"I don’t want to portray another stereotypical Chinese martial-arts man"

Donnie Yen has criticised his Star Wars: Rogue One character as being a “cliché”.

In an interview with Prestige, Yen said he took on the role of Chirrut Îmwe in Star Wars: Rogue One in the hope it would allow him to move away from his Chinese martial-arts typecast.

“When I took on the role in Rogue One, I felt it was important for me to take a step forward, to develop it so that it would be less clichéd,” Yen said. “I know they wanted Donnie Yen because he’s Ip Man. They wanted Ip Man in Rogue One. I get it. But I don’t want to portray another stereotypical Chinese martial-arts man.” 

Yen even worked with director Gareth Edwards to ensure his character had more depth. “I worked with the producer and director to develop his blindness, to change the lines, the way he looks and the way he speaks so that the character had an added layer.”

However, it seems that Yen was somewhat disappointed. “Even after all of that, Chirrut Îmwe was a blind human still came out a cliché,” he said.

Nonetheless, the Ip Man star added that it was still an improvement on the original character. “If you think he’s a cliché on screen, you should’ve seen the original script they offered me,” Yen said. “It was why I was initially hesitant to take on the role. But I understand why. They can’t have an overhaul overnight.

“There’s a large audience that has never watched Asians in films before, so it takes time for them to process an Asian actor. To realise that he’s no different from a Caucasian actor or a black actor.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Yen also admitted that he was reluctant to take on the starring role of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. “I made them wait almost 10 years,” he said. “I was not intrigued, not inspired. I wasn’t convinced by the roles they offered me, no matter how sweet the talk was.”

“We were at a big event held by Dalian Wanda a year before I agreed to do Crouching Tiger. Everybody under the sun came. I remember hanging out with Leonardo DiCaprio eating pizza, just chilling.”

“It felt great because, I mean, these are people who wouldn’t normally sit at a table in China, hanging out with Chinese actors, eating pizza. I remember thinking – this is how it should’ve been for a long time. The producer was there saying, ‘Donnie just do this movie blah, blah, blah.’”

However, even this could not convince Yen to participate in Crouching Tiger. I had no interest in Crouching Tiger,” Yen said.I’d done it all. I’ve done martial-arts movies all my life. There’s no challenge in playing that role.

Yen revealed that he only took on the role because of his mentor. The reason I was finally convinced was because my mentor, Yuen Woo-ping – the man who brought me into the industry – was going to direct it, so I said yes because it was a matter of respect and face, but that’s it. I said it to the producer’s face, too. I wasn’t that interested.”

In other news, towards the end of 2017 Yen also starred alongside Alibaba CEO Jack Ma in Gong Shou Dao.