With thirty years working in film and a number of highly successful martial arts movies under his belt Donnie Yen has been at various times an actor, director, producer, action choreographer and even medal winning martial artist.
Yen was in Cannes to promote his upcoming film Iceman Cometh 3D and I was lucky enough to speak to him about the film, action filmmaking and much more.
On the Iceman Cometh.
It’s obviously quite straightforward. It’s basically a story about this Ming Dynasty warrior travelling years later to modern Hong Kong. It’s a very straightforward, entertaining action film. Of course, with romance and a sense of humour. A black sense of humour. So hopefully this film can bring a lot of joy and entertainment to audiences.
On 3D and the challenges faced in shooting in 3D.
It’s my second 3D movie. I’ve done a movie called Monkey King which is about to come out the end of the year. That’s actually my first 3D movie. It’s very difficult to adapt, especially with action. I’ve been doing action films for so long. There’s a certain sophistication in bringing the best action onto screen but with certain requirements of 3D, equipment and cameras, certain logistics, elements… there’s a real give and take. You really have to adapt your style. In the beginning it was quite difficult.
I’ll give you an example. The 3D cameras are quite heavy and there are certain restrictions with angles. But in the world of action filmmakers angles are a very crucial element in order to bring out the dynamic action itself. One example is that you cannot place the [3D] camera all the way down on the ground. If you want a really low angle to really bring out the heroic dynamics of their particular movements the camera will not allow you to place it at the lowest point. Certain areas like that you have to make these adjustments.
On why we haven’t seen him yet in The Expendables.
…Actually, they asked me. I was honoured that they asked me to be an Expendable [in the second film] but I didn’t find the role too challenging. And also because of my tight schedule… If they ask me again and if the compensation is interesting enough then maybe I’ll definitely be more excited about it.
On the way in which comedy and action travels.
I think one advantage that we have with action movies is that obviously the physical performance is an international language. So therefore, there’s not a language barrier. So when you are involved with bringing the comedy elements into the physical performance I believe that all countries can understand. There are not really local jokes, for example. That requires a particular regional or cultural understanding to understand it.
Choosing the particular fighting styles for his characters.
As a veteran filmmaker, as someone who has been making action films for a very long time, I’ve spent a lot of time understanding the character back stories before I choose what style. Now I don’t even have to think about what style because once the character is properly in place the style should come automatically. For example, if I’m playing a policeman I would not be thinking about flying up two stories high. So that already sets a tone for what type of style in that movie. In a movie like Iceman, where the character is from 400 years ago and he’s an ancient warrior, it expands the world of creativity for me. In terms of choreographing these movements.
Regarding a sequel to Iceman Cometh 3D.
…Actually we will have a sequel. I can tell you that much.