Donnie Yen is really the most experienced star in the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ensemble. Yen was born in Hong Kong and trained in martial arts at a young age. He’s been working in films since the early 1980s, working mostly in China. The actor plays the blind monk Chirrut Îmwe in the new Star Wars film, the first stand-alone movie in the franchise.
Îmwe is among the group of rebels who join Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) on her quest to steal the Death Star plans from the Galactic Empire and get them safely into the Rebel Alliance’s hands. The film, directed by Godzilla‘s Gareth Edwards, is set just before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.
Yen, who grew up in Boston before moving back to Hong Kong in his late teens, is married to Cissy Wang, his second wife. They married in 2003 and have two children. He also has a son with his first wife, Zing-Ci Leung, who he was married to from 1993 to 1995.
Here’s a look at Yen’s character, his net worth and his career.
1. Yen Has an Estimated Net Worth of $40 Million
Yen is one of the highest-paid Chinese actors in the movies. According to Celebrity Net Worth, he has an estimated net worth of $40 million.
Yen learned martial arts at a young age because his mother, Bow-sim Mark, is a Fu Style Wudangquan and Tai Chi grandmaster. His father, Klyster Yen, is a journalist. In the early 1980s, Yen began using his skills in the movies.
Yen’s earliest part listed on IMDb is as an uncredited stunt double in 1982’s The Miracle Fighters. Since then, he’s racked up over 50 credits in stunts and has acted in 70 movies. For American audiences, he’s best known for playing Sky in the Oscar-nominated film Hero and for playing Snowman in Blade II.
However, he his biggest role has been playing Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man in the Ip Man films. He’s played Ip Man in three films already and a fourth is coming out in 2018.
2. Yen Grew Up in Boston & His Mother Runs a Prestigious Tai Chi School There
Although Yen was born in Hong Kong, he and his parents immigrated to Boston when he was young. He learned martial arts at his mother’s tai chi school. Mark founded the first Chinese Wushu Research Institute in Boston in 1976.
In an interview with Boston Magazine, Yen said he only typically returns to Boston to visit his parents since he lives in Hong Kong. He does have fond memories of the city though.
“I do go back to Boston to visit my parents, but every single time I pay Boston a visit, things change a whole lot from what I remember living in Boston, the diversity of Boston, the choices of restaurants,” Yen told the magazine. “Especially being a Chinese person, I think when I was living in Boston, they were a lot less. The feeling of just being in Boston nowadays, you have a little bit more sense of comfortableness.”
Yen’s sister, Chris Yen, is also a martial artist who has worked on movies. According to a 2009 profile on her by the Boston Globe, she went back to China at age 10, six years after her older brother did.
Yen was highlighted in a Boston TV news segment in 1985, which you can see below.
3. Yen Was Offered a Role in ‘Expendables 2,’ but Passed on it Because He Didn’t Think the Role Was Interesting
Yen rarely does Hollywood films, with 2002’s Blade II more of an exception than the rule. In recent years, he’s been more open to blockbusters, appearing in Rogue One and signing up for 2017’s xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Yen was offered a role in 2012’s The Expendables 2 with Sylvester Stallone and Jet Li, but turned the role down.
As he explained to ComingSoon.net in July 2012, he just didn’t find the role he was offered interesting at all.
“They wanted me to be in Expendables 2 but I just didn’t feel the role clicked,” Yen told the site. “I was flattered that I was approached by the producers but I just didn’t see the role they asked me to do being that intriguing. I didn’t really want to do it but I’m open for anything. Doing a movie is a stressful thing. You spend months of you life focusing into that one project and I want to make sure I do something I really like or I’m really passionate about.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Yen revealed that he almost passed on Rogue One, too. He’s now glad he didn’t pass on the scene-stealing role.
Yen explained to the Times:
It’s crazy but I was hesitant about taking this role. I was flattered but at the same time I didn’t want to leave my family for five months to go to London, because I just got off another movie.
I turned to my children and I said, “Do you like baba’s Ip Man series?” — because I’m known to Western audiences for ‘Ip Man.’ “Or do you want baba to be in Star Wars?” They went, “Star Wars, of course!”
I said, ‘Wait a minute — there’s something special there.’ Then my friends and family and fanboys, everybody was so excited and I realized, this is not just making a movie. You’re making history here. So that’s how I got involved, and I’m so glad I did.
4. Yen Broke Mike Tyson’s Finger While They Filmed ‘Ip Man 3’ in 2015
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Yen said Tyson got a part in the franchise because he loved the first two Ip Man films. Plus, Yen is a big fan of Tyson’s and Tyson is friends with his mother.
“Accidents do happen on set. As an actor, Mike Tyson was very professional and very humble,” Yen told THR of Tyson’s injury. “Snce fighting in a ring is different from fighting for the camera … we need to have a different set of skills to perform a fight scene in a movie. We have to remember the choreography, and a fight scene onscreen might take weeks or even a month to shoot.”
While Yen wasn’t hurt during the making of Ip Man 3, he was hurt while filming a fight scene with Paul Chang.
“There are action films all over the world; but kung fu movies are a product of Chinese-language cinema,” Yen told THR. “It’s a special film genre. Kung fu cinema is a sophisticated film art that embraces Chinese history. So we set very high standards for ourselves because we know we’re making a film for the world to see as an example of this precious Chinese film genre.”
5. Yen Said the Hardest Part of Playing Chirrut Îmwe Was His Character’s Blindness
Chirrut Îmwe is probably one of the more unique human characters in Rogue One. In addition to being blind, he is also a strong believer in the Force, even though he’s not a Jedi. He’s friends with Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), who doesn’t believe in the Force.
Yen told USA Today that the hardest part of playing the role didn’t have anything to do with heavy equipment or special effects. It was being blind and not being able to look his fellow actors in the eyes.
“As a blind character, I wasn’t able to look at them in the eyes and control the reactions, so that was actually the hardest part. Plus, wearing the contact lenses, it was not comfortable and I had to [take] them out of my eyes every 20 minutes,” Yen said.
In his Boston Magazine interview, Yen said that the best part about being in the Star Wars franchise is that he’s now a part of a franchise he can watch with his kids. He’s also very happy that a Chinese actor is finally involved in Star Wars.
“As a Chinese actor, that’s a long time coming,” Yen told Boston Magazine. “You could not imagine this could happen decades ago. The world’s a lot closer today. We’re in a complex but diverse world. I’m glad I can represent and, hopefully when the movie comes out, it sets a great example for younger actors, not just Chinese actors. They too can achieve their goals.”
SPOILERS – If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t read the following paragraph
Chirrut was a scene-stealer and revealed to be a “Guardian of the Whills” who guarded a Jedi temple on Jedha. After the temple was destroyed, he and Baze Malbus had nothing to protect. Chirrut helped the Rebels send the Death Star plans to the one of their ships above Scarif, but was killed. Sadly, all of the main characters in Rogue One gave their lives to help the Rebel Alliance.