Action superstar Donnie Yen has taken legal action against his latest film’s official blog host, saying its accusations against him have damaged his reputation.
In a legal letter released by a Beijing law firm on November 13, Yen took issue with the official blog host of Iceman: The Time Traveler (aka The Frozen Hero II) for releasing an article on Weibo that panned Yen for changing script dialogue at will, refusing to do reshoots and wear wigs, being imperious, and interfering with the work of production crew. The article was released on November 3.
“Through Weibo and social forums, the untrue sayings [in the Weibo article] were widely spread around … and have led to adverse effects in society, have severely harmed Donnie Yen’s reputation, and have caused much distress for Yen, his family, working partners and fans,” Yen’s legal letter read.
The dispute can be traced to the poor performance of Iceman: The Time Traveler, released in China on November 2. As of November 15 the movie had earned 34 million yuan (US$4.9 million) at the China box office, a blatant flop when movies boasting similarly stellar cast can easily take in hundreds of millions of yuan in ticket sales in the first week of release.
The blog post apologised to director Raymond Yip Wai-man and scriptwriter Manfred Wong for the film’s poor performance and absolved them from blame.
“Using his rich experience in [making action movies], Donnie Yen always interferes with the work of the action director … Manfred Wong had done a lot of historical research on the Ming dynasty [the period in which the film is set], but Yen changed the dialogue related to the historical background on location and refused to do a re-shoot. This is a complete disrespect of history,” the post read.
“He uttered the ignorant dialogue ‘The Ming dynasty is going to end in 10 years’ during the Tianqi reign [which is historically incorrect as the Ming dynasty ended later],” it added.
The article also complained that Yen did not help with promoting the film after shooting finished.
“From filming to post-production and completion, Iceman: The Time Traveler is through-and-through Donnie Yen’s work. We kept making compromises in the hope that he, like he exercised full control over its production, would spare no efforts in cooperating with its promotion,” the post read.
“However, his attitude did an about-turn after the film release date was set, and he used all kinds of reasons to delay his participation in promotional programmes … He said during public occasions that he will be doomed when the movie is out. In media interviews, he washed his hands of the film … What are the concepts of contractual obligation and professional ethics to him?”
Iceman: The Time Traveler is the sequel to Iceman (2014), which also starred Yen in the lead role. It cost about 220 million yuan to make but took in only about 180 million yuan at the box office while scoring only 3.6 out of 10 on the Chinese movie-rating site Douban.
Set in the Ming dynasty, the first Iceman film follows the adventures of four brocade-clad imperial secret police being transported to the modern age. Its lacklustre performance was compounded by poor online reviews which said the movie’s plot was nonsensical and the performances by Chinese comedian Wang Baoqiang and female lead Eva Huang Shengyi were unimpressive.
Yip and Wong, two veteran filmmakers from Hong Kong, were drafted for the sequel in an attempt to salvage the tainted reputation of the series. The blog post explained the rationale for making a sequel in spite of the lukewarm public response to the first.
“When we invested in the first Iceman film … we made a big investment but the quality was not good. We had expected the [poor] results before its release. In order to recoup the losses and restore the company’s reputation, we used the best scriptwriter and director to make the second one. To ensure continuity, we also invited the same crew from the first one to participate,” it read.
“Unexpectedly, the decision became the culprit for the present [hapless] situation [regarding the sequel]. As the scriptwriter for the Young and Dangerous film series, Manfred Wong’s scriptwriting standard is widely acknowledged. After the script for Iceman: The Time Traveler was finished, we were full of confidence … however, after Mr Yen came on board, everything became uncontrollable.”
Picking up where Iceman left off, the sequel sees the Ming dynasty hero played by Yen going back to that era and waging battles against villains in the imperial court and foreign invaders. It is rated 2.7 out of 10 on Douban.
Yen’s legal letter said the production company shifted all responsibility for the sequel’s poor performance to him.
“The movie was made in 2013. The parties involved had a smooth collaboration. For the past five years since the completion of the shooting, Mr Donnie Yen has never received any accusations regarding the movie. If he has committed the behaviour portrayed by the production company, why didn’t they raise the accusations [before] and why did they choose to make the accusations when the film is in the cinema?” the letter read.
“He never took part in any editing work. [The Weibo post says that] he deleted scenes of various actors to highlight his status as the absolute main character and that the deletions led the film to run only 87 minutes with a scattershot plot … [This] is sheer fiction,” it added.
The publicity generated by the war of words between the film’s production company and main actor failed to boost the sequel’s box office takings, with its takings during the second week of release well down on the already unimpressive first-week figures.
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