Since landing the titular role 2008’s martial arts biopic Ip Man, Donnie Yen’s been the Ip-itome (get it?) of kung fu stardom. But now, with Ip Man 3 about to hit theaters, Yen’s ready to broaden his horizons beyond martial arts films and break into the Hollywood mainstream. In an interview with TIME OUT Hong Kong, the actor claimed the franchise’s threequel would be, in fact, his last kung fu feature.
That’s what they all say.
But in Yen’s case, it may be true. As an actor, producer, and fight choreographer, he’s earned accolades for both Western and Chinese films, and is now slated to star in two major upcoming Hollywood films: the sequel to CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON as well as the latest expansion of the Star Wars universe, ROGUE ONE.
In IP MAN, Yen actually portrays the guy partially responsible for the advent of kung fu film itself: Hip Man, the martial arts master who trained Bruce Lee. Lee made kung fu “a household thing,” said Yen, whereas before it was “a mystery … unknown territory.”
While Yen’s supplied the recent demand for martial arts movies, taking over from the likes of Lee, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan, the actor told TIME OUT that finding a protégé in the younger generations of Chinese actors may prove difficult, primarily due to the profusion of new technology and new opportunities. “Today, people have a lot of choices for what to focus on and spend their time doing,” he said. “When I was a kid, I didn’t even have a TV! But now kids have an iPad and iPhone to absorb their time. Martial arts take a lot of time to learn. And martial arts films only really began around the Bruce Lee era in the last 50 years. It’s still kind of new. It doesn’t have a 100 year history [to fall back on].”
But even with his recent Hollywood roles, Yen still deals with frustration over the underrepresentation of Asian men in the American film industry. “If you’re a minority in this industry, the job opportunities are given to you ratio-wise,” the actor told TIME OUT. “That doesn’t mean Hollywood is giving Asian men equal opportunities, especially considering China’s world status today and the development of other Asian countries too. We’re influencing the rest of the world. But when you have an industry basically run by white people for decades, it’s not going to change overnight.”
But Yen’s got hope for the future: “As a patriotic Chinese man, I’d like to make a difference,” he said. “In all my films, I like to be a role model for young children and to make films that carry positive images. I’ve turned down a lot of roles because they’re too stereotypical. I’d like to break ground so that a Chinese actor can play a non-stereotypical role.”
For more from Yen (breaking Mike Tyson’s finger! his famous MMA choreography! his mother’s badass tai chi chops!) check out the rest of the TIME OUT interview here. IP MAN 3 hits theaters December 24 in Hong Kong. Stateside fans will have to wait till January 22, 2016 (select markets).