EXCLUSIVE: The Latest on Rogue One Actor Donnie Yen

Last month, we reported that actor Donnie Yen ((甄子丹) will go back to London for Rogue One, even before news of the reshoots broke.

Yesterday, we learned that Chirrut is back in the UK to shoot additional scenes.

Bothan spy “Peter Chang” says Donnie left during the past week, and is now be inside the guarded walls of Pinewood Studios in London.

“The guy is very low-key. Despite being one of Asia’s highest earning celebrities, he doesn’t travel with PAs. He and Cissy (Donnie’s wife Cecilia Wang 汪詩詩) often travel by themselves and carry their own luggage. So his departure from HK wasn’t picked up by the media.”

Taking on the role of Chirrut

In the official cast photo and trailer, Disney took great pains to emphasize Chirrut as a staff-wielding warrior. That’s because the role was specifically tailored for him.

“Not many people know that Donnie is a wushu world champion. Before he branched out into the MMA, wushu was his life. His mother founded a wushu school in Boston and he was sent off to Beijing Sports University for further training. So handling a wushu long stick is second-nature to Donnie,” says Chang. “In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if he choreographed the fight with the stormtroopers himself.”

However, even the 52-year old needs a breather every now and then. “From what I heard, Donnie had to take a break after one particular fight scene for Rogue One last October. The cause wasn’t specified, but it’s likely because of his recurring spinal injury.” Yen suffered serious neck and spine injuries while filming a local action movie three years ago, a mishap that’s plagued him since.

May madness

According to this Far East Bothan, Chirrut was really busy over the past month. “Donnie had a full schedule in May. Most of it was booked for XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, where he plays the main villain after Jet Li backed out.”

“The XXX shoot wrapped up in the third week of May, and Donnie flew home to Hong Kong. The Rogue One reshoots weren’t public knowledge yet, but he was the first to clue in fans when he was interviewed by Oriental Daily News (an HK publication) during a local event. He said he was due back in London for additional Rogue One photography.”

“He then flew to Japan for a quick shoot for a German brand. That was when news about the Rogue One reshoot went public.”

Pre-Rogue One R&R

In preparation for his Rogue One duties, Donnie took some time off to unwind. This suggests he may be in the UK for a while. “From Japan it was back to HK for three days. Then it was off to Singapore for a much deserved vacation with his staff.” Donnie has his own production company, Bullet Films.

donnie yen rogue one newsDonnie Yen (in blue shirt) with the Bullet Films crew in Universal Studios Singapore

“He and his wife treated over three dozen staff members to a holiday. They stayed at Resorts World Sentosa where the couple are brand ambassadors, and visited Universal Studios. Donnie doesn’t normally splurge, so this could mean he’ll be gone for a while and made the most of his break in Asia.”

Star Wars Celebration Europe,  happening on July 15-17, coincides with the reshoots. So it’s possible Donnie and the Rogue One crew will attend the event and have their stay extended.

“For Donnie, it was a well-deserved break before a jampacked June and July for Rogue One. But he made sure his employees got to have enjoy the same break he did, and that’s the wonderful thing about him.”

The Star Wars secrecy

Chang says that out of Donnie’s films, Rogue One has got to be the most secretive. “From Ip-Man to Monkey King, Donnie loved to post teasers about his projects. In fact, for XXX he posted updates almost daily. But there was almost none of that for Rogue One.”

Actually, Donnie did post an update: he was the first to leak the Death Trooper and Shore Trooper helmets on his Instagram account last August:

donnie yen death trooper rogue one leak

The image was quickly taken down, but not before the entire Internet saved it. Within hours, everyone from Entertainment Weekly to The UK Mirror was talking about the new helmets. And Chang says that might be the reason for Donnie’s subsequent silence.

“From what I heard, the PR agency behind Lunak Heavy (the production name for Rogue One) hands out penalty cards to members who violate the non-disclosure policy. And yes, not even cast members are exempt. So that’s probably why he’s been mum on all things Rogue One ever since.”

However, even Chirrut has a weakness. “The Yen kids love Star Wars. But it’s the middle one, James, who’s an absolute fan. The little guy has everything from costumes to lightsabers, and he celebrated his birthday with a Star Wars-themed party. I don’t see how Donnie could NOT tell him about Rogue One and expect some peace and quiet at home. So if you want the real scoop, ask James!”

Rogue One and the Chinese market

Despite Donnie’s (as well as his wife’s Cissy’s) spoiler gaffes, Chang believes his role Chirrut is critical to the film’s success — perhaps even more so than the other characters.

“China is the world’s 2nd biggest box office market, second only to the US. What better way to penetrate that market than through the star of Ip Man?”

The Ip Man film franchise is one of the highest-grossing films in Asia. In fact, for regions like Hong Kong and mainland China, the name has more recall than Star Wars. “Remember that PRC (China) was a closed society during the ’70s and ’80s when Star Wars became a global phenomenon. That’s why Hollywood is trying its best to penetrate the market, by roping in recognizable names like Donnie.”

In fact, China is so important to Disney that Rogue One features not just one, but two Asian celebrities. Chinese actor and director Jiang Wen plays Baze, a freelance assassin. While Donnie captures the pan-Asian market like Hong Kong and Malaysia where Ip Man set new records, Wen’s inclusion is directly aimed at the mainland and its 1.3 billion audience.

The Chinese market is still a mystery to the West. While the recently released Warcraft movie bombed in the US, it became a box office hit in China, outgrossing even The Force Awakens within five days.

This is the reason why Donnie Yen (and his compatriot Jiang Wen) are the Mouse’s only hope for galactic success in China.


Special thanks to “Peter Chang” for the exhaustive intel, as well as Bullet Films Productions member “Agent Wai” for confirming some of the details for this story!

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