Donnie Yen once had only HK$100

Donnie Yen once laboured in the shadow of Jet Li and Jackie Chan.

But with the impending release of Ip Man 4 in the lucrative box-office franchise, action hero Yen, 55, can look back on a career that has taken him to Hollywood and seen him overtaking Chan arguably.

Li is largely absent from show business now.

Ip Man 4 will be Yen's last outing as the gongfu hero after starting the role in 2008. The franchise tracks the life of the man who trained martial arts legend Bruce Lee.

Yen wants to free up time to stretch himself further on-screen, with a stint as Mulan's mentor in the upcoming Disney live-action reboot adding another feather to his cap.

"Never give up," he recently posted about not opting for the tried and tested.

Indeed, in an interview with GQ Taiwan published this month, he revealed that he never threw in the towel even though he had only HK$100 when he was trying to break into the Hong Kong film industry decades ago. To save money, he ate food served to the cast and crew during production shoots.

Then, there was the competition from Li and Chan for public notice.

Yen slowly built up a name for his martial arts prowess in movies such as SPL: Kill Zone (2005) and Flash Point (2007), but the Ip Man franchise was what turbocharged his career.

"Now, I just look back at my past with a smile," Yen said, preferring to focus on the future instead. Will he venture back to gongfu movies?

"I don't really have as much motivation to conquer anything more. But when it comes to contemporary fight scenes, I feel like there's a lot of knowledge about using martial arts and cinematic techniques in harmony that I still have left to show," he said in another interview.

Fans need not fear that Hollywood will claim him entirely.

"I've always been a Hong Kong film-maker; I've never left.

"Hong Kong is my home; my children live there. Now that I have a bit of influence and pull, I'd like to use that to make more films there."

Fans will hope that he can be persuaded to do another Ip Man movie or spin-off, with financial backers perhaps baiting him by giving him the directing reins too.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2019, with the headline 'Donnie Yen once had only HK$100'. Print Edition | Subscribe