Official Artist
Bey Logan
Producer , Screenwriter , Sports
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13-8-09: Now and Yen


Happy birthday (belatedly) to Donnie, and a look back at SPL (aka Kill Zone)


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It’s been a few weeks since Donnie Yen’s birthday, and I only now (for shame!) got around to posting this photo and blog. The disturbing thing (for me) about these anniversaries is that Donnie seems to be getting younger every year, while I’m quite evidently getting older (but, I hope, a little wiser, which is a nice trade!).


This year, Donnie’s lovely wife Cici held a surprise birthday party for him at Racks pool hall in Central. I turned up at the appointed hour along with the lovely prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /Elizabeth and American actor/writer/director Marcus Aurelius. To my surprise, the press had been tipped off and was gathered en masse outside. Fortunately, the pack of agreed to play ball, and go along with the pretence that there was an ‘event’ going on upstairs.


Donnie was duly surprised to find the place packed with friends and fans, including his Seven Swords and Bodyguards and Assassins co-star, Leon Lai, and Ip Man producer Raymond Wong. Cici had laid on a cake in the shape of a boiling Boston lobster. Given that Donnie hails from Boston, Mass, this is a favourite dish, and, per Mrs. Yen, the only one that her husband can cook!


Normally a man of few words, Donnie’s speech gave shouts out to various guests, including myself, which was very nice of him. Looking around the room, I realized I probably had known Donnie longer than almost everyone except Raymond and Nansun Shi. He and I first met at the movie premiere for Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon (which Raymond and Nansun’s Cinema City had produced), and we have been friends ever since. I’ve been very happy to see Donnie finally get his due as a leading man.


For too many years, his amazing martial arts prowess was used as the spice to someone else’s stew, be it Jet Li (in Once Upon A Time In China 2 and Hero) or Jackie Chan (in Shanghai Knights). His starring roles in such epics as Iron Monkey and the Tiger Cage/In The Line Of Duty series had won him legions of fans overseas, but Donnie often seemed a prophet without honour in his own country.


The turning point in Donnie’s career came with the film SPL. I first heard about the movie when I was working as a producer on the actioner Dragon Squad. That film, also know as Dragon Heat, shared two of our stars: Sammo Hung and Simon Yam. We were worried that SPL would with our film, that people would mistake one film for another…Worse, the word was that ‘their’ film was so bad, it couldn’t be released, and so might adversely effect our own.   



I was dispatched on a secret mission to the offices of SPL producer Abba Chan. Ostensibly; I was there to view the film towards potentially acquiring the overseas sales rights. In reality, I wanted to see just how bad the damage was… I was stunned by the film, but not in the manner that I had anticipated. I don’t remember if it had the final music and sound mix, but it was evident that the SPL was just terrific. I hurried back to the Dragon Squad offices, and suggested that we just buy the rights to SPL ourselves as an investment. The suggestion was roundly rejected.


(This last decision turned out to be in my favour. After Dragon Squad wrapped, I did acquire the sales rights to SPL (on behalf of Arclight Films) and made some good money on international sales, and then sold the North American (to myself!) when I joined TWC. SPL, renamed Kill Zone, was the first Dragon Dynasty release.)



I remember meeting Peter Chan as he left an early screening of the movie. It’s a pretty good movie, isn’t it? I asked him. “It’s not a good movie,” he replied. “It’s a great one.” What made it so special? For one thing, it saw Donnie, who I had brought back from America to work on the first Twins Effect film, really come into his own as action director. He first brought elements of MMA into his choreography for that film, and this trend would reach its apotheosis in Flashpoint. On SPL, devotees of Brazilian jujitsu, and grappling arts in general, were impressed with the way Donnie incorporated movements from these styles into his final duel with Sammo Hung. Any number of MMA champions had appeared in earlier American films, but only Donnie made that %$#@ look good, sorry, great!



SPL (named from Sha Po Long, an inauspicious alignment in Chinese astrology) saw Donnie teamed, for the first time, with director Wilson Ip, who took the time to draw a fine acting performance from Yen, rather than treating him, as some previous directors had, as nothing more than a spectacular fighting machine. Donnie more than holds his own in an ensemble cast including award-winning actors Simon Yam and Liu Kai-chi. The film also provides a comeback acting and action role for the great Sammo Hung, and breathed new life into the flagging career of kung fu Wu Jing.



Since SPL, Donnie has never looked back, and never looked better. ‘Ip Man’ gave him his biggest hit in his best film and expectations are high for ‘Ip Man 2’, which is shooting now, and for the other films Yen has booked back-to-back. Happy birthday, indeed!



about 10 years ago 0 likes  16 comments  0 shares
Tinlunlau 06 tinlunlau
Can we expect the Dragon Dynasty titles to go blu? I've been holding back on buying SPL (Deltamac's bluray edition) in case of such situation. DVD just doesn't cut it for me anymore.
about 10 years ago
Photo 28042
I am happy for Donnie to have had such a great party with so many friends. And at Racks no less. SPL was a great movie but the Americanized title `Kill Zone` was such a bad title. Why was it changed Bey? SPL `an inauspicious alignment in Chinese astrology` is so much more interesting and would make even the barely curious more interested not less. Thanks for the opportunity Bey. I`ve always wanted to complain about that! lol
about 10 years ago
Rottendoubt a4 patrick
i actually bought spl to watch it but never got around to it. got to do that sometime...
about 10 years ago
Photo 30827
What a great time for Donnie! I'm so happy that he had such a wonderful party! I don't care what the title is - I loved SPL/KillZone! Donnie is truly looking better and better. How dare he get younger while the rest of us get older! lol
about 10 years ago
45862083 0af2fd4d5d
it definitely marks a transition in his career.
about 10 years ago
Photo 31454
Donnie's is one of my inspirations.
about 10 years ago
Photo 31454
this movie was ground breaking. i call it the bible.
about 10 years ago
Photo 31454
yes i concur, his acting held his own but in Ip Man, he brought his game up. props to him.
about 10 years ago
Photo 31454
amazing set design
about 10 years ago
Photo 110774
Great actor,Great martial artist,great movie and great blog! Thanks
about 10 years ago
Photo 73131
Ip Man, SPL are overrated. Iron Monkey is Donnie's best.
about 10 years ago
Photo 50493
spl is my favourite movie. more than just a fantastic martial arts movie.
about 10 years ago
Photo 94362
Your inside back-story is a great read sir. Great place Racks! Wish I was there as just a fly on the wall. Been tracking Donnie since he almost stole OUATICII from Jet over a decade half ago. Cheers.
about 10 years ago
Default avatar
For me, SPL is a little too 'bloody' , thanks to Wu Jing's wicked and merciless cut & slice swordplay (even though it was fantastic display on his part). The loopholes in the script made me ponder and ask ' but how come ........' . First example, unity is strength and yet all 3 cops found themselves alone and vulnerable for just that minute, long enough to be slaughtered. Secondly, at Sammo's 'private office', what happened to all his other bodyguards?? . Worse still, with all the fighting going on, where is everyone?? Are they deaf?? Sorry, it's just me. But top marks for the clash between Sammo & Donnie and Wu Jing & Donnie.(even though they were a little too violent).
about 10 years ago
Photo 442564
I enjoyed SPL. happy birthday to this talented man. i am a huge jet li fan but fior me one of the best things about being a huge jet li fan was that, after watching once upon a time in china 2 and hero, i was converted into a donnie yen fan. nice to see such great accolades coming his way.
almost 10 years ago
Photo 497742
Donnie Yen is cool, I give his crazy fighting movie's like SPL and Flashpoint
almost 10 years ago


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english, cantonese, french
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Hong Kong
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April 8, 2008