Donnie Yen, the world’s hottest action star, reveals to us his secrets to success in both acting and family life
By Pamela Chow
On screen, Donnie Yen is the icon of killer kicks and fists of fury, thanks to lead roles in blockbusters like The Monkey King, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen and the Ip Man series of films.
However, in real life, he exudes a different persona. Standing beside his wife of 13 years — former Hong Kong beauty queen Cecilia Wang, 34 — he is a picture of a doting husband and father. They have an eight-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.
The couple was in Singapore not long ago as brand ambassa-dors of Resorts World Sentosa (RWS). Follow-ing the roaring success of Ip Man 3 as well as the teaser image of him with the cast of the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Donnie, 52, shares with us his thoughts on being the world’s It action star and his secrets to a happy marriage.
How have you been handling your busy schedule?
Normally I don’t sleep very well; I’ve been having insomnia the past few years [due to] work and my schedules that force me to fly around the world. I don’t really get to sleep well in one spot.
But the past few days [staying in RWS] were wonderful — I slept really well.
Why have you decided to retire from filming kungfu movies?
I still have a lot of other desires and projects that I want to continue to be involved in and to share with my audiences and fans. I would like for Ip Man 3 to be my last kungfu movie but everyone is saying, “No! You’re not stopping!” Especially with the success of Ip Man 3, everybody wants to see a Part Four.
So, I don’t know, it’s still too early to say anything.
When asked about his secret to a successful marriage to Cecilia, Donnie shared his motto: “Happy wife, happy life”.
Ip Man 3 surpassed Star Wars in Singpore’s box office. What are your feelings about this?
I’m very flattered and thrilled, and I guess I am a little surprised. We knew that the [Ip Man] franchise has a strong following and it would do well, but not this well.
Without the fans, we wouldn’t be inspired or motivated to continue to make more films.
What was your training regimen like for the Ip Man films?
I tackle different films with different strategies. I didn’t look at one particular exercise per se. Rather, I looked at the character.
Ip Man was a grand master of Wing Chun, and he was also very family-oriented, calm and not very aggressive. Therefore, my workout regimen was a lot mellower, compared to my previous roles; for example, the Monkey King.
Are you worried about the physical training for a possible sequel?
If I do film a fourth Ip Man movie, I would rely not on my physical prowess but on my experience. I believe that such life lessons would enhance my performance. As an experienced actor, I will still continue to mature and grow.
I’m thankful that I’m still healthy although I’ve sustained many injuries over the years. Furthermore, with a supportive family, I can continue filming great movies.
Which has been the toughest point in your career?
Filming my own movies is the hardest because I’m always in pursuit of breakthrough moments. I always treat each of these movies as my very last, and I never assume it will be a hit.
I just hope to discover something new, whether in directing or acting, that will surprise the audience.
What’s the secret to your loving relationship with your wife?
Donnie: It’s actually very simple: Whatever my wife says, goes. Happy wife, happy life!
A couple should also aim to grow and improve together. I’m very lucky to have met my wife, because she’s been by my side all these years and we have the same direction in life.
Cecilia: He’s very romantic. He will think of different ways to surprise me. We also use many methods to communicate, like FaceTime.
So, as Ip Man was asked in the movies, are you afraid of your wife?
Donnie: Why spend extra time debating about whether [my wife] is right or wrong? You can win an argument but you’d lose the battle!
Cecilia: He listens to me for his own good!
Donnie: But she’s right most of the time — and I’m not just saying that for show. So, I’m also learning and improving by her… She’s more meticulous when it comes to making decisions.
Do you teach your children kungfu?
I put my son through some martial arts classes like taekwondo, MMA (mixed martial arts) and Muay Thai, just to give him a foundation. [But] we don’t force our kids to do what they don’t like.
I will eventually teach him, but [right now] I’m too busy. While he’s still young, I want him to learn the foundation first.
Your family has visited RWS before — How do your children like it here?
Every time we come back here, we discover something new. The hospitality has always been wonderful, and I can’t wait to bring my kids here again —I know they will love it here and they don’t want to go home!
Do they enjoy the scary rides?
My kids are a lot more daring than I am! I’m the one that holds the camera instead.
I would [go on the rollercoasters] but somebody has to hold the camera. [Grins]
You recently finished filming for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. What kinds of movies would you like to act in next?
Donnie: I wouldn’t say I want to focus more on Hollywood productions but more on [movies with] subjects that everyone can relate to, and with production value.
Cecilia: We’re actually working on producing some of his own films.
Donnie: And maybe we can film in Singapore!
Donnie Yen and Cecilia Wang are the new brand ambassadors for RWS. Donnie’s latest film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, is available in Singapore exclusively on Netflix.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of Weekender, Issue 148, March 18 – March 31, 2016, with the headline ‘“Happy wife, happy life”’.