The 10 Best Donnie Yen Films 

American audiences are loving his character in John Wick 4, but what are the best Donnie Yen movies for newcomers to his work?

Last Updated on April 29, 2024

With his presence in John Wick: Chapter 4, Donnie Yen is finally getting the English-language, international showcase he’s always deserved. Yen is a huge star in his motherland of China and is about to become a very bright draw for international audiences, finding himself new fans every time he’s seen in an American film. With this new one, he should no longer be “oh I know that guy from somewhere” and be quite well known as the badass that he is. To you get to know his work, here are ten of the best Donnie Yen movies (in no particular order): 

Dragon (aka Wu Xia) (2011) 

10 best Donnie Yen Films: Dragon (Wu Xia)

A big part of Yen’s career has been filled with period pieces in which martial arts have an important place (the Wuxia genre). Dragon is no different. Here, Yen plays a family man who is hiding a dark past, when this past catches up with him, he must resort to his deadly ways and fights ensue. These bouts are solid and the film does not rely entirely on them to be interesting. The story is strong here and Yen’s character of Liu Jinxi is layered one. The presence of Takeshi Kaneshiro is a welcomed addition. It must be noted that Yen also did the fight design, choreography, and direction on this film.  Plus, one of the first big Chinese Martial Arts stars, Jimmy Wang Yu, plays one of the bad guys.

Ip Man (series) (2008-2019) 

10 best Donnie Yen Films: Ip Man

We’re cheating a bit with four films in one entry here. The Ip Man series shows the life and work of Master Ip Man, a martial arts expert better known in the West as the Sifu who trained a young Bruce Lee. However, the man was much more than that and these films tell his story in a romanticized way. Donnie Yen shows here that he can truly act and kick some butts while staying cool as a can be. The man shows a Zen cool in this part that is interesting to watch, and the evolution of the character is fantastic, allowing Yen to really delve into the character, give him some depth, and show an arc as an actor. The fighting is important here, but more so are the sequences showing the life and times of Master Ip Man and the films really give the character, and by extension Yen’s performance, room to grow. Yen was also the action choreographer for the first 3 entries in the series. The fourth entry in the series also costars Scott Adkins who is in John Wick: Chapter 4 along with Yen. The first two Ip Man entries are among the best Donnie Yen movies ever made.

Hero (2002) 

A Zhang Yimou film that showed what the director and his stars could do with a hefty budget, a solid script, and some amazing wire work within perfectly choreographed fight scenes. Following their face off in Once Upon a Time in China 2 in 1992, Donnie Yen and Jet Li get a new chance at a battle royale and they make the most of it. If there is any complaint here is that Yen doesn’t get all that much screen time in Hero, however, what he does get is a great display of his talent. This film is probably one of the best known films Stateside of Yen’s career, along with Blade II, Rogue One, and soon John Wick: Chapter 4.  

Kill Zone (aka SPL) (2005) 

donnie yen kill zone

A film designed to showcase what Donnie Yen can do if ever there was one. Here’s the cool bad boy cop who comes into a new team and must figure out what they are up to. This film has two incredible fights, with Donnie Yen going up against Chinese superstar Wu Jing (The Wandering Earth) and then, in the finale, the legendary Sammo Hung. This one has Yen looking better than ever and kicking, punching, and throwing all he can. Yen also directed the action sequences here, something he often does. Kill Zone was Yen’s first movie as star for director Wilson Yip before they teamed up again for the Ip Man series mentioned above. Yen’s career was on the rocks when he signed on to do this, and it’s surprise success revitalized him as an action star. Indeed, despite a slow first half, it ranks as one of the very best Donnie Yen movies.

Once Upon a Time in China II (1992) 

10 Necessary Donnie Yen Films: Once Upon a Time in China II

This one is a must see as it’s an earlier film in Yen’s career and it has the disctinction of putting him up against Jet Li, another master beloved around the world. Their ultimate fight is something else here and shows how Yen can hold his own against someone like Jet Li. This Tsui Hark film is one that fans love because it’s enjoyable and it allows the cast to really get into their characters. Being the second entry in a long-standing series, it can mostly be watched as a standalone entry without losing too much of the story. According to his credit on IMDB, Yen was uncredited for his work as action choreographer on this. Once Upon a Time in China II was also Yen and Hark’s first collaboration as they have worked together again as director and star on Seven Swords in 2005.  

Kung Fu Killer (aka Kung Fu Jungle) (2014) 

Here, like with many other films, Yen not only stars, but also served as action director, something he has been well-known for and sought after. His fights are on point and the way they are shown really allows the viewer to enjoy them. The full cast list here is plenty impressive, bringing all kinds of fighters to the screen and involving them in the filmmaking process. This film showcases not only Yen’s talent, but that of plenty other fighters who do not get nearly enough screen time. It’s the kind of film that was made with respect for the industry and the other players involved in both martial films and martial arts competitions. 

14 Blades (2010) 

This period piece also co-stars Sammo Hung and allows Yen to work with not only hand-to-hand combat, but also blades, something he is clearly good at. His role here is more balanced, giving him a character that feels like he’s not only about fighting, but a character that might even, possibly, be a romantic lead, in a martial arts period piece kind of way. It’s a fun watch with all the costumes, Yen’s long hair, the fighting, and an opening that is reminiscent of Rapid Fire, leading one to wonder how Yen would have worked with Brandon Lee had we not lost him so young. 

Big Brother (2018) 

An almost family film, something Yen does not have too many of on his resume, Big Brother takes him into a school where his character tries to connect with the overly stressed students trying to make it to their state exams. The film is entertaining, we do get some good fights, but more importantly, it helps expose the demands put on high school students in China and how the system is basically designed to leave those with less money behind. This is one is an important film in its own right with the added advantage of starring Donnie Yen, who was also action director here. It’s an action comedy drama for the whole family (as long as the kids can handle a few war scenes and some very serious material at times).   

Raging Fire (2021) 

10 best Donnie Yen Films: Raging Fire

The last film of director Benny Chen, Raging Fire reteams Donnie Yen with Nicholas Tse who he costarred with in Bodyguards and Assassins (a period piece under-utilizing Yen) and Dragon Tiger Gate (a modern story where three heroes fight injustices using their martial arts skills). Raging Fire also has Yen credited as action director along with Kenji Tanigaki and Dede Ku. This one is high octane, modern, and gives Yen and Tse a lot of room to show their skills as actors and fighters.

Iron Monkey (1993)

A martial arts classic that features Yen as the second lead, to Yu Rongguang’s costumed, titular hero. In this, Yu plays a doctor who moonlights as a masked martial artist in order to fight injustice. Yen plays Wong Kei-ying, another doctor with superb martial arts skills, and the father of legendary Chinese folk hero Wong Few Hung (who Jet Li plays in the Once Upon a Time in China movies). He’s suspected of being Iron Monkey, and attempts to prove his innocence, only to realize that him and the costume hero share the same sense of justice. It ends with them teaming up to the delight of martial arts movie fanatics everywhere. Not only is it one of the best Donnie Yen movies, but it’s one of the best martial arts movies ever made.

Honorable Mention: Blade II (2002) 

In Guillermo Del Toro’s sequel to the 1998 comic book adaptation that surpassed its box predecessor’s box office by a good amount ($155 million to the original’s $131.2 million), Donnie Yen was brought in to play the character of Snowman, a vampire with serious fighting skills. Yen was also brought in for his skills as fight choreographer and martial arts coordinator, roles perfect for his skills in multiple martial arts, blade fighting, and other fighting styles. Being known as one of the few first mixed martial artists in China certainly didn’t hurt here. Of course, his limited screen time makes one want to see more of him as Snowman (Yen also said the experience of making the film was far from ideal). It’s not one of the best Donnie Yen movies, but it is an important film in his filmography in some ways, as it made him go back to Hong Kong and do movies like Seven Swords and Kill Zone.

Indeed, Yen’s career has been varied and filled with strong performances on both the acting side and on the martial arts side of things. Years ago, he spoke with Editor-In-Chief Chris Bumbray and cited Chasing the Dragon, a non-fighting film, as one that he was particularly proud of. The fact that he grew up both in Hong Kong and Boston should give him an advantage in being cast in American action film, as his English is perfect, but looking over his career, it’s clear that the Chinese film industry is his, understandable, priority. Of course, the man has been involved in many more movies than just these listed here (he even joined the Star Wars franchise with a role in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and all of them are basically must-see entertainment, so which ones did we miss that are necessary to know his body of work and why? Let us know in the comments what you think the best Donnie Yen movies are!

About the Author