A sharp-skilled martial artist who has gone on to a successful career as a director and choreographer, Donnie Yen has found success in both his homeland China and in the hustle and bustle of Tinsletown. Working on projects ranging from the traditional Chinese martial-arts period piece Once Upon a Time in China II (1992) to the bone-crunching science fiction-vampire opus Blade II, Yen has distinguished himself as a formidable figure in the ranks of action cinema.
Born in Canton, China, in July 1963, Yen's family moved to Hong Kong when Yen was two, again relocating to Boston, MA, when he was 11. It was in Boston that his mother, Bow Sim-Mark, a famous Wushu and Tai Chi master, ran the internationally famous Chinese Wushu Research Institute. A musically inclined youngster who excelled at the piano, Yen was educated by his mother in the martial arts from the moment he took his first steps. An addiction to Hong Kong cinema only fueled the energetic teenager's love for martial arts, and Yen would frequently find himself emulating the awe-inspiring moves of such film legends as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Worried that Yen spent a little too much of his time in Boston's notorious Combat Zone, his concerned parents sent him to Beijing on a two-year training program with the Beijing Wushu Team. Studying alongside such future stars as Jet Li, Yen began to build the confidence and self-discipline to become a Wushu master; he also made history as the first non-PRC Chinese to be accepted to the school. Fate intervened at a pit stop in Hong Kong en route back to his home in Boston, and Yen's chance meeting with legendary filmmaker/choreographer/action director Yuen Woo-Ping served as the inspiration Yen was seeking to break into the film industry. After appearing in minor roles in such 1980s Woo-Ping films as Tai Chi Master (1984) and Tiger Cage (1988), Yen received his breakout role in director Tsui Hark's massively popular Once Upon a Time in China II (1992). Cast opposite peer Jet Li, the duo engaged in a pair of fight scenes that would rank among the most inventive and exhilarating in martial arts film history. Even opposite such formidable talent as Li, Yen's creative fighting skills were so effective that he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 1992 Hong Kong Film Awards.