December 20th would mark the return of Donnie Yen and his iconic character as the legendary Wing Chun grandmaster in “Ip Man 4: The Finale”. Given this would be his “last kung fu role”, it should come to no surprise that the fourth “Ip Man” movie is set to make a killing in the box office. As we wait patiently for the movie’s arrival, let’s take a look back at the 10 Best Donnie Yen’s Action Movies based on the years of the release dates.
1) Once Upon A Time In China II (1992)
Okay, this second instalment of the popular “Once Upon a Time in China” franchise isn’t exactly Donnie Yen’s leading role. That role, of course, belongs to Jet Li who plays Wong Fei-Hung. And yet, it’s hard not to include this in the list since Donnie Yen hits a breakthrough playing the corrupt official, Commander Lan — a role that famously earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the 12th Hong Kong Film Awards. The sequel is also best known for his memorable final fight against Jet Li’s Wong Fei-Hung with the help of Yuen Wo-Ping’s masterful martial-arts choreography.
2) Iron Monkey (1993)
Like “Once Upon a Time in China II”, Donnie Yen plays second fiddle to Yu Rongguang’s lead role of Dr Yang/Iron Monkey. But despite the title, it was ironic that Yen’s supporting role as Wong Kei-Ying stole most of the show here. Directed by legendary action choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping, the movie features some of the best wirework-assisted fight scenes. Among them is the notable final fight involving Iron Monkey and Wong Kei-Ying squaring off against the corrupted royal minister (Yen Shi-Kwan) atop the burning wooden poles.
3) SPL (2005)
Donnie Yen may have had a promising career as an action star during the early 90s. But his fame was unfortunately short-lived as he found himself mostly relegated to a string of mediocre movies (e.g. 1995’s “Asian Cop – High Voltage”, 1996’s “Satan Returns” and 1998’s “Ballistic Kiss”). Then came “SPL”, the little movie that helped reinvigorate Yen’s dwindling career. In this, he was also famous for choreographing his own action sequences and the result is some of the best ever put in a modern Hong Kong action cinema. This includes the baton vs. knife duel between Yen’s Inspector Ma Kwan and Wu Jing’s henchman role in the alleyway and a fight scene in the nightclub against Sammo Hung, who plays a rare antagonist role as Wong Po.
4) Dragon Tiger Gate (2006)
Following a successful collaboration with director Wilson Yip in “SPL”, they reunite for another acclaimed action movie — a big-screen adaptation of Wong Yuk-Long’s “Dragon and Tiger Heroes” manhua (Chinese comics) series. The movie showcases some of the most thrilling fight sequences ever seen with a seamless blend of wirework, CGI and camera placements. Donnie Yen, who also served as the movie’s action director, even does a great job turning his co-stars Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue into convincing martial arts stars.
5) Flash Point (2007)
The third Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip’s collaboration marks their return to the “SPL” roots, with Yen again playing a no-nonsense righteous cop role. Reminiscent of a straightforward cop vs. criminal action genre seen in the 80s and 90s, “Flash Point” sees Donnie Yen famously incorporating mixed martial arts (MMA) into his fight scene, notably during the final duel against Collin Chou.
6) Ip Man (2008)
Donnie Yen’s second-wave comeback hits another breakthrough in “Ip Man”, which also marked his fourth time collaborating with Wilson Yip. At the time of its release, the movie was a huge hit both critically and financially. It even won the coveted Best Film at the 28th Hong Kong Film Awards while Yen himself scored a rare Best Actor nomination. Today, most modern audience associate Donnie Yen with his iconic Wing Chun grandmaster role and frankly, it’s easy to see why. Yen’s perfectly down-to-earth role matches well with his impressive Wing Chun martial arts skill during the fight scenes, notably the famous scene where he single-handedly defeats 10 of Hiroyuki Ikeuchi’s General Miura’s students.
7) Ip Man 2 (2010)
By the time the first movie hit the big screen in 2008, the “Ip Man” craze had already surged into an overnight sensation. Which explains why the arrival of “Ip Man 2” made more money than its predecessor. Never mind the fact that the story rehashes the same theme of nationalistic pride seen in the first movie. What matters the most is Yen’s committed role as well as some of his impressive fight scenes including a brief but memorable duel against Sammo Hung atop a table.
8) Wu Xia (2011)
Think “Sherlock Holmes” and “CSI” in the guise of an otherwise old-fashioned wuxia genre — that’s how director Peter Chan chose to play out in “Wu Xia”. Apart from its inventive storyline with a detective-mystery angle, Donnie Yen made quite a lasting impression in his dramatic turn as the former assassin-turned-family man trying to escape from his dark past. The movie is also notable for its action sequences including the one involving his fight against Shaw Brothers vet Kara Hui.
9) Kung Fu Jungle (2014)
Imagine an action movie where an arrogant fighter seeks to challenge every top martial-arts expert. No doubt an oft-told storyline that we have seen countless times in Hong Kong martial arts genre. But “Kung Fu Jungle” sees veteran director Teddy Chen (2009’s “Bodyguards and Assassins”) brilliantly transplanting the otherwise old-fashioned genre into a modern-day setting. The movie also showcased Donnie Yen’s memorable fight scene against Wang Baoqiang in the middle of the highway.
10) Ip Man 3 (2015)
A significant improvement over the last two “Ip Man” movies, this third instalment sees returning director Wilson Yip getting up close and personal with Donnie Yen’s title character. The movie takes a creative risk by scaling down the first two movies’ nationalistic-heavy themes in favour of a more personal drama involving family values. And at the same time, “Ip Man 3” also boasts some of the franchise’s best action setpieces including Yen’s three separate one-on-one duels against Sarut Khanwilai, Mike Tyson and Max Zhang in different occasions.