LOS ANGELES, Dec 1 — Action star Donnie Yen placed his deadly hands and feet in cement at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre yesterday, voicing hope that his career would inspire fellow Asians to take up acting.
The martial artist — a multiple world champion in the wushu fighting style — was being honoured for a body of work mainly in Chinese cinema, although he also stars in the much-anticipated Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
“Sometimes being an Asian actor is not easy. Unfortunately, for many years, Asian actors didn’t have the same, equal opportunities,” the 53-year-old Hong Kong resident told AFP at the ceremony.
“But I think that things have been changing,” he added. “And I certainly would like to be one actor that set a good example.”
Overshadowed over the years by Jackie Chan and other sought-after kung fu stars, Yen has been gradually breaking into Hollywood since appearing in Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II in 2002.
In Rogue One, due to be released on December 16, he plays a warrior monk who is part of a heroic band of rebels that steals plans for the Death Star.
He also stars opposite Vin Diesel in xXx: Return of Xander Cage, which hits theatres on January 20.
Born in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, Yen came to Hong Kong — where he lives now — at the age of two and later moved to the United States, growing up in Boston’s Chinatown.
Much of the star’s inspiration comes from his mother, Bow Sim-Mark, a world famous wushu and tai chi master, at whose internationally-known Chinese Wushu Research Institute the young Yen learned kung fu.
When he became involved in gang violence in Boston at age 16, his worried parents sent him to Beijing, where he spent two years training with the famed Beijing wushu team, studying with the same masters as Jet Li.
Yen’s turning point came when the veteran film director Yuen Wo-ping, the action choreographer for the Matrix trilogy, discovered him and helped him break into movies as the new kung fu hero.
Yen has spent years since then using his celebrity to wage a campaign to kick the Asian stereotype out of Hollywood.
In the mid-1990s, he turned down an offer from Francis Ford Coppola because of a script he said contained “a ridiculous stereotype about the Chinese”.
He also rejected an offer to be in the Tomb Raider sequel, which China banned for making the country appear lawless and run by secret societies.
“I hope this ceremony, this achievement, will inspire many Chinese actors — not just Chinese actors, but many young actors — that they, too, can achieve the same dream if they put enough hard work into it,” he said before sinking his hands into the cement.
“The force is with me and the force is with everybody.” — AFP