The transcript below is from the video “Art of Donnie Yen’s Fight Choreography Part 1 | Video Essay” by ScorpioDanielNerd.

Cheng Guo from ScorpioDanielNerd:

“How do you film a kick-ass but also realistic fight scene? Despite the massive contribution Hong Kong and Chinese action films made to the world cinema, especially regarding the art of fight choreographies, one doubt remains. Are these Kung Fu effective in real life?”

[Scene from a Donnie Yen movie]

Cheng Guo from ScorpioDanielNerd:

“Or are they just entirely onscreen performance?”

“As a Chinese who grew up with Kung Fu films, wuxia films, and urban Chinese action films, starring most notably, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, despite my love for these pictures and all the legendary action stars, I still couldn’t help but to ask myself these questions. Of course, Jet Li won the actual championships in wushu competitions. Jackie Chan did all of his own daredevil stunts. And even until today, nobody could top his audacity. So, I’m not questioning their accomplishment as martial artists. But if there are any criticisms that the world has on those amazing fight scenes, the most valid point that one can make is probably, they look fake. Almost nobody can fight like that in real life and expect any real chance of winning. And that’s why Donnie Yen’s fight choreography is such a breath of fresh air and game changer in the scene of Modern Chinese action films.”

Cheng Guo from ScorpioDanielNerd:

“Besides being a huge action star in Chinese and now global cinema, Donnie Yen is also a renowned action director in the industry, who has choreographed for not only Hong Kong films but also Hollywood films and even the opening sequence of Japanese game, ‘Onimusha 3: Demon Siege’. Being a master of his craft, he was totally nominated 13 times and won 6 of the Best Action Choreography awards at both the Hong Kong Film Award and Golden Horse Film Festival. The Ip Man series brought Donnie Yen his global fame and it was an incredible franchise, but those films were choreographed by Sammo Hung and Yuen Woo-ping, respectively. And they are not really a good representation of Donnie Yen’s typical style of fighting. So, today, let’s take a closer look at how Donnie approaches his action scenes. Ready? Let’s go.”

Cheng Guo from ScorpioDanielNerd:

“Just like how a great comedy actor gets recognized by his unique sense of humour, a great action star gets recognised by his unique trademark of fighting style. In the action cinema, while we do see certain actors with a few signature moves, other than Jackie Chan, it’s hard to find an action star who’s equally competent in both action choreography and having a recognizable style of choreography to accompany his on-screen persona. Although Donnie’s realistic fighting style wasn’t fully formed at the beginning of his career, he was definitely conscious of developing his signature moves very early on. The first and the most prominent fight move that defined Donnie’s on-screen presence was his kicks.”

Cheng Guo from ScorpioDanielNerd:

“This is not only for himself, but even for other actors where he worked as the action choreographer. Sometimes to the degree of extreme flashiness depending on the story setting. We see the stretch kick which was mostly seen in his early career. The axe kick to push the opponent down or for instant kills. The split kick. The flying roundhouse kick. Flying front kick. Parkour kicks. Double leg side kick. Jumping side kick, followed by flying back kick. Bouncing off person A with jumping side kick before hitting person B with fist or a weapon. Different variations of his triple chain kick including, flying triple side kick, flying triple front-kick and split scissor kick plus front kick, taking down three persons all in one go. But his most prominently used kick has got to be the jumping back kick or the jump spinning hook kick. Sometimes executed after running forward to deliver more power. Which not only looks cool but also is one of the deadliest kicks in Taekwondo. And it’s used in almost every single action film that he personally choreographed, even within an ancient Chinese setting.”

Cheng Guo from ScorpioDanielNerd:

“With his incredible flexibility and agility, Donnie is able to pull off a variety of kicks and combine them in creative ways, which consider both the aesthetics of the choreography and the practicality of the kicks in the situation. There are a few key differences that set apart the kicks in Donnie’s films from the kicks in other martial art movies. The first difference is the impact. Traditional action scenes usually choreograph kicks where the legs barely touch the face or the body of the opponent. This is usually done to protect the actors, especially their faces from getting hurt, but it also reduces the impact of the kicks and the level of realism as well. Anyone who practices martial art will know that in a real fight you’re supposed to kick pass your opponent. Which is why in most of Donnie Yen’s choreographies the important kicks and even punches were all delivered with an intention to swing pass the target, which really sells the momentum and the power of the fight moves.”

Cheng Guo from ScorpioDanielNerd:

“The second difference is in the multi-purpose function of Donnie’s legs in a fight. Although real fighters may do it all the time, no on-screen martial artist has been able to utilize his or her legs in a fight scene in so many different ways. Besides making really fancy kicks, his legs also serve other practical functions in a combat. There’s the knee joint dislocation kick from Muay Thai and Karate to damage the opponent’s knee or to put him off balance. The oblique kick, stop kick, or a defense push kick from Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do to keep his fighting distance from the opponent. And it doesn’t have to be kicks. It can be parkour to travel across the obstacles in a chase. Scissor legs to trip the opponent up. Or flying scissor sweep. Even flying scissor leg takedown and this comic book adaptation version of it. Hurricanrana or Frankensteiner. Using legs to lock the opponent’s joints or break the opponent’s joints. On the contrary, the legs can be used to break out of joint locks or to break up the grappling. Which brings me to my next point.”

Cheng Guo from ScorpioDanielNerd:

“Donnie uses mixed martial art extensively. The combats tend to be realistic, brutal, and they look very western compared to the other fight scenes from Chinese action films. He uses many close-range high impact attacks like the knee strikes from Muay Thai, which is great for both attack and defense. And the flying knee strike is another one of his favorite instant kills. Following the knee strike, he also likes to use the elbow strike and elbow block, which interacts beautifully and powerfully with the opponent’s knee strikes, elbow strikes, and punches. This is also a famously effective and brutal Muay Thai strike, which really packs a punch, especially with the vicious spinning back elbow plus an elbow combo. Different grappling techniques from Judo and wrestling like one-arm shoulder throw, fireman carry throw, front headlock throw, double leg takedown, scoop throw, suplex, crashing the opponent through lockers and tables. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA submission techniques, most famously from his SPL ‘Kill Zone’ and ‘Flashpoint’. Including triangle choke, to arm bars, standing arm bar, leg locks and overall a significant portion of ground fighting filled with messy struggles. In fact, Donnie Yen might be the first Chinese action star after Bruce Lee who can resemble Bruce’s fighting style. Other than Donnie’s prevalent use of powerful kicks, similar facial expressions, Bruce is also one of the first to connect striking with grappling, submission and invented Jeet Kune Do, with its cross-training nature being a precursor of MMA.”

Cheng Guo from ScorpioDanielNerd:

“For much of the Hong Kong action cinema, the most influential choreographers came from Peking Opera academies. They are supreme acrobats and martial art performers. These action filmmakers, most famously Jackie Chan, are masters at creating rhythm in their fight scenes. Usually two fighters make their moves and countermoves that are highly in sync with each other and operate at mostly the same speed throughout the entire scene. Even when there is an occasional increase in speed, it usually happens at the one final blow. Although their tradition of theatrical, showy combat is filled with physical extravagance and certainly pleasing to watch, especially for action comedies, they also leave a strong sense of the sequence being choreographed and manipulated by the action director.”

Cheng Guo from ScorpioDanielNerd:

“Over the years, many audiences, especially Chinese audience, more familiar with the Hong Kong and Chinese action cinema, get exhausted with the flamboyant but ineffective and unpractical fight moves. On the other hand, western fight scenes tend to look more realistic and grittier but lack the rhythm and the choreographed beauty. Donnie Yen carried on part of the traditions of Hong Kong fight choreographies: the creativity, rhythm, precision, clarity of action and expressive emphasis on force. But he also instills more realistic messiness from real combats and western action films. And there’s much less of the circus aesthetic characterized by unnecessary rolling, somersaults, cartwheels and over-the-top physics. But the brilliance of Donnie Yen’s fight choreographies does not end with his signature fight moves and the combat effectiveness of his martial art style.

Tune in for the next episode as we go deeper into the tempo and logic behind his fight scenes, the way he choreographs weapon fight and Donnie’s influence on the other action directors. Thanks for watching.”




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