For international action star Donnie Yen, it’s time to move on from stereotypical martial arts roles.
In a recent interview with Prestige Hong Kong, he revealed that he prefers more three-dimensional Asian characters in Hollywood films. Yen touched on the subject while discussing his well-received character Chirrut Îmwe from the 2016 Star Wars standalone film “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
“When I took on the role in ‘Rogue One’, I felt it was important for me to take a step forward, to develop it so that it would be less clichéd,” Yen was quoted as saying. “I know they wanted Donnie Yen because he’s Ip Man. They wanted Ip Man in Rogue One. I get it. But I don’t want to portray another stereotypical Chinese martial-arts man.”
The actor, who became internationally known for his breakout role in the first Ip Man film in 2008, revealed that he helped in fleshing out the character Chirrut Îmwe with producers. But while he was able to add layers and context to the character, he felt that it was still not enough for him to improve.
“Even after all of that, Îmwe still came out a cliché,” he lamented. “But if you think he’s a cliché on screen, you should’ve seen the original script they offered me. It was why I was initially hesitant to take on the role. But I understand why. They can’t have an overhaul overnight. There’s a large audience that has never watched Asians in films before, so it takes time for them to process an Asian actor.”
Yen further shared his thoughts on how Hollywood studios have been handling Asian-American representation.
“They need to learn from their mistakes,” Yen said in the interview. “Look at all these actors and actresses that now say no. It proves it doesn’t work. You can’t just put an Asian actor in there and expect that, because they show up for a second, you’ve covered the Asian market. That is a joke.”
Yen highlighted how some Asian actors are now opting out of roles that are merely there to pander to Asian audiences.
“I’m glad Asian actors are stepping up and saying no,” he said. “If you’re going to spend months away from home and devote time in your life to work on a film it had better be worth it.”
While there have been a growing number of Asian roles made available in Hollywood, they are often token characters with stereotypical attributes.
The 52-year-old actor, who has played most, if not all his roles as a martial arts expert, definitely deserves to branch out into more varied roles in the future. While his most recent role as Xiang in “XXX: Return of Xander Cage” opposite Vin Diesel slightly deviates from being too martial arts-centric, his next few films, including his return as legendary Wing Chun master teacher IP Man in “IP Man 4” will see him pummeling baddies again, using martial arts.
If Hollywood is listening, maybe casting Yen as Namor for the Marvel Cinematic Universe for its Phase 4 lineup of films would be an epic start.