Donnie Yen “Iron Monkey” Q&A – 2012 New York Asian Film Festival

The Yuen Woo Ping classic “Iron Monkey” was a very late addition to the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival lineup, and it occurred equally late at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday evening. A noticeably tired Donnie Yen decided to make this screening his third appearance of four during the festival (in this Q&A before the screening, he referred to jet lag and then very nearly referred to it again instead of Jet Li).

Donnie Yen: Oh, you guys are great.  10:30 at night, you guys are here watching my movie that was made 20 years ago, so despite my jet lag I’m gonna be here once again to greet you guys, to say hello, and to show you how much appreciation I have from you guys.

And I wanna thank you all for supporting my films, and supporting me for so many years.  “Iron Monkey” was made 20 years ago.  You guys probably watched this movie more than me, right?  But anyway, so, if you guys wanna keep track of what’s in my near future, go to, and in there you can also find the official, my official Facebook website.  I know there’s a lot of other Donnie Yens out there, those are great, you know.  (laughing)  But the official one is where you can find in

Grady Hendrix of Subway Cinema (organizers of the New York Asian Film Festival): Actually, before you go, I just wanted to know, ’cause this movie, you are doing with Yuen Woo Ping–


Who, you really started out with–

Absolutely, yes.

…in Hong Kong.  Can you just tell people about the working relationship between you guys?  Because you all have worked together for so long.

Yes, you all probably know he discovered me, I don’t know how many years ago? (laughs)

I think it was yesterday?

Eighty years ago? (laughs)  But I learned a lot from him.  He’s very busy, and when we see each other we’re always looking for the next projects.  I don’t know, hopefully in the near future, right?  I’m lucky.

Can you let people know where you were in your career when you made “Iron Monkey?”  Like, I mean, from your point of view, did you feel like this was gonna be this really huge next step for you?

Oh, no expectation, nothing.  I mean, when I finished “Once Upon A Time In China,” and I went on to do a cameo for the film “Dragon Inn” – “The New Dragon Inn” – and then, actually I was supposed to do “Black Mask.” But then somehow “Black Mask” was canceled for a couple of years, and then few years later Jet Li went on to play the role.  But then instead of playing “Black Mask,” I was offered to play this role by producer Tsui Hark.

And then, no expectations.  Every time I step into a Yuen Woo Ping film, I expect hard work, lots of shooting days.  My very first movie I made with Yuen Woo Ping, which was “Drunken Tai Chi,” it took us a whole entire year to shoot.  So “Iron Monkey,” in comparison, wasn’t that tough, even though it was still very, very tough.

What was it, was there any particular part of it that you found was just like the toughest thing that you had to do to that point, or for this film?

Man, it was so long ago! (laughs)

Well, and also, this was actually, you had worked with Tsui Hark on two films right before this. And I know people have described him as…a tough guy, but you seem to be able to get along with him pretty well.  What’s your secret?

It’s just tremendous respect for all the seniors, and all the great, Tsui Hark, Yuen Woo Ping, you know?  It’s just part of the whole respect, how I grew up.  And I was taught by my mother, you know, it’s maybe the whole martial arts training, but it’s just the whole, when you step into the set, working with someone like Tsui Hark, you automatically just have to be as respectful as possible.

But I did remember one incident, since you mention it, you know, when I did “Once Upon a Time in China: Part Two,” I remember, Tsui Hark is the person who known to have no script at all, and we had no script whatsoever, until the very shot.  Now I remember this so, there were so many moments where Tsui Hark would come, and I would ask Tsui Hark and say, you know, ‘What’s my line, director?’ And he says, ‘Oh, you don’t have any lines.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, you don’t have lines?’ [He responded,] ‘Just say, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and we’ll dub it later when I think of a line.’

And that’s exactly what happened in “Once Upon a Time in China: Part Two.”  I remember there’s a scene
where I had my full costume, playing the General against Jet Li, I waited for 30-38 hours on the set without taking my costume off.  And you know back then it was really rough environment doing films, right?  With no trailers, and we had to literally find our own little spot in the set which was full of dust and dirt, and not a very comfortable environment, literally finding little spots in the corner, to rest.  And I remember exactly, that was the moment I remember, and I’ll never forget that moment, after 30-something hours, right?  The assistant director comes up to me, ‘Donnie, it’s your turn.’ You’ve waited 30-something hours, right?  And alright, you go up there, and say, ‘What’s my line?’  And he said, ‘You don’t have any line.’ And he took one shot, okay, wrap!

So, I’ll never forget that.  So then the next movie after that, many years later, “Seven Swords” with Tsui Hark and I, I will always be sarcastic. You know, you get older, and we became closer, you know the whole, we became more friendly, and he opened up to me, and I talk about, ‘Ah, remember that time you made
me wait 30-something hours?’ Ah, it was fun.

And the last thing I wanted to ask you is, I know this film, Yuen Woo Ping also has his brothers, some of his brothers working on it as well.  Is there anything you can tell us about that?  Because in the U.S., people don’t know much about them.

In Hong Kong…we have groups, like you have the Hung clan, which was the leader obviously Sammo Hung.  And you have the Yuen clan, you have the Jackie Chan clan, that was big, and the Lau Kar-leung clan, which, he directed many of the old Shaw Brothers movies, right?

So when I came into the industry, I was placed with the Yuen clan. So the Yuen clan are made up of the Yuen brothers. And a lot of outsiders, not in the family heritage, people like…myself after working with them after maybe three or four years, I actually became his right-hand man.  But anyway, I worked with the brothers, and the brothers are really tight with family.

Actually, before I made “Drunken Tai Chi,” I went to Taiwan to make a movie with Yuen Woo Ping, a sequel,
that’s called “The Miracle Fighters,” I actually stunt doubled for the brothers.

Really, on “The Miracle Fighters?”

Yeah, yeah, actually if you ever…dig up this old movie, “The Miracle Fighters” two, part two, there were a couple of kicking scenes, it was me!  There was a shot where I play, his brother got this role where, I recall – you know his second brother kind of looked exactly like he was – anyway, but the role was this old man with this long beard, and there’s this shot where his legs were spread out, and did this whole full split between two tables, and then, and he swung around 360 like that. That was actually me, if you look back.

Video: Donnie Yen Q&A, “Iron Monkey” screening – 2012 New York Asian Film Festival
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

Our related review of IRON MONKEY: