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Donnie Yen Chi-Tan (Chinese: ???; pinyin: Zhen Zidan; born 27 July 1963) is a Chinese martial artist and actor, film director, fight choreographer, and producer. He is a well known film and television actor in Hong Kong and, more recently, in the West, having been featured in many movies with prominent, internationally known actors such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh.
Yen was born in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China, the son of martial arts master Bow Sim Mark and Klysler, a newspaper editor. He was raised in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. His younger sister Chris Yen (Chi-Ching) is also an accomplished martial artist and rising actor, recently appearing in the independent film Adventures of Johnny Tao: Rock Around the Dragon.
From a young age, Yen was interested in martial arts of all kinds, experimenting with various styles, from Taekwondo to Wushu. After dropping out of school, Yen decided to stick with Wushu. He moved to Beijing to train further with the Beijing Wushu Team. In his initial training in Guangzhou, China, his instructor Mr. Lee Yu-Man demanded Donnie cut his hippie-style mullet as it was inappropriate. When he wanted to return to the United States, he made a side trip to Hong Kong and it was there that he met Yuen Woo-ping, a famous Hong Kong fight choreographer.
Yen’s first film role was at age 21 in 1984 in the film Xiao Tai Ji. The film revolved around Drunken Tai Chi, and although not a critical success, the film helped Yen to achieve further notability. Over the years, Yen would send martial arts magazines and books from North America back to Mr. Lee in China. Sometime after filming Drunken Tai Chi and Tiger Cage, Yen had cosmetic surgery to give him folded eyelids and to straighten his teeth. The changes are very apparent in subsequent films.
However, Yen gained his breakthrough role in 1992 as General Lan in Once Upon a Time in China II. His final fight against Wong Fei-Hung (Jet Li) remains one of the most celebrated fights in martial arts films to this day. This fight scene could be considered one of the very best in martial arts films, and has been revisited to an extent in 2002’s Hero, where Yen and Li face off again. He learned how to use a spear from a man named Master Ma. Hero was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 2003 Academy Awards but lost to Nowhere in Africa (Germany).
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