Action movies are known for their over-the-top destruction, amazing vehicles, and some really expensive set pieces. Let’s save gunplay and machismo to ultimate action stars such as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. When we want to see a true martial arts action we have to find a real master of a genre and Donnie Yen is the way to go.
All action movies usually follow the same formula; there’s a good guy versus a bad guy, explosions, car chase, but when it comes to Hong Kong action it is all about fight scenes and a final showdown.
Donnie Yen filmography includes 69 movies already and he is the most recognized Hong Kong action star today, and his fight sequences consistently raise the bar for the genre. He has trained so extensively and it seems hard for a film like Flash Point or Ip Man to hope for a more appropriate star to cast.
In his movies Donnie mostly playing tough cops that really appeal to fans, as they like to see a film where a guy lays down the law against bad guys. One of his films advantages that he keeps the wirework to a minimum, basically, just uses wires for safety, rather than to enhance the action. That is why it is so realistic, and the most of what we see in the film’s fight scenes is what actually happens on the set.
I’ve rounded up 10 best Donnie Yen movies that got fans adrenaline pumping, and have everything to be called a masterpiece of the genre.
1. Ip Man
A semi-biographical film about Ip Man, the martial arts master who taught art of Wing Chun to the world.
Donnie wanted to do this film for years and has been training in Wing Chun, especially working on the wooden dummy, so he did justice to this story and this character. Moreover they had the full support of Yip Man’s family, so all ducks were in the row.
Brilliantly directed by Wilson Yip, Ip Man is a highly character-driven story that’s filled with some of the most amazing fighting sequences and clever choreography ever put on the film canvas. Sammo Hung’s magic touch made Ip Man a martial arts classic already.
Camerawork, editing and beautiful music score added the iconic Donnie Yen’s role of Yip Man to the evergreen kung fu movie legacy. If you are looking for highly explosive, thrilling and entertaining flick this one you should consider to watch right now.
Sammo Hung got the Best Action Choreography award in 2009 for this movie.
2. Flash Point
A hot-headed inspector takes on a small but powerful criminal gang.
Everyone knows kung fu films by flying jump kicks, outrageous combo strikes and the one vs. many scenario. This movie just feels different from just the fighting choreography alone.
Donnie has a huge respect for MMA fighters, and together with John Salvitti they determined every effort to present real fighting cinematically, without compromising on the techniques and “reality” of what they do. Here you can see recognizable UFC moves that range from defense takedowns, arm bars, hooks, and ground fighting.
As the result fights are mind-blowing, team pushed the choreography further and tried something new. The “last boss fight” where Donnie Yen faces Collin Chou completely raised the bar. So if you want to see what Donnie is really capable of this is the show reel to watch.
Donnie Yen got the Best Action Choreography award in 2008 for this movie.
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Martial arts expert is set to take over as head of the crime unit, and take down the dangerous gang’s leader.
The simple fight between two guys in the alley choreographers converted into a blistering display of coordination and speed showcasing Donnie and Wu Jing at the top of their game. The fight that follows, between Yen and Sammo is also fantastic but not so good as this one.
The unique fact about this fight is that a short part of it was improvised and the whole fight was done in only one night! Donnie Yen won the Best Action Choreography award at the 25th Hong Kong Film Award in 2006 for this film.
4. Ip Man 2
Centering on Ip Man’s migration to Hong Kong and his attempts to propagate Wing Chun martial arts.
Compared to Rocky IV with its America vs Soviet Union topic, Ip Man 2 centres around China vs England tournament, where England presented by late Darren Shahlavi playing the brutal and arrogant boxer Twister. The final ring gives it a very different feel from the first Ip Man and it can be treated very much like its own movie.
Table-top duels between Ip and the local martial arts grandmasters display a lot of wire work but still look brilliant. If in the first part Donnie faced 10 Japanese Karatekas here his enemies number raised to 100 Chinese guys in all-timer.
If you will forget that film is the propaganda against boorish outsiders and focus on fight scenes you will find it a really enjoyable ride.
Sammo Hung once again got the Best Action Choreography award in 2011 for this movie.
In ancient China warring factions throughout the Six Kingdoms plot to assassinate the most powerful ruler.
In Zhang Yimou’s epic wuxia, Hero, Donnie plays nameless swordsman confronts Jet Li. This fight is brutal and accompanied by a blind musician, the only sounds are the emotive strings of the instrument and the heightened clang of sword and spear.
This is absolutely new look at kung fu fights as the battle happens in their mind where each imagine a barrage of strikes and counter strikes. Ching Siu-tung’s dance-like choreography together with audio design shows Donnie in absolutely different way, but still feels real, giving weight and power to the brutal yet graceful display.
6. Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
A mysterious stranger arrives from overseas and befriends a local mafia boss.
Set in jazz-age Shanghai the story orchestrates effectively by a director of the Infernal Affairs crime drama Andrew Lau. Actually the movie looks as if it wants to be a musical with sets rendered in shades of blue, pink and mist.
Chen Zhen had countless incarnations, the most memorable by Bruce Lee and Jet Li. Donnie’s vision of this character makes him a comic blend of Batman vigilante and Flash Gordon hovers over the city.
Legend of the Fist is an exhilarating kung fu romp with elegant and stirring action sequences. They’re as brutal as they are gravity-defying, with lots of powerful punches, flashy kicks and rapid moves.
7. Special ID
A cop goes undercover in a ruthless underworld organization to stop a gang leader.
Special ID to be Donnie’s triumphant return to contemporary action with rough and dirty MMA-style fights after 6 years of classic kung fu hiatus. Donnie definitely knows how to design, shoot and perform fighting scenes, and here he incorporated some confusing rolling-on-the-floor skirmishes using the brilliant BJJ technique.
Fights in this movie are just awesome, especially the one in the kitchen, Donnie and John Salvitti did a fantastic job, so despite all story halls it should be treated as must watch.
Donnie Yen was nominated for the Best Action Choreography award in 2014.
A quiet villager survives an attack by thugs but there more to this humble villager than meets the eye.
With no choice but to defend himself, papermaker ends up having the two leaving in body bags, and this attracts Detective Xu. Movie transitions from old wu-xia into Sherlock Holmes and back, but martial art buffs will love it as it doesn’t take itself too seriously and incorporates humor throughout the picture with brilliant brutal fights.
The climactic battle between Yen and The Master is one for the ages, especially surrounded with the kick-ass music that gets your adrenaline pumping. Dragon is a pretty enjoyable action flick with a little bit of everything.
Donnie Yen was nominated for the Best Action Choreography award in 2012.
9. Ip Man 3
Master Ip is forced to take a stand against a band of brutal gangsters led by a crooked property developer.
This is the third film in series and Donnie Yen latest movie. Again it feels like a completely different movie from the previous two. The most impressive part is Frank character played by Mike Tyson, he is clearly a very formidable opponent, and is perhaps the only person in the film who could possibly defeat Ip Man in a fight. His brawl with Ip Man proves an energising confrontation of styles, where speed and angles of Wing Chun struggles to have an impact against brute force of powerful boxing punches.
Action director Yuen Wo-ping took over from Sammo Hung, it effected fight sequences but together with more dramatic tone made it a respectable action drama that doesn’t try to replicate the pleasure of its predecessors.
10. Kung Fu Killer
Martial arts instructor offers to help the police to track down a vicious killer.
This movie combines two guilty pleasures – the serial killer theme and the wired kung fu fights. The opening fight in the prison is the best fight in this film and at age 51 Donnie proves he’s still in good enough shape to deliver all the right moves.
Fight sequences taking place in such exotic settings as a tattoo parlor, a film set and atop a giant replica of a human skeleton! But the final showdown featuring Donnie and the villain duking it out in the middle of a busy highway, barely dodging massive tractor trailers along the way. Warped by wide-angle lenses this movie still delivers the unique legacy of the Hong Kong style.
Donnie received the Best Action Choreography award for this movie in 2015.
Donnie Yen has been involved in the best martial arts movies of the past 30 years. He is always experiencing and trying to make each movie better than the last, developing fighting styles which suits the mood of the characters.
His army of fans around the world continues to grow and I only hope Donnie will continue to break new boundaries… and jaws.