HK actor Donnie Yen was 'almost blinded' by Jet Li when filming fight scenes on 2 films


The incidents happened when the two martial artists starred together in 'Once Upon A Time In China II' and 'Hero'. Photos: Handout

In the upcoming John Wick movie – John Wick: Chapter 4, out at cinemas on March 23 – actor Donnie Yen plays a former assassin who is blind, and fights just as good or even better than a sighted person.

In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the 59-year-old may not be sighted but the force was strong with him.

According to Yen, he was nearly blinded for real while working on two films with Jet Li.

“I worked with Jet three times my entire career,” said Yen in a video interview with GQ, where he talked about some of his most iconic characters.

Both Yen and Li are trained martial artists who could improvise their fights on set. And when filming their fight sequence for Once Upon A Time In China II, the two went all out.

“The most significant experience working on Once Upon A Time In China II was I had an injury and it almost blinded me,” recalled Yen in the video.

The injury happened while shooting a pole fight scene in the 1992 film, which is now deemed as an iconic martial arts sequence in film.

“There was a shot where Jet Li is wired up and we both have these bamboo poles and they're quite heavy. If they hit you in the head, they'll knock you out. There was a move where he spins 360º, swings at me and I block it.

“After about 30 takes, he missed. Instead of coming (from top down), he comes across horizontally. He whacks me right on my eyebrow and I get knocked back about eight feet. Five seconds later I said, ‘Wait!’ I drop my hands and blood was spilling. I kid you not, it was spilling like a shower spray. It was like ... Kill Bill.”

Yen was taken in an ambulance to the hospital where he received six stitches.

“The day after, they call me and say, 'Are you OK? Can you come in for close-ups on the right side?’ And I thought, ‘Close-up? You will see my stitches.’... But they shot me from the other side so you can’t see the (eye) patch,” he said.

The next movie Li and Yen worked together was Hero (2002).

For this film, the two actors shot a scene of their characters fighting at a courtyard in a temple for 21 days, and this was when the second accident happened.

“Everything was going smooth, we reunited and we both wanted to top Once Upon A Time II; that scene became a classic. Ten years later we wanted to do another classic (scene).”

Looking for perfection, they both fought hard.

“I remember he was wired up and holding a sword. Although these are prop swords, they are still quite sharp. This whole shot was one take, about 50 moves or something. At the end of the shot, maybe the 48th, 49th move, he strikes down with his sword. He went, ‘Boop!’ And I back up, Jet said, ‘Donnie, there's blood spilling out of your face',” said Yen.

“He whacked me on one side (in Once Upon A Time II). Ten years later, he whacked me on the other side.

“I started laughing and I said, ‘Oh this is gonna be great. This movie is going to make a lot of money. The last time we did this, the movie was a box office success.'

“Six stitches again, two times, both sides close to my eyeballs. I could have been blind," the Ip Man actor said.

The two of them would work together again for the Hollywood live-action Mulan, released in 2020. In this one, their characters are on the same side so they didn't have to fight one another, which might've been a blessing for Yen.

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