Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen recently recalled two different occasions when legendary martial arts actor Jet Li nearly blinded him. Beginning in the early 80s, Li made a name for himself as one of the top martial artist action stars in Hong Kong cinema with films including Born to Defence and Shaolin Temple 3: Martial Arts of Shaolin. Li solidified himself as an icon in the genre with his historical fiction epic Once Upon a Time in China as folk hero Wong Fei-hung. Yen joined Li in the sequel as the villainous Commander Lan.
Speaking with GQ, Yen admitted that he was nearly blinded by Li while filming with him on two different movies. Yen details his famous fight scene in 1992’s Once Upon a Time in China II when Li cut his left brow with a large bamboo staff, causing him to get stitches.
Ten years later, the pair starred in the epic Hero when Li cuts Yen again, this time above his right eye. Here is the full quote below:
“[Discussing Once Upon a Time in China II] The most significant experience working…was one time that I had an injury [that] almost blinded me. So what happened was there was a shot where Jet Li was wired up and we both have these poles, these bamboo poles about this thick. And they’re quite heavy. Now, if they hit you in the head, they’ll knock you out. There was a move where he spun around 360 degrees, he swings at me and I block it. After about 30 takes, he missed. Instead of coming across, and I’m supposed to block it like this, he comes across horizontally. He whacked me right on my eyebrow, right? I got knocked back about eight feet. Five seconds later I said, “Wait!” Drop my hands. And blood was spilling. I kid you not, it was spilling like shower spray. It was like…Kill Bill.
[Discussing Hero] I remember there was another choreography where he was wired up with a sword. Now, although these are prop swords, they are still quite pointy. This whole shot was one take, about 50 moves or something. At the end of the 50 movies, maybe the 48th, 49 moves, he strikes down with his sword. He went, “Boop!” And I back up, Jet said, “Donnie, there’s blood spilling out of your face.” I said, “Really? Let me take a look.” He whacked me on one side and 10 years later, he whacked me on the other side. Six stitches again, two times, both sides close to my eyeballs. I could have been blind.”
How Donnie Yen Became the Top Martial Artist Actor
Like Li, Yen began his martial arts action career in Hong Kong in the mid-1980s with the Yuen Woo-Ping-directed film Drunken Tai Chi. Although Yen had a steady career throughout the decade, he didn’t truly make a name for himself until his role in Li’s Once Upon a Time in China II. The actor subsequently scored big hits including Butterfly and Sword and Wing Chun, with Everything Everywhere All at Once star Michelle Yeoh.
The 2000s saw Yen transition to Hollywood with appearances in Blade II as Snowman and Shanghai Knights opposite Jackie Chan. Although his success in the West has been inconsistent, arguably Yen’s most well-known role outside of Hong Kong is Chirrut Îmwe in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. With only one film in the massive long-running franchise, Yen’s role as the blind fighter proved to be one of the more popular characters since Star Wars‘ return to cinema with Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
Meanwhile, Yen continued to produce quality martial arts films in Hong Kong, creating an international hit as the titular kung fu master in Ip Man. Yen went on to lead three successful sequels featuring the likes of Sammo Hung and Mike Tyson, making the actor a household name all over the world. Yen is next set to appear in the highly-anticipated John Wick: Chapter 4 with Keanu Reeves and Sleeping Dogs, an adaptation of the popular video game of the same name.
More: John Wick 4 – Why Donnie Yen Is More Important Than You Think