Best Action Scenes of All-Time: Donnie Yen Edition - The Part-Time Critic

Friday, June 26, 2020

Best Action Scenes of All-Time: Donnie Yen Edition

*Last Updated: 5/17/2022

Donnie Yen is a special action talent that has unfortunately not received as large a reception in the US as other Hong Kong crossovers like Jet Li and Jackie Chan. I first came across Yen in 2003 when I saw him fight Jackie Chan in Shanghai Knights and later discovered he had already fought Jet Li back in the early 1990's in the Once Upon a Time in China series. In fact, he had a distinguished career in Hong Kong cinema all throughout the 90's. Although his role in Shanghai Knights was relatively minor, I could tell Donnie Yen was special - he had a speed and crispness that matched few others on the screen.

Yen went on to make several genre-defining Hong Kong hits in the 2000's with Yip Wilson when both Chan and Li were fading into the background. He really struck audiences with 2005's Kill Zone and 2007's Flash Point, but it was 2009's Ip Man that would prove to be his most lasting success and iconic character. The combination of Sammo Hung's cinematic translation of wing chun into fight choreography that felt new with Yen's crisp and brutal speed and Wilson's (the director) ability to transcend the mediocrity of the genre proved to be a winning formula.

If you've ever seen any a martial arts film then you know that the quality of the film doesn't always correlate to the quality of its action sequences. Many of the best fight sequences come from "meh" films and some of the highest quality fight films can feature some "meh" sequences. So, you'll learn Yen's best sequences below, but if you are looking for a quality Donnie Yen film - here's how I would rank them:

1. Ip Man (2009) A-
2. Iron Monkey (1993) B
3. Kill Zone (2005) B
4. Ip Man 3 (2015) B
5. Flash Point (2007) B
6. Once Upon a Time in China II (1992) B-
7. Kung Fu Killer (2014) B-
8. Raging Fire (2021) C+
9. Ip Man 2 (2011) C+
10. In the Line of Duty 4 (1989) C+
11. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) C+
12. Heroes Among Us / Fist of the Red Dragon (1993) C+
13. Dragon (2011) C+
14. Legend of the Wolf (1997) C+
15. Enter the Fat Dragon (2020) C+
16. Ip Man 4: The Finale (2019) C
17. Bodyguards and Assassins (2010) C
18. Seven Swords (2005) C-
19. Special ID (2013) C-
20. Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2011) C-
21. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016) C-
22. Dragon Tiger Gate (2006) D+

If you are looking for a good primer on Yen, then look no further than my top five. Enjoy.

All Donnie Yen Action Sequences Rated 'B' or Greater

GRADE: B
 
34. "Marine Chris Collins vs. Masters & Ip Man" -Ip Man 4: The Finale (2019)
- Commentary: The film does a poor job of dramatically (and accurately) playing out the battle Chinese kung fu went through in earning respect as a serious fighting form. I mean, this fight sequence is essentially the entire movie in a fight. A punk Marine played by Chris Collins interrupts a festival in Chinatown and challenges the kung fu masters to a fight. After some name-calling he baits them to go and he puts down three successive masters (although the fight with the female master is pretty good), until Ip Man steps up and fights. There's decent back and forth here and getting to see a good fighter like Collins use a more traditional karate/taekwondo fight style against Donnie Yen's wing chun is a delight.

33. "Gangster Shakedown Leads to Shootout & Fight" -Raging Fire (2021)
- Commentary: Yen plays an important Hong Kong detective trying to hunt down the villainous group that caused the death of several of his fellow officers. In this sequence he is trying to shakedown a gangster for information when the gangster and the many in the shanty town around him decide to fight back. Yen and a couple of his team must respond. The main feature here is a fight between the gangster and Yen which begins in a shootout. Yen escapes shotgun fire and makes it to the floor below where the two fire at each other. Others in the town enter the room and Yen fights them off. In order to make it out of the bottom room Yen takes off his bullit-proof vest, wraps it around his arm, and fights off the group. It's neat - but not as strong and engaging as you'd think. Finally, Yen and the gangster again square off and we get a scrappy little fight that leads to a chase and the gangsters death. A hybrid action sequence that reminds me a bit of Yen's work in Flash Point - just not quite as well directed as we got from Yip Wilson.

32. “Finale: Ip Man vs. General Muira” -Ip Man (2009) Link
- Commentary: Ip Man is ultimately captured by the Japanese General Muira who wants to show the Chinese people that he is a superior martial artist. Muira stages a public fight between him and Ip Man - but has threatened Ip Man with his death and others should he not win the fight. Ip Man holds back for a moment, but ultimately for the hope and will of his people he takes on Muira and handles him pretty well. The fight is shot a lot tighter with much more hand to hand work with just pops of a kick or otherwise. It's a nice fight, but like all of them in this film - Ip Man's victory is never in doubt.  

31. “Finale: Seven Swords Arrive in Time to Save the Village” -Seven Swords (Link)
- Commentary: A technically impressive sword fight between Yen and the final villain. For the life of me, I just struggle to get into this one. Will need to give it a few more views I think.

30. “Ip Man Defends the Cotton Mill Against Old Foes” -Ip Man (2009)
- Commentary: One of the conflicts facing Ip Man in the first film is that he believes martial arts shouldn't be used for violence. Once the Japanese occupy China and he sees the suffering of his people he must choose. One specific choice is when bandits come to rob a friends Cotton Mill and he must choose to defend them or not. He chooses to train the workers to defend themselves and when the robbers show back up we get this nice fight. It begins as a normal big group melee with a couple nice beats among the chaos but once the workers begin to lose and the bad guys take out axes, Ip Man fights the rest of them himself. He begins without a weapon and I like how he uses a lot more front kicks here to out range his opponents, but he eventually makes great use of a large bamboo pole - including a wicket insert shot of a strike to the foot and ear. Simple and enjoyable stuff.

29. "First Encounter: Iron Monkey vs. Wong Kei-Ying" -Iron Monkey (1993)
- Commentary: To try and lure the Iron Monkey out in the daytime, the governor has rounded up several innocent people and unfairly imprisoned them as being suspect. One of the unfair round-ups is a Wong Kei-Ying, played by Donnie Yen and who happens to be great at martial arts too. Eventually the Iron Monkey arrives to clear the unfairly imprisoned and like a slick ninja, has plenty of beads, foot spurs, and smoke bombs for the guards - getting away from Won Kei-Ying isn't so easy. Yen gets out of custody and chases the Iron Monkey to the rooftop where they have a short but technically impressive fight. You can see from the gif above that the two have immediate chemistry and can pull off very quick and complicated back and forth beats. There's a couple memorable beats here with Yen using a maneuver to break his cuffs and the Iron Monkey being aware enough to repel a projectile from Yen's son Wong Fei-Hung (this is meant to be a prequel to Once Upon a Time in China). The Iron Monkey flies after the projectile thrower but is able to change course (in an impressive beat of wire work) once he notices its a kid. Short, but powerful and memorable beat of action.

28. "Finale: Villain Car Chase & Fight on Highway" -Special ID (2013)
- Commentary: The finale for this film is about half car chase and half final fight with the villain. I'd say the car chase sequence ranks closer to a B+, but the fight scene, while decent, brings it down to an even B. The car chase, which Yen's films are not really known for, picks up with a female police officer hanging onto the top of the villains car while Yen is driving alongside trying to get the villain to stop. There's some really nice stunts here by the female officer as she has to move from the roof to the rear passenger door, hanging onto the handle, then gets inside and has a very umm...flexible...fight with the villain all throughout the vehicle. Lots of films try to have cool in vehicle fights and this one succeeds. The finale fight with Yen is decent, but a little wearisome I think. It all looks good, but I think gets a little too heavy into MMA stuff - making it a bit slower and more grounded. It just doesn't seem to fit the pace and moment well, despite it being aesthetically pleasing action beats.

27. “Master Ip defeats Master Jin: Feather vs Sword” -Ip Man (2009)
- Commentary: Siu-Wong Fan plays Jin, a tough guy looking to start his own martial arts school. He comes into Fo Shan and takes out many of the martial arts masters at the center and just has one master he wants to take out and make his name: Ip Man. He rushes into his home and demands a fight. Outside Jin's students hope for a win and the rest of Fo Shan hopes for a win over the haughty foreigner. The fight between them turns out to be a contrast of styles: Jin is all strength and big moves (he breaks several things in the house) while Ip Man is the epitome of speed, restraint, and technical mastery. On initial glance, this might seem like a lesser sequence, but there is a lot of interesting choreography going on with Yen's Wing Chun style and a nice little story being told. There's an economy to the strike/block format of Wing Chun and how it uses kicks minimally but effectively. It's all so easy for Ip Man not because the fight is simple and lazy, but because it's so wonderfully plotted to make him appear thus. It's so unbalanced that at one point a frustrated Jin grabs a sword and Ip Man beats him with a feather duster in response. It's quite a fun sequence that really demonstrates to the audience just how far Ip Man is than everyone else.

26. “Japanese Dojo Finale: Chen Zhen vs. the Dojo & the General” -Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2011) Link
- Commentary: This is Donnie Yen's take on the classic dojo sequence from Bruce Lee's Fists of Fury and Jet Li's remake of that sequence in Fist of Legend. Unfortunately, it just isn't nearly as good as those sequences which were both spectacular and boundary pushing for their time. What Yen gives us here is something special, don't get me wrong, there's several nice beats and jaw dropping moves. I like the idea of doing an homage to Bruce Lee by incorporating the nunchaku, but there's just something off about the choreography and film style. I feel like the editing is a bit too quick and the decision to make Chen Zhen's fight style similar to Yen's modern style (only turned up a bit to be a superhero like character) was a poor decision. It feels like the time period and setting calls for a more traditional feel. I also feel like the final fight with the general is a bit underwhelming and by the book. There's some nice visuals here, but this one will always be a bit of a disappointment to me.

25. "Fish Market Fight to Rescue a Pupil" -Ip Man 2 (2010)
- Commentary: The first major fight of the sequel to the legendary Ip Man is not one you'd expect - Ip Man takes on a large group of people in a fish market. His purpose for being there is to rescue his pupil who was taken and held for ransom by the student of a different master. The gimmick here is that Ip Man is trying to defeat a large crowd of people without seriously injuring any of them. That's not too difficult in the first half of the fight which is some nice hand to hand work (see the gif above), but the second half is a weapons fight and Ip Man has two fish butchering knives. I like how right before he is attacked he turns them over, making them more of a blunt object he slaps with than a slicing weapon. There's some really nice group choreography here and Yen is always incredible with short weapons - I think its one of his more underrated abilities. 

24. “Yen vs. Steel Claw in the Woods” -The Legend of the Wolf Link
- Commentary: 



23. “Assassin Fight: From Elevator to the Street” -Flash Point (2007) Part 1 Part 2
- Commentary: Not every fight needs to last 5-10 minutes for it to be great. Action sequences are more about pacing, editing, than simply length - this is a great example of it. This short sequence begins with an assassin (dressed as an employee) visiting the hospital and Donnie Yen's cop unknowingly gets in the elevator with him. The suspicion sinks in and just as the door is going to close and a fight breakout, a female gets in the elevator as well. The assassin pulls a gun and Yen pulls out a great kick to knock it off target. The doors close and a close quarters fight breaks over the gun. The woman is ultimately shot and when the elevator hits the ground floor the assassin can escape. We get a nice little parkour chase that descends several feet down stairs and hills and ultimately ends in an outdoor cafe. The minute or so fight between Yen and the assassin is INTENSE with an emphasis on showing the brutality of Yen's kicks and punches. It doesn't last long, but this sequence leaves quite an impression on any viewer.

22. "Ip Man vs. Tai Chi Master Wan" -Ip Man 4: The Finale (2019)
- Commentary: Although Ip Man 4 largely underwhelmed and failed to produce any iconic fights, it doesn't mean that it didn't produce a few really good ones. This matchup between Ip Man and Yue Wu playing a Tai Chi Master is a slick little fight that anyone who is a fan of traditional kung fu hand to hand fighting will enjoy. In fact, the sequence is filmed so well, with such simple grace and style, letting the two actors (Yue Wu is really giving it everything here) just display their immense skill, that just how good this sequence is can be easily missed. 

21. “Water Village Stakeout: Killer is Chased & Escapes” -Kung Fu Killer / Jungle (2015)
- Commentary: The setup here is a nice one. Donnie is part of a police force that believes it has found a place the killer will show up. The setting is a village of shacks and shanties on stilts over water - it's a distinctive place for a nice chase. The stakeout target, the villainous kung fu killer, arrives to the village by boat and suspects something is up so he goes past his target area and parks the boat and gets off. He begins to take out the police one by one. As this is happening, a mistake catches up to Yen and the police suspect he is with the assassin. Forced to choose, Yen fights off the police so he can help catch the killer. A series of interactions between Yen and the police as well as the assassin and the police go on. Yen, of course must use non-lethal weapons (he's a good guy) and this allows him to be pretty creative in using the environment to hinder the police. The assassin ends up in a quality sword fight during this time as well. For a brief moment Yen catches up to the assassin and we get a fight on a boat that leads to a river boat chase that is a little underwhelming and anti-climactic. For a while though, this is an excellent piece of chase action with multiple threads coming together and leading to several memorable beats. 

20. “Finale: Marine Instructor Adkins vs. Ip Man” -Ip Man 4: The Finale (2019) Link
- Commentary: Donnie Yen facing off against Scott Adkins in a martial arts film finale is a pretty big deal. Yen is a kung fu legend, but Adkins has made himself into a pretty big fighting name as well. The 3-4 minute fight they produce is very good - but I'm not sure it lives up to the potential these guys could have had either. This sequence plays out very much like a traditional heel vs. underdog wrestling matchup, where the bad guy is one hulking jerk and the good guy is humble but just not as strong (Ip Man has a weakened arm and is getting old). There's some nice back and forth between their styles and Adkins is allowed to get a some nice firm kicks in here - to the point where Ip Man is beaten down more than I can recall him ever getting bested. Still, he perseveres and the ingenuity and precision of his more refined Wing Chun strikes win the day as he knifes into Adkin's throat and puts him down.



19. “Restaurant Fight: Undercover Yen is Suspected & Attacked” -Special ID (2013)
- Commentary: Not a great movie, but this is one fun fight sequence. This would be a common type of scene for Jackie Chan and Jet Li (who had many sequences running away from gangs), but this one isn't common for Donnie Yen. He's an undercover cop with a gang but the leader is assassinated by a sniper and they suspect Yen is behind it so they attack him. Yen gets to really let loose here fighting off hordes of guys (in nice wide and physical beats) in the restaurant until he escapes into the kitchen area where he can begin to handle them in 1v1 and 2v1 setups. I love how Yen uses objects and the environments to just kick butt here - it feels like a Steven Seagal fight in that sense - just taking down bad guy after bad guy without much effort. It's enjoyable to watch Yen just get the chance to handle his business. 

18. “Rescuing Mother Finale - Yen vs. Michael Woods” -In the Line of Duty 4: Witness (1989) Link
- Commentary: This film feels like Yuen Woo-Ping essentially made an entire film out of 2 minute action sequences - all decent quality, but all such short snippets that they never felt like they got going. Thankfully this extended finale came in and saved the day. There are multiple different fights going on here, significantly Cynthia Khan gets some good moments against henchmen, but the highlight is Donnie Yen's extended fight against Michael Woods. They fight on the rooftop overlooking an airport (it's a cool setting) and Woo-Ping gives them a lot of wide two shots where they just square off in a linear fashion - these fighters really have the goods. Early on Woods feels like a real equal for Yen, but after several back and forths, Yen's speed and tenacity just wear down Woods, causing him to just go brute strength on him: charging him and putting him in a head lock. This next phase of fighting is a bit tighter, looser, and ends with Yen kicking Woods off the roof and down to the lot below. 

17. “A ‘Friendly’ Pole Fight: Yen vs. Jet Li” -Once Upon a Time in China II (1992) Link
- Commentary: Donnie Yen plays a villainous commander in the second Once Upon a Time in China film and the first encounter between Yen and Jet Li's Wong Fei-Hung is a sudden and intense pole fight. The fight takes place around a series of vertical poles, think of a 9 square setup but on steroids. Jet Li and Yen display an incredible amount of speed and skill here. Thankfully we are given nice wide shots, with a lot of horizontal dollying to give us a perfect view of each fighters abilities. It's a short sequence overall, but it's so good with a few memorable spots that it really sets you up to anticipate their rematch later in the film. 


GRADE: B+
*Bonus. “Finale: Battle of Scarif" -Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
- Commentary: I don't include this sequence on the list because Yen plays only a very bit role in it. He's not really the reason it gets a B+ and therefore didn't feel right putting it on here. Still, you can read all about the sequence on my Star Wars Best Action Scenes list.

16. “Nameless vs. Sky in the Mind” -Hero (2004) Link
- Commentary: There may not be a better setting for a kung fu fight than this one. It's a traditional Chinese looking courtyard with pavilions set up for chess and music. It's not quite raining, but their is enough that the shingles of the roofs drip water at a rate that is zen like. Mixed with the traditional music playing by a nearby blind man and you have an incredible atmosphere! The sequence begins with the assassin Sky, played by Donnie Yen, being confronted by some men to take him in. Their fight sequence is nice, but its more a setup - Yen dispatches them with ease, he never even has to take the cover off of his spear, nor do they even get close to him, despite increasing their numbers over and over. They eventually beg off in disgrace. However, when Jet Li arrives, playing the powerful assassin Nameless, the two are so evenly matched that they play out their fight in their minds first. It's a really cool idea and we get to see those sequences in black and white. There are some strong back and forth beats here, in fact maybe a little too good. They are so satisfying that it makes me mad the fight didn't feature them more and made the ending feel too much of a letdown. I get it though, this wasn't about the fight, it was about the concept and the ideas first and foremost. Still, you have Yen and Li and you clearly had some amazing choreography and the thing ends with  Li just doing a jumping stab maneuver surrounded by some bad water CGI? Talk about putting a ceiling on such a beautiful sequence.

15. “Iron Monkey and Wong Kei-Ying Fight Buddha's Palm and His Goons” -Iron Monkey (1993) Link
- Commentary: This is one of those hybrid action scenes that is always tough to judge. There are essentially two different fight sequences pressed into one here. The first sequence is a trap for the Iron Monkey laid by the Royal Minister's two Shaolin henchmen. This is an impressive sequence on its own (but Donnie Yen isn't in it at all), with the Iron Monkey getting some beautiful wirework, weapon work, and memorable pops of action. After the failure of the two disciples, the Royal Minister appears and hits the Iron Monkey with his Buddha's Palm (which poisons if it hits you). The Iron Monkey retreats, Minister gives chase on the rooftops, but is stopped by Yen's Wong Kei-Wing and we get a nice 1 v 1 between him and the Royal Minister. There's some nice back and forth here, but the ramping (speeding up the footage to make it faster) is a bit distracting. Some great moments here, tough to rate since Yen is only in half of it. 

14. “Donnie Yen vs. Sammo Hung” -Kill Zone (2005) Link
- Commentary: 

13. “Wong Kei-Ying Stops Kidnappers at Nighttime” -Iron Monkey (1993)
- Commentary: Sitting up on the rooftops waiting for the Iron Monkey to come along when he finds a group of four or so fiends dressed in black carrying something. He tracks them down to find they were kidnapping a young girl and are actually corrupted Shaolin monks. The fight sequence is essentially a Donnie Yen martial arts demonstration as it is one awesome beat down sequence after another. In one moment he shows off how quick his hand work is, the next he is doing this awesome skirt flip up/front kick up (see the gif above), and finally a triple jump kick (the gold standard in HK cinema). Not much of a back and forth - but the atmosphere and showcase is incredible. The final sequence sees the introduction of the main female henchmen and she gets some nice credibility here even if she is forced to retreat in the end.

12. “Elevator Fight: Ip Man vs. Thai Fighter” -Ip Man 3 (2016)
- Commentary: Ip Man is on the wrong side of some criminals and a hit has been ordered on him. The hit man in this case is a Thai fighter who looks and fights almost exactly like Tony Jaa. I have to believe they wrote the part for him and he passed on it so they just put another actor in it to do his part. Thankfully the fight still turned out fantastic. Ip Man and his wife are in an elevator when the door is stopped and on stops the Thai fighter who begins to take off his shoes, crack his neck, and the fight is on. The confined space (almost always) makes for a nice fight - especially given that penchant for elbow and knee strikes in the Muy Thai style. I like that in this hand to hand stuff Ip Man is also maneuvering to protect his wife and move her out of the way - as if to say he's fighting not just the fighter but protecting her at the same time. He gets the fighter out of the elevator (leaving his wife behind) and we get the closest thing to a Jaa vs. Yen match we will ever see as they descend several flights of a stairwell. The Thai fighter uses lots of jumping kicks, elbow strikes, and takes several big stunt bumps in one long take alone. It's not a very long fight, but it's unique, intense, and very memorable. 

11. “Ip Man vs the Local Masters and Sammo Hung” -Ip Man 2 (2010)
- Commentary: In order to keep out competition, the martial arts clubs have a custom that any new master who wants to start a club in Hong Kong must defeat any master who challenges him...on a wobbly table (without falling off) and before an incense timer runs out. As long as you buy the premise, this is a fun "Taking on multiple styles" kind of martial arts fight where Ip Man facing a couple different challengers with unique styles (these fights are just okay) before he gets to the main boss here - Sammo Hung. I love how it begins with a giant leap from Sammo - I can only imagine what newcomers to martial arts films were thinking who hadn't seen his agility before. The fight between them is a tale of two halves - the first is some incredible hand to hand work, really showing off the wing chun style and how both masters are fairly evenly matched. Personally, I like Sammo's stuff better when he is doing a particular style like this rather than his generic fight style like his fight with Yen in Kill Zone on this list. The second half of the fight really plays up the instability of the table gimmick and it really works, especially after giving us the grounded back and forth of the first half. The iconic moment here is when both fighters do the rabbit punch as they circle the table - it's an incredible shot and I'm glad they ended this one on a draw. A really fun fight.

10. "Finale: Wong Fei Hung & Beggar Su Storm the Opium Docks" -Heroes Among Heroes / Fist of the Red Dragon (1993)
- Commentary: Donnie Yen coming into his prime with Yuen Woo Ping and the character of Wong Fei Hung thrown in? This finale is a great showcase of the Yuen Woo Ping's style and just how well early 1990's Donnie Yen mixed with it. In order to come to the help of a local official, Wong Fei Hung storms the docks where merchants are in cahoots with a Prince to control opium trade. At the side of the Prince are two deadly ladies from the Fire Lotus society. Wong Fei Hung's main focus is on the Prince and the two have good chemistry with lots of sharp, quick, and entertaining beats that are pure Yuen Woo Ping goodness. Beggar Su (Donnie Yen) shows up and takes over the fight with the Prince and it kicks up a notch, given Yen's superior speed and kicking skills. Wong Fei Hung moves on to some great fighting exchanges with the two Fire Lotus ladies. If you are looking for prime 90's style kung fu - look no further than this. 


GRADE: A-
9. “Finale: Wong Fei-Hung vs. Commander Donnie Yen” -Once Upon a Time in China II (1992)
- Commentary: Jet Li vs. Donnie Yen make good on the incredible promise from their earlier pole fight in this film. The fight between them begins at a kind of bean drying facility with racks and racks of bean trays stacked vertically. To keep Yen's commander distanced Li has a gigantic bamboo pole and wields it from three stories above Yen as Yen tries to get a hold of a key object one of Li’s men has. Eventually, Li and Yen face off on the ground with broken bamboo poles in each hand and with all the expected speed and extended takes you would want. These moments are like gold to me.  The sequence finishes off by moving to an alleyway with Yen turning to a lengthy fabric weapon that’s been twisted into a rope – this weapon manages to be quite the menace. I like how Yen uses this weapon and Li is only really able to survive it with cleverness as Yen breaks his bamboo pole down smaller and smaller until its so small it splinter - allowing Li to get a key cut for the killing blow! The only thing holding this wonderful sequence back in my opinion is the lack of hand to hand fighting that I think everyone would have liked to see with these two in peak form.

8. “Ip Man vs. Mike Tyson” -Ip Man 3 (2016) Link

- Commentary: When I first heard of this matchup I was both excited and worried. I was excited because Tyson is a legit boxer with incredible speed; how would they utilize him against Yen? I was worried because I don't typically like the styles clash of "boxing" vs. kung fu - it's been tried several times over and it's almost always dissappointing (see the finale fight from Ip Man 2). They actually OVER delivered here - giving us a legendary fight that I actually think ends way too soon (I always prefer wanting more than feeling too bloated though). I think the key to this fight working is that while Tyson is boxing, it isn't a boxing match perse. Tyson's style feels like a cinematic fight - he slips, he moves, he guards, he punches - that so happens to focus on a boxing like style. For most of the fight, Tyson is an absolute beast, aggressively approaching, pushing Yen back, and getting powerful punches in (he probably gets more hits on Ip Man than anyone else in the entire franchise). He's portrayed as a real threat here. I love how Yen makes adjustments throughout the fight, some work, some don't, but Tyson almost always overwhelms the adjustments in the end. The biggest and most cinematic adjustment here is Ip Man begins using his elbows to blunt Tyson's punches - it makes for a great visual. The end of the fight occurs when the timer goes off and Yen and Tyson are at a standstill - each having the other in a precarious position. It's a solid matchup that would have stood up to a lengthier finale (I think), but works so well as it is. Grateful to get a little fan fiction gem like this.

7. “Fire Finale: Defeating the Royal Minister & His Shaolin Henchmen” -Iron Monkey (1993) Link
- Commentary: The young child Wong Fei-Hung has been captured by the Royal Minister to draw out the Iron Monkey and Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen). Yen arrives at the governor's house and begins the fight against the soldiers guarding the entrance and the two Shaolin henchmen quickly join in. Iron Monkey joins the fight only to see the Royal Minister use his flying sleeves (they pull it off so well visually here) to grab Fei-Hung and prepare to use his Buddha Palm on him before Miss Orchid and Chief Fox factor in to save him. The first phase of the fight is the defeat of the lower level henchmen and rescue of Fei-Hung. The second phase is a stellar wire work sequence set atop poles during a raging fire. This is a great finale that I want to rate even higher, but I just can't. It's a bit odd to say this, but the quality of previous fights in the film kind of bring this down a bit? Why? Well, the first phase where we see the final defeat of the Shaolin henchmen is nice, but it isn't the best fight we've seen between them - it's cool, but it's slimmed down and not nearly as impactful as the "trap" setup earlier where Iron Monkey has a superlative fight with them. Additionally, the hand to hand work between the Royal Minister and Yen isn't as exciting as their earlier encounter. The addition of the flying sleeves is nice, but the real showpiece here is the wire work fight atop the fiery pillars. This is really good wire-fu - probably the best of Yen's career - but as an overall sequence, it is weighed down just a bit by sequences before it that are good, but don't quite live up to the quality set earlier. 

6. “Street Showdown Finale: Donnie Yen vs Wang Baoqiang” -Kung Fu Killer / Jungle (2015) Link
- Commentary: The near ten minute finale showdown with Donnie Yen's martial arts master and the lead villain, who is specializing in killing kung fu masters, is an excellent fight with a couple minor problems. First, the setting is both a benefit and a drawback. Yen drives up in a truck in the middle lane of a three lane highway and stops right in front of the main villain. The stopped truck creates a lane for the fight with cars going by dangerously on either side. It's a cool idea and for the most part it creates an excellent setting. The whole theme of the film is that the martial arts villain was tracking down and beating people with different skills, punching & kicking, grappling, weapons fighting, etc. The fight with Yen will be a kind of replay of those greatest hits as they begin with punching and kicking and move on to grappling. It's fast and furious fight style that's good stuff (but not outstanding yet) and the cars whizzing by emphasize the danger of the setting. Eventually, a truck carrying long bamboo poles tips over and spills its load onto the street. Each fighter picks up a pole and they run and fight and end up on a lower-level highway with oncoming cars and no protection at all. The pole fighting here is the highlight of the fight. It reminded me of the legendary fights between Jet Li from Once Upon a Time in China - but given a more contemporary spin. Eventually, they lose the poles and the fight turns becomes a more intimate 1v1 with Yen getting the upper hand - but he won't kill the assassin. The assassin drags him underneath some passing cars, in the worst decision of the entire sequence due to the obvious and condescending visual effects, and Yen ultimately gets caught on a truck and dragged down the road a bit. The assassin is ultimately taken down at the last second by one of the lead detectives. 

5. “Three Phase Finale: Downtown Chase, Shootout, and Yen vs. Tse” -Raging Fire (2021)
- Commentary: Donnie Yen’s investigative team has been tracking a group of ex-cops who are making one last big bank heist. As they pull-up to the bank they see the robbers (who have just accomplished the task) drive right by them. A nice little chase happens right in downtown Hong Kong with near misses, the passengers gearing up their guns, and an excellent stunt that sees the getaway van drive through a storefront to cut a corner early. Ultimately, the short chase breaks down in the streets and a heavy shootout occurs. The robbers get pinned in a street with authorities on one side and Yen’s team on the other. Each side has heavy assault rifles and the shootout feels heavily inspired by the Michael Man’s shootout in Heat ­– all the way down to wearing suits, sunglasses, and toting heavy black bags. There’s a lot of collateral damage, tactical maneuvers, and decent camerawork. The head robber played by Nicholas Tse makes it away from the street but is ultimately chased down by Donnie Yen into a church going through renovation. It’s here where the finale sequence kicks into a higher gear and makes use of Donnie Yen’s martial arts skill set. The fight goes a nice five to six minutes and begins primarily as a knife vs. baton weapon fight – a similar setup to Yen’s fight against Wu Jing in Kill Zone, except this time it’s two smaller knives and not one big one. This phase is excellent, with lots of long takes and two actors really working at speed and with high energy. Yen takes some nice cuts, sees a couple of close calls with the knives, and eventually loses the baton after some scrapping on the ground. The fight then phases into more hand to hand combat where it is no less brutal. These guys are evenly matched, each taking a lot of rough looking punishment. This phase breaks down and Tse picks up a large sledgehammer and just rages at Yen. He escapes and eventually picks up a nearby steel bar and the two swing wildly at each other until it ends with a sequence that see’s Tse put a screwdriver through Yen’s hand and Yen bring Tse down in an MMA move and break Tse’s arm. By this time SWAT has come in and he fight has ended. Whew – it’s been a while since I’ve seen Yen give this much in a fight. Great stuff here.


GRADE: A
4. “Ip Man Unleashed: One vs. Ten” -Ip Man (2009) Link
- Commentary: I'm not sure there is a more iconic fight in Donnie Yen's catalog than this one. It's not my favorite or what I think is his technical best, but there is perhaps no better shot and choreographed "One vs. Many" fight between regular human beings that gets across the simple message "This guy is one bad dude" than this one. Lots of movies have done these kind of sequences but the iconic/memorable ones really all begin with Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury dojo sequence where he takes out karate students and masters with ease, one after another. This sequence was paid homage and updated and made better in Jet Li's Fist of Legend which became the absolute standard for such a fight (and might still be in many eyes). It was such an influential fight you can see parts of it directly copied in The Matrix Reloaded's "Burley Brawl" sequence with all the Mr. Andersons. Donnie Yen even did a rendition of it in Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen which scored a 'B' on this list. His version with Ip Man however, with the choreography help of Sammo Hung, I think has become the new standard for such a sequence. The basic premise is that China has been occupied by the Japanese in WWII and a General Muira, who happens to be an avid martial artist, oversees the area Ip Man lives in. Muira is trying to locate Chinese martial artists for himself and his students to take on - giving the challengers extra food to take home to their family. Ip Man, after witnessing the death of a Chinese master, demands to fight at least ten fighters at once. The resulting fight is an absolute beat down that only lasts a bit longer than a minute. What we get though is an economy of action beat here where each shot features an iconic move/strike from Ip Man. He is blocking, striking, stepping on faces, breaking bones, and in the most memorable two moments - using his quick strike rabbit punch on the face of an opponent and in the chest, literally beating a man to the ground. This is one of those scenes that crosses over into the mainstream because of how accessible and powerful it is. For my money, I like a sequence to be a bit longer, but if we are just talk talking popular level fight scenes - this could have a legit claim to being #1 on the list.

3. “Donnie Yen vs. Wu Jing: Baton and Knife Fight” -Kill Zone (2005) Link
- Commentary: A confident fight between an established butt kicker assassin wielding knives and Wu Jing sporting a police baton. Wu Jing comes off looking fantastic as he has great answers to everything the knife assassin wants to attempt here. Beautiful choreography over a couple minute span here. One of the better knife fights in cinema.


GRADE: A+

2. “Wing Chun Grandmaster Finale: Ip Man vs. Max Zhang” -Ip Man 3 (2016) Link
- Commentary: I had no idea I needed this matchup between Donnie Yen and Max Zhang until I got it. This is easily the best overall fight of the Ip Man franchise and has a real argument for being the best fight of Donnie Yen's career as well. Zhang plays a Wing Chun expert trying to establish his own presence and school and sees challenging Ip Man to a public fight as the fastest and best way to do it. At this point in his life, Ip Man believes he has nothing to prove and doesn't want to fight - eventually his wife pushes him to just get it over with. The fight takes place at Zhang's dojo and in three stages. The first stage is pole fight, then a short swords fight, and finally a hand to hand fight. The key theme here is that Zhang is really good, nearly Ip Man's equal, but loses each stage just by a hair's breadth. The pole fight is pretty good stuff but nothing I'd wax eloquently about. The fight really ramps (into all-time status) up once they fight using the short swords. The quickness of each fighter, number of moves in each take, and complicated choreography are really impressive here. It's as good as anything we got in that amazing Wu Jing knife fight we got in Kill Zone. The director finds the perfect balance of sitting back and letting us see these two professionals show off, while still looking to emphasize certain beats and strikes cinematically. I can't say enough about the short sword sequence, I think it's just mind-blowing. Surprisingly, the hand to hand sequence that follows isn't a comedown. The back and forth here is, in my humble opinion, the single best demonstration of cinematic Wing Chun. Zhang is every bit as good as Yen here and the chemistry they have is palpable. There are a few highlighted elbow strikes here and a sequence going up and down some stairs that stand out until you get to the ending beat. That beat is a nice embodiment of the the theme here as Zhang gets a nice hit on Ip Man's eye (similar to a move Ip Man did to Tyson) making it tough to see and following it up with rabbit punches (Ip Man's iconic move) that are just so close to hitting but don't land. Ip Man blocks the last one and finishes the fight off with a perfectly executed one-inch punch. It's like a cherry on the top of this perfect little 6 minute fight.

1. “Yen vs. Chou: Abandoned Home Fight” -Flash Point (2007) Link
- Commentary: I believe this is Donnie Yen's masterpiece. Yes, his Ip Man stuff is far more iconic, but I believe this fight is probably the best beginning to end sequence he ever took part in. It certainly *feels* like a fight that embodies the spirit of Donnie Yen best. It begins with a shootout gone awry between Yen's cop and Chou's bad guy. They were making one of those hostage trades and it went wrong. As their teams are taken down it comes down to just the two of them, Yen in chase with a rifle and Chou being chased with a pistol. Chou enters an abandoned home plot, heads up to the second floor, and reloads his gun. When Yen approaches, catches him off guard, but realizes he's out of bullets, the two begin to fight. It's immediately clear, Yen and Chou mean business - their strikes are not being pulled and are at full speed. The fight upstairs turns into some grappling with Yen getting a couple key holds and knees to the face. In one of those holds the two spill over the balcony and down to the floor below. It's a brutal fall. As they get up, the fight enters a new phase with the extra room this wide open floor gives them. The style here is practical - they are swinging wild fists and mixing in some strong kicks as well, while always looking for a way to grapple. The editing is wonderful - giving us some longer more complicated shots, with close-ups of impacts, and other high-impact moves. Seriously, some of the punches and kicks here are as real looking as any MMA fight. After a while, Yen seems to only pick up speed once he begins bleeding from the nose - bouncing back and forth, throwing kicks and punches with great speed. Chou takes all the hits, but keeps coming. Yen counters with some excellent take downs, including a german suplex and hurricanrana - WWE style. The final beats of the fight sees Yen just deliver brutal punishiment to Chou with some boxing and a powerful kick. It ends with a chokeout. What makes this Donnie Yen fight scene so special? Three things: first is the crisp quickness in his striking form, second is the ability to combine that with both traditional and modern styles, and third is his willingness to let his fights be as brutal as they are supposed to be. Punches seem to really land, kicks seem to really connect, and takedowns have genuine impact. This sequence is a showcase for all three aspects and something generations will be watching as long as fight cinema is still a thing. 


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