‘Star Wars Rogue One’ star recounts tale of breaking Mike Tyson’s fingers
When the blind, Force-believing warrior named Chirrut Imwe — played by Donnie Yen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — has a bag placed over his head to prevent him from knowing where exactly he is being taken, he humorously comments, “Are you kidding me?! I’m blind!”
Little moments like that would not have happened, had the Chinese actor not changed the character almost completely.
Donnie Yen, Kung Fu film superstar, sat down in a recent interview with GQ Magazine to discuss his upcoming John Wick: Chapter 4 role and his most iconic roles in general, which occasioned a re-telling of that infamous Mike Tyson story.
Yen first discussed Rogue One, and mentioned that he was not going to do the film, until he asked his kids about it. When they said he should definitely do that Star Wars film, then he was convinced.
However, Yen felt his character, Chirrut Imwe, a serious martial arts master type, was simply too dry. It was to be a cool addition to the movie, especially because the character was not a Jedi, but rather a warrior who was Jedi-like and believed in the Force without possessing Force-wielding powers. One can conclude that Imwe saw the Force in the way that real martial arts masters view Qi — which is often described as the “force” behind one’s internal power.
So, Yen suggested two major changes: Make Imwe blind, and make him somewhat funny. The movie itself was already fairly serious for a Star Wars film, so the subtle humor would be a welcomed element. In regards to him being blind, it would make the audience understand that the character’s belief in the Force is what truly guides him.
It makes the “I am One with the Force and the Force is with me,” scenes more powerful, especially that last one.
Thus, one of the most enjoyable characters of the Star Wars universe was born, thanks to someone who nearly didn’t even join the film.
One can argue that Donnie Yen made all the films he was in better, and that includes how he portrayed the legendary Wing Chun master Ip Man in four films.
Donnie Yen re-told what exactly happened during that infamous fight scene in the 2016 film Ip Man 3.
The heavily fictionalized account of Ip Man, teacher of Bruce Lee, maintained its integrity with Donnie Yen in the lead. It also offered outstanding fight scenes. One such fight scene was with former boxing world champion Mike Tyson.
“Aside from Bruce Lee,” the Chinese movie star began, “Mike Tyson is my idol.”
Mentioning how he was thus ecstatic about working with Tyson, Yen also added, “I was a little bit nervous because what if he knocks me out?”
Yen had explained before, during promotional interviews for the film, that he was genuinely worried that Mike would forget the choreography, considering he’s more used to real fights than fake ones, and that it would result in Yen walking right into a Tyson left hook and winding up knocked out.
He even told the film’s action director, Yuen Woo Ping, that they had to approach the scene differently; he wasn’t going to do the scene the same way they would usually do traditional kung fu film fight scenes, where the performer dodges a strike at the very last second. Instead, because he was facing Tyson — and because Tyson was not exactly experienced in films — Yen insisted that he would dodge before the punch was really coming.
This proved to be a wise decision.
While filming the scene, Yen said Tyson’s punches were extremely powerful, and that one particular punch was a little too close for comfort, as Tyson’s forearm brushed the kung fu star’s hair.
However, the irony of it all is that Tyson was the one who was injured by Yen. So, the interviewer promptly asked about the infamous story that he broke Tyson’s fingers during the scene.
“It was an accident,” Yen replied. “He was coming at me with a flurry of punches, and the choreography was that I was supposed to block his punches with Wing Chun techniques.”
Wing Chun techniques include using elbows for blocking, and Yen stated he was indeed able to deflect numerous blows with his elbows, as the choreography called for, but he had no idea that Tyson was injured. “I didn’t even know about it. He didn’t mention anything. The next day he came in with something wrapped around his fingers and we were joking ‘Donnie broke my pinky!’ but it was an accident!”
Tyson and Yen got along extremely well filming the scene, and Tyson did not let on that he was hurt, choosing to make sure they finished the scene. Yen and others praised Tyson for his professionalism and kindness.
“It was great working with Mike. It was totally chill and respectful.”
Yen discusses more of his films in the GQ interview, which can be viewed in its entirety here.
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