Action movie star Donnie Yen proud to be Chinese

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Actor Donnie Yen attends the opening of the first session of the 14th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) as a new member of this top political advisory body at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 4, 2023.  [Photo/VCG]

Renowned Chinese action movie star Donnie Yen (Zhen Zidan) said he is proudly Chinese and feels amazed at the progress his home country has made.

"Most of the people outside of China don't see it until they are there. The progress—the freeways, the architecture, the convenience of lifestyle," he said in a recent interview with British GQ magazine. The modernization of other countries where he has been to is not even close to China.

However, he told the magazine that he is upset that the Western media focuses only on the negative stories about China.

"The BBC, CNN, they never talk about that. They never mention the true side of it," he said.

Yen said the 2019 protest in Hong Kong was actually a riot.

"A lot of people might not be happy with what I'm saying, but I'm speaking from my own experience."

He recalled when he moved to Boston with his father and the difficulties of adapting to life in the United States as new immigrants when he was 10.

"Today we talk about injustice, back in the days, you can't imagine. It was horrendous," he said.

Throughout his career, Hollywood has never quite known what to do with him or with any Asian leading men, he said, adding that he found his opportunities limited.

While in China, he can play drug lords, animated monkeys, romantic leads, soldiers, but in Hollywood, he had to settle for the same handful of tired old stereotypes: the sage warrior, the stern general, and the one-dimensional villain, he said.

Yen said he had to suggest making his character blind and give him a sense of humor when he was approached by Disney to appear in the 2016 Star War prequal Rogue One to avoid making it another cliche.

In addition, while making John Wick: Chapter 4, his character was originally named Shang or Chang, a generic name for Asian actors and he was supposed to wear mandarin collars. It was due to his influence that the director agreed to change the name and wardrobe, he said.

He is more selective with the Hollywood movies that he takes on and he will ask if the role is generic or respectful of Chinese culture before taking a role, Yen said.

While he was hungrier to prove himself at a younger age, he is no longer excited by offers from Hollywood and turns down roles if he is not allowed creative control, he said.

Yen said he was energized to see Michelle Yeoh to win a Golden Globe for Everything Everywhere All at Once and believe there will always be more people like Michelle.

He is also upbeat because he sees a "big difference" in the way he and other Asian actors are treated in Hollywood.

One of the great things about cinema is it is unifying, transcending barriers of language and culture. "Action movies are a genre that everybody in the world can appreciate," he added.

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