If there was one bad ass who could capture the title of “The Greatest Bad Ass Alive Today,” that bad ass would be the legendary Hong Kong actor, martial artist, film director, producer, action choreographer, and multiple-time world wushu tournament champion Donnie Yen. If you only knew Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, the blind warrior from “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” you already know him to be pretty bad ass. But if you only know Donnie Yen from a Star Wars movie, it’s time you get to know him a little better.
If you’ve been only passively following Hong Kong cinema since the days of Jackie Chan’s American breakthrough in the mid 1990s, you’ve probably seen Yen a number of times without realizing it. After fighting at the side of Jet Li’s Wong Fei-hung in Tsui Hark’s landmark 1992 film “Once Upon a Time in China II,” Yen played a fictionalized version of Fei-hung the following year in the Hark-produced “Iron Monkey,” which sadly would not get released in America for another eight years. After working in America as the fight choreographer for movies like “Blade II,” Li personally lobbied to get Yen cast in Zhang Yimou’s “Hero,” which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2003. The same year, he played the one of the bad guys against Chan in “Shanghai Knights.” But the series that has cemented his legacy in cinematic history is the “Ip Man” series, which started in 2008.
“Ip Man” tells the story of the legendary Wing Chun martial arts teacher who became best known as the teacher of Bruce Lee. The “Ip Man” movies took a number of liberties with Ip’s life story for cinematic purposes, but did include Ip’s son Ip Chun as an actor and consultant on the first film. The amazing success of “Ip Man” lead to a sequel in 2010, which Yen promised to be the last time he would play the grand master. “Ip Man 2” would more than double the worldwide gross of “Ip Man,” and in 2015, Yen was persuaded again to play the titular hero, alongside Mike Tyson and Danny Chan Kwok-kwan as Bruce Lee. “Ip Man 3” more than doubled the worldwide gross of “Ip Man 2,” so naturally, someday, there would be more. And now we know we will have not one but two Ip Man-based movies.
The first, “Ip Man 4,” continues the every decade forward progression of the series. After Fosham in the 1930s (“Ip Man”) and British-occupied Hong Kong in the 1940s (“Ip Man 2” and “Ip Man 3”), “Ip Man 4” will take place in the United States in the early 1960s, as Ip travels to America to work with Bruce Lee after the latter decides to open a Wing Chun school in Seattle, against the wishes of several Kung Fu masters back on the mainland.
“Ip Man 4” is scheduled to being shooting in March, and is likely to be released around the world during December 2018.
Meanwhile, pre-production has already started on “Ip Man Legacy: Master Z,” which finds Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang), who was bested by Ip Man at the end of “Ip Man 3,” keeping a low profile due to his continued depression due to the defeat. Tin Chi inadvertently offends the younger brother of a local gangster, played by the iconic Michelle Yeoh, and finds himself against the big boss behind a local bar district, played by Dave Bautista. Directed by legendary filmmaker and choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen, “Ip Man Legacy: Master Z” has already been picked up for American distribution by Well Go USA, which is expected to release the film during the second half of 2018.
But the one film that looks even more interesting than either upcoming “Ip Man” film is the Yen-produced reimagining of the classic 1978 Sammo Hung movie “Enter the Fat Dragon.”
In the film, Yen will play Fallon Zhu, a Hong Kong Special Task Force agent who, after being dumped by his fiancée just before their wedding, falls in to a food-fueled depression, ballooning up to 300 pounds. When a series of mishaps befalls Zhu during a routine mission to escort a prisoner to Japan, leading to the death of his prisoner, he finds himself a wanted criminal in a foreign country.
It is expected that Yen will don a fat suit to play Zhu, not unlike the one he wore in 2015 for a mattress commercial he filmed with his wife and business partner Cissy Wang.
“Enter the Fat Dragon” is expected to begin production soon, and be released worldwide in the summer of 2018.