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Summary

  • Donnie Yen’s underappreciated career features hidden gems worth exploring for action movie enthusiasts.
  • Yen’s diverse filmography ranges from intense martial arts battles to romantic comedies and even horror movies.
  • Yen’s charismatic performances in movies like “Heroes Among Heroes” and “Dragon Inn” showcase his star power.
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The career of martial artist and actor Donnie Yen was chock-full of absolutely incredible underappreciated movies that action, fighting, and Kung Fu enthusiasts should be sure to check out. A highly skilled performer who always gave his all to every role he pursued, when watching a Yen movie, viewers were always sure to be in for a good time. From crazy action-based comedies to outrageous horror movies, Yen has had a vast and interesting career that was worth delving into for some hidden gems.

While there were so many great Donnie Yen movies and he may have gained recognition for his portrayal of the grandmaster Wing Chun in the Ip Man series and has even broken into Hollywood with roles in movies like John Wick 4, his career was loaded with tons of lesser-known movies that were worth a look. There was far more to Yen than his starring roles in films such as Iron Monkey, as he has tackled everything from romantic comedies to horror movies. There were just so many underrated movies that starred Donnie Yen.

10 Heroes Among Heroes (1993)

Donnie Yen as So Chan

Donnie Yen played the real-life martial artist Beggar So Chan in Heroes Among Heroes, which was also released in the US as Fist of the Red Dragon. Based on the Ten Tigers of Canton, who were said to be the greatest fighters in Guangdong during the Qing era, Heroes Among Heores depicted those who fought against opium smugglers with the Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung. An epic martial arts movie that blended fast-paced action with historical legends, Heroes Among Heroes was a worthy follow-up to Donnie Yen’s previous acclaimed film Iron Monkey which was released the same year.

Yen oozed charisma and showcased his incredible star power as he fought his way through the members of the sinister Fire Lotus Gang.

In his role as Beggar So Chan, Yen oozed charisma and showcased his incredible star power as he fought his way through the members of the sinister Fire Lotus Gang. The Donnie Yen fight sequences in Heroes Among Heroes featured fast-paced Kung Fu and hundreds of extras all dressed in impressive period-appropriate clothing. A powerful tale of revenge and the woes of drug use, Heroes Among Heroes was one of the best collaborations between Yen and director Yeun Woo-ping.

9 Dragon Inn (1992)

Donnie Yen as Tsao Siu-yan

A period film in the desert region of China during the Ming Dynasty, Dragon Inn, also known as New Dragon Gate In was a sword-fighting black comedy that featured Donnie Yen along with Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung Ka-fai, and Maggie Cheung. A powerful tale of armies, battles, and corruption, Dragon Inn explored the warriors who pushed back against the regime of a power-hungry crazed eunuch who rules the land as if he were an Emperor. A fascinating study of power-hungry maniacs and the honorable swordsmen who stepped in to put things right, Dragon Inn was an impressive martial arts movie set in Ancient China.

As a very enjoyable and underrated Yen martial arts movie, DragonInn was also propped up a number of other great performers, such as Brigitte Lin. Dragon Inn was one of several movies that featured Lin as a woman passing herself off as a man, which also included Peking Opera Blues and Swordsman II. Dragon Inn was worth checking out just based on its impressive star power alone.

8 Dragon (2011)

Donnie Yen as Liu Jinxi

Dragon was a severely underrated Donnie Yen movie directed by Peter Chan full of martial arts, mystery, and murder, involving a sinful warrior hoping to start a new life while being pursued by a determined detective in 1917 Republican China. With epic fight sequences, intensely choreographed battles, and an inquisitive secret-laced storyline, Dragon truly delivered on all fronts. A satisfying fusion of high-octane action with martial arts movie sensibilities, Dragon showcased that even in his lesser-known films, Yen always delivered a cinematic spectacle to behold.

Dragon started as a remake of the 1967 wuxia classic The One-Armed Swordsman, but these plans were quickly abandoned with just some small allusions to the older film remaining, such as an appearance from the original star Jimmy Wang Yu. Dragon was also significant for breaking a world record during its promotional campaign as Yen and Chan presided over a 3,591 square meter poster wall (via HK Top Ten) along the banks of the Huangpo River in Shanghai. A memorable advertising campaign as grand and impressive as Dragon itself, the record was previously held for a Michael Jackson album.

7 Ballistic Kiss (1998)

Donnie Yen as Cat Lee

Donnie Yen proved he had more to offer than just being an incredibly talented martial arts actor when he stepped into the director’s chair for his directional debut Ballistic Kiss. Directed and produced by Yen, he also starred as Cat Lee, a hitman entering a mid-life crisis in this stylish action thriller. With a mix of romance, mystery, and existential contemplation, Yen delivered a movie full of emotional depth and psychological intrigue with Ballistic Kiss.

Ballistic Kiss explored a hitman who split his time between desperately throwing himself into his work and trying to run away from it all.

A far more artsy and contemplative movie than Yen’s usual martial arts releases, Ballistic Kiss explored a hitman who split his time between desperately throwing himself into his work and trying to run away from it all. The psychological complexities of Cat Lee were further intensified when he fell in love with a beautiful policewoman and was forced to confront his criminal existence. A mishmash of many different genres, Ballistic Kiss was an underappreciated Yen release that proved his potential as a filmmaking in his own right.

6 Satan Returns (1996)

Donnie Yen as Nam

Donnie Yen showcased a more sinister side than audiences were used with the release of the 1996 horror movie Satan Returns. An outrageous story about a female police officer targeted by a supernatural devil-worshiping serial killer, Satan Returns mixed horror and action with a terrifying tale reminiscent of many of the themes of the Hollywood movie Se7en released just one year before. Yen played Nam, the police officer colleague of the hunted law enforcer, who encountered many bad omens in his mission to get to the bottom of the case.

Satan Returns featured dark symbols from Book of Revelation, a sinister messenger of the devil desperately searching for his master’s daughter, and fearsome supernatural foes who stopped at nothing to reach their aims. While Yen was primarily known for action and martial arts movies, Satan Returns was just one of several horror films he starred which also included Holy Virgin Vs The Evil Dead. Satan Returns attempted to amply the sensibilities of Hollywood horror to an Eastern narrative, and as such, was a strange experiment that had to be seen to be believed.

5 Flash Point (2007)

Donnie Yen as Detective Sergeant Ma Jun

Flash Point was a fast-paced Hong Kong action movie that starred Donnie Yen as a hot-headed inspector taking a small, but powerful, Vietnamese criminal gang. Full of intense fighting sequences, Yen showcased his skills as a mixed martial artist and, as a result, Flash Point won him the “Best Action Choreography” awards at the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards and the 2008 Golden Horse Film Awards. A box office hit in China, Flash Point utilized Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, boxing, kickboxing, and wrestling.

While Flash Point received mixed reviews from critics it remained one of Yen’s most intense and enjoyable action thrillers and deserved to reach a far larger international audience than it did. While it’s true that the story of Flash Point was full of action and martial arts cliches, the primary focus was entirely on the entertainment value, which Flash Point delivered in spades. Flash Point was full of insanely talented martial artists as Yen was joined by a cast including Collin Chou and the Shaolin monk Xing Yu.

4 Mismatched Couples (1985)

Donnie Yen as Eddie

One underrated gem in the varied career of Donnie Yen was the romantic comedy Mismatched Couples, which mixed action, music, and romance with a hilariously dated 1980s style. As one of his earliest roles, Yen had yet to fully carve out his identity as a major martial arts star and this was a strange, albeit endearing, entry in his vast filmography. In Mismatched Couples, Yen played Eddie, a martial artist and hip-hop dancer, embroiled in several romantic entanglements.

Influenced by hip-hop culture at the height of its popularity, Mismatched Couples was notable for its use of b-boying, popping, locking, and many different breakdancing styles. Featuring kooky characters like a poor opera singer, a jealous cousin, and a fighting champion, Mismatched Couples was mindless fun for the sake of fun. An anomaly in the career of Yen, it’s worth checking out simply for its over-the-top and bizarre sense of humor.

3 Tiger Cage II (1990)

Donnie Yen as Dragon Yau

After starring in the 1988 movie Tiger Cage, Donnie Yen reunited with director Yeung Woo-ping to return as a new character named Dragon Yau in Tiger Cage II. A majorly underrated entry in Yen’s filmography, Tiger Cage II was a non-stop action story about an ex-cop and divorce lawyer attempting to clear their names following a vicious money laundering scheme. With strong lead performances by Yen and Rosamund Kwan, Tiger Cage II was just as thrilling as its more well-known predecessor.

A real highlight of the Hong Kong action and comedy cop genre, Tiger Cage II featured incredible martial artist choreography that actually surpassed the original in its intensity. Yen’s star power shone brightly as he was in top form physically while making his way through the occasionally muddled narrative. An enjoyable sequel that deserved a far larger audience, Tiger Cage II was worth checking out for any martial arts enthusiasts.

2 In The Line Of Duty IV: Witness (1989)

Donnie Yen as Captain Donnie Yan

In the Line of Duty IV: Witness was part of the often confusingly titled In the Line of Duty/Yes, Madam! series of girls with guns movies that combined gun-wielding action with kickbox fighting. This was the first entry in the series the only entry in the series to feature Donnie Yen, where he played the lawman Captain Donnie Yan opposite Michael Wong and Cynthia Khan. A fast-paced feature of undercover agents, witnesses on the run, and corrupt cops, In the Line of Duty IV was one perhaps the best release in the entire series.

Featuring an ordinary man who found himself in a complex conspiracy, In the Line of Duty IV made the most of Yen’s star quality as he gave everything he had to epic duals with the equally impressive Taiwanese female star Khan. While the first two entries in the series featured stellar performances from Michaelle Yeoh as Michelle Yip, Khan’s turn as Inspector Rachel Yeung gave the series an extra excitement boost due to her incredible kickboxing skills. Watching Yin and Khan playing opposite each other was truly a cinematic treat.

1 Drunken Tai Chi (1984)

Donnie Yen as Ching Do

Drunken Tai Chi was a notable entry in the career of Donnie Yen as it was his true acting debut after all his previous roles were as a stuntman. An underappreciated martial arts gem, Drunken Tai Chi told an absurd story of a spoilt young man who ran away from a ruthless killer and in order to defeat them was forced to learn the art of tai chi. With the guidance of a puppeteer and his heavy-set wife, Donne Yen was thrust into a laugh-out-loud adventure that put his martial arts and fighting skills to the test.

Drunken Tai Chi hit many of the same notes as the previous, much more successful, Jackie Chan movie Drunken Master through its outrageous mix of martial arts and alcohol-based comedy. While it’s easy to criticize Drunken Tai Chi as mindless entertainment the Kung Fu on display was top notch and as pure, enjoyable spectacle the movie worked well. A major highlight of Donnie Yen’s career, Drunken Tai Chi was an underappreciated gem that those interested in his work should be sure to check out.

Sources: HK Top Ten



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