Birthdate: July 27, 1963
Birthplace: Canton, China
Donnie Yen (birthname: Zhen Zidan) is a martial arts master who successfully moved into Hong Kong action movies and has become an icon in the genre, particularly through his portrayal of Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man in the HK series, Ip Man (2008-2019), in which Yen was the star of films 1-3 and 5.
Yen’s movie career started in 1983, launching a lengthy collaboration with Hong Kong director Yuen Woo-ping, including Shaolin Drunkard (1983), Drunken Tai Chi (1984), Mismatched Couples (1985), and then began serving as both performer and lead action director with Yuen on In the Line of Duty 4: Witness (1989), and Tiger Cage (1990).
Yen’s first major international hit was Tsui Hark’s sweeping epic, Once Upon a Time in China II (1992). Yen then acted in the Hark-produced New Dragon Inn (1992) and Iron Monkey (1993), directed by Yuen. Yen played opposite Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh in the Michael Mak-directed Butterfly and Sword. Yen starred under Yuen’s direction in Hero Among Heroes (1993), and continued with Yuen and co-star Yeoh in Wing Chun (1994).
Yen took over the title role in Iron Monkey 2 (1995), even though he played a different role in Iron Monkey. In Shaolin vs. The Devil’s Omen (1996), Yen was both a star and an action director. Yen stepped up to the roles of star, director, producer, co-writer, and action director for Legend of the Wolf (1997), known as The New Big Boss in the U.S. home video release.
Donnie Yen became a major director-action director-star from this point on, continuing with Ballistic Kiss (1998), Shanghai Affairs (1998), The Twins Effect (2003), Back Rose Academy (2004), and as a combined star-action director-producer for Dragon Tiger Gate (2006), Flash Point (2007), Painted Skin (2008).
Yen began a successful collaboration with director Wilson Yip on the Ip Man series, starting with Ip Man (2008), with Simon Yam and which grossed over $22 million worldwide; Ip Man 2 (2010) followed, earning a powerhouse $49.7 million globally; leading to the triumphant entry, Ip Man 3 (2015), again directed by Yip and grossing $157.3 million worldwide; and completed with Ip Man 4: The Finale (2019), the biggest hit in the series with a strong take of $239 million globally.
Between these projects, Donnie Yen was usually both a star and action director on a long string of movies, including director Andrew Lau’s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010), The Lost Bladesman (2011), director Peter Chan’s Dragon (2011), director Clarence Fok’s Special ID (2013), director Soi Cheang’s The Monkey King (2014), Iceman (2014), and director Teddy Chan’s Kung Fu Jungle (2014).
Yen’s first Hollywood production was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), a Star Wars prequel directed by Gareth Edwards and co-starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, and Forest Whitaker, and grossing $1.05 billion worldwide. Yen continued his run in Hollywood with XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017), starring Vin Diesel, Tony Jaa, Toni Collette, and Samuel L. Jackson, and earning a solid $346 million globally, followed by Disney’s Mulan (2020), directed by Niki Caro and starring Yifei Liu, Jason Scott Lee, Gong Li, and Jet Li, but tanking at the box office with a poor $70 million on a $200 million budget.
Yen joined forces with Keanu Reeves in the fourth entry in the John Wick franchise, John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023), directed by Chad Stahelski. Donnie Yen alternated his Hollywood projects with several Hong Kong movies, in which he also (beyond acting) served as an action director (2018’s Iceman: The Time Traveller), producer (2018’s Master Z: Ip Man Legacy and 2020’s Enter the Fat Dragon) and as director and producer (the 2023 epic, Sakra). Yen starred in the video game adaptation, Sleeping Dogs (date to be announced), produced by Neal Moritz.
Donnie Yen was born in the Mainland Chinese city of Guangzhou, and raised by parents Klyster Yen (father, newspaper editor) and Bow-sim Mark (mother and martial arts grandmaster). Yen’s younger sister is Chris Yen, like her brother a martial artist and actor. At two years old, Yen moved with his family to Hong Kong, and later in 1974 to Boston, where Yen became a U.S. citizen. Yen studied martial arts from a young age, later training in China with the Beijing Wushu Team.
Yen graduated from Newton North High School. Yen married Hong Kong ad executive Leung Zing-ci secretly in the U.S. in 1993, but divorced less than a year later; the couple had one child, Jeff, after their divorce. Yen’s second marriage, in 2003, is to former beauty queen Cissy Wang; the couple has two children, James and Jasmine. Yen’s height is 5’ 8”. Yen’s estimated net worth is $40 million.
Musical Family: Donnie Yen’s family was quite musical (his mother Bow-sim sang soprano and his father Klyster played violin), and Yen studied piano.
Philanthropist: Yen’s considerable philanthropic activities include the online charity platform, Go. Asia; serving as an ambassador for Save the Children; supporting Thai refugee camps; donations of HK$1 million to Wuhan-based frontline medical workers during the COVID-19 pandemic; and a charitable fund to help celebrities defend their honor and reputation after being impugned and winning a lawsuit against Geng Weiguo.
Pro-China: Yen is a member of the official Chinese organization, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, in its Literature and Arts division. Yen described the 2019-2020 Hong Kong protests for democracy as “a riot.”
Platform Man: Donnie Yen has 11 million followers on China’s biggest social media site, Weibo.