Semi Devils story universe. Visual actor akra — which he describes alternately as China’s Shakespeare and Marvel — as a potential franchise starter, with many of the book’s spinoffs and compelling characters ripe for a sequel. widescreen. The film is produced by Chinese studio Wishart, with Yen’s longtime collaborator Wong Jing (From Vegas to Macau) is also attached as the producer. International sales on akra is being operated by Plus Entertainment Limited, whose title has garnered interest at both this week’s Tokyo International Film Festival’s TIFFCOM market and the upcoming Los Angeles American Film Market.
The Hollywood Reporter talked to Yen about the reason akra is a personal passion project and how it fits his vision of the future of the Chinese film industry.
How did you get involved? akra happen?
As you know, I’ve been in the industry for many years, right? I think for any artist or actor who has done a lot of movies, whether they’re successful or not, it’s really important to keep finding motivation and inspiration. That motivation comes from feeling – it’s about the kind of movie you want to make, and the energy and creativity that goes with that feeling.
So when I consider a project, there are three categories of action in my book. One is a contemporary action movie, like mine The fire is raging, Kill Zone or Bright spot. The second type is kung fu movies, like mine IP Man franchise, where the era is closer to modern times, but people don’t fly much (laugh). It requires a more traditional form of martial arts – like Ip Man or Grandmaster, where you see traditional martial arts abilities in a character based on realism. Like the old Shaw Brothers movies, and a lot of the movies Jackie Chan and Jet Li did. And the third category is the Wuxia film, which is a rich legacy of an entirely different style. It’s been a long time since I did a Wuxia movie. I did Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2 and Magnolia Flowerbut I wouldn’t really consider any of those a real Wuxia movie. Magnolia Flower Not really my cup of tea, but I made it for my kids who grew up watching the original animation. The last movie I did, which I really consider to be in this genre, was probably Hero (2002 year). So it’s been a long time. And I thought after I finished Ip Man , I don’t feel that I will be able to continue to find new inspiration for making kung fu movies. So that’s why I’m back to making more contemporary action movies and that’s what I did with my late friend Benny Chan on The fire is raging (In 2021). So then I had this opportunity to do a Wuxia movie and I hadn’t made a movie in a while and I felt it had a chance to really be something special. The older I get, the more I feel that if I go into a project, it should at least have a chance to be a really special movie – something that can leave a mark and leave a legacy. I feel like we got there with Ip Man; I’m really proud of those movies. And I feel that maybe we can do something big and special in the Wuxia genre with this one.
And how did you decide to adapt a particular Louis Cha story?
Well, if I were going to make a movie about Wuxia, it would have to be Louis Cha, because he is the most influential Wuxia writer and scholar of modern times. I spent a few months thinking about whether or not I should accept this challenge, because it was a really big challenge, because his legacy is huge in Chinese culture. And I really want to break ground if I’m going to do it. I knew I was going to be the producer of the film as well as the director, so I knew that I would end up spending a lot of my life creating this world. So it wasn’t an easy or quick decision, but I decided to do it. It is very difficult to adapt Louis Cha’s novels into a feature film, because all of his novels are extremely long, with dozens of characters, settings, and mythological plots. All of this is part of what makes his novels classics. Over the past few decades, the few relatively successful examples of adapting his work have all been television series, since you have many episodes and hours to develop his characters and story. he. To do that in a movie is really hard, because if you did one of his classics, what part of the story would you break through and focus on? And how are you going to make it an authentic adaptation while also allowing new people into his world – and for them to have any clues as to what’s going on? It’s really difficult. This project was presented to me by my good friend Wong Jing; he got the finances together. But I told him, let me read the novel again and think about it. And as I read through it, after a while, I started to get an idea of how I wanted to present the story, and then I spent a few months working with a few younger writers to compile the whole sentence. story so that it can act as a movie that can be accessed by everyone.
And how did you think about how you could capture his world visually?
That’s the other big part. Because, you know, Tsui Hark has done some classic Wuxia movies and he created a lot of the images that we now associate with the genre. Even, Wong Kar Wai has made some movies about Wuxia in a very artistic and stylish way. So where do I end up? I have to identify some things that can feel modern but still keep the history and traditions of the genre. I really wanted the history and traditions of Chinese literature to be there – not just people flying spectacularly without material – because that’s what’s so interesting about Louis Cha’s novels. There is a great deal of factual history and philosophy built into his work. It’s like the Shakespeare of China, with all this actual culture and history woven into it. It’s another really challenging thing, because you need to make sure you understand all the details of this stage correctly. We all had to do a lot of research. Over the past 20 years, many of the Wuxia characters on screen have become more and more fantasy and cartoon-like. I want to get away from that – I want to go back to history and roots. From the wardrobe to the hairdo and the set design to the action and stunts, I wanted to go back to the roots with some realism. And when it comes to action, I want it to be in the classic Donnie Yen style, where there’s real martial arts going on – where you can feel the pain, the power and the nature of the war in the universe. there. The most challenging thing was how I was going to portray Qiao Feng, the character we were focusing on – because there had been many actors taking on this character and role over the years, so I needed to find a new and unique perspective on him. At the same time, I have to be very alert and really understand that the audience has always loved Qiao Feng in the text. He’s probably one of Louis Cha’s most beloved characters, so I really had to understand the appeal of this character and think deeply about how to capture that and combine my personality with it. I really think this is one of the biggest challenges of my career. Like I said, picking up Louis Cha isn’t like just making another movie for me. It’s like you’re remaking Shakespeare. But I’m pretty happy I’ve done the challenge so far.
You are on the very short list of actors who have succeeded at the highest level in Hong Kong’s old film business, mainland China’s new industry and Hollywood. China and Hollywood have very different production systems and both have their own advantages. But since you mentioned how you’d like to adapt this Louis Cha story for a general audience who may not be familiar with his work, I wonder if there’s anything you glean from that era. time in Hollywood that you are trying to use not this project.
Obviously, I learned a few things while working on major US projects, with Hollywood companies and various talents. The Hollywood industry is very professionalizing, because they’ve been doing it for so long, and global business has been dominated by Hollywood for a long time, right? So of course, I learned a lot from working on projects like Rogue One. But at the same time, I really feel that China is next to dominate the world. In fact, the Chinese economy has dominated the world. And as a Chinese filmmaker, I am a very proud Chinese. Everyone knows that now. And I have a right to be proud because our culture is so rich. So I just feel it’s my responsibility to move on. Because I am quite fortunate to have been in the business for 40 years. It took a lot of luck and a lot of support from the investors that gave me this opportunity to create. So what I want to do is use my experience and dedicate myself to continuing to make films with Chinese elements, Chinese history and Chinese actors – to do my part. I am helping elevate the entire world of Chinese cinema. Because when I look at Marvel’s commercial success, I feel like there’s a lot I can do with my own culture that’s just as good, if not better. You know, Wuxia is the Marvel of China, except it has a richer history and culture behind it. I mean, it dates back thousands of years. So anyway, that’s my only goal. Besides being creative as an artist, I really feel like using my influence to make really good Chinese movies. That’s all I want to do before I retire.