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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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Rogue One: A Deeper Look at the Reshoots

Yesterday, The NY Post broke the news that Rogue One is reportedly in trouble and headed for reshoots. While the piece was full of clickbait and overblown speculation, it did get one fact right: there will be reshoots.

We’ve already determined that cast member Donnie Yen will be flying back to London for what he called “additional photography.” Instead of being merely for promotional material, that turned out to be the reshoot. Today, the Hollywood Reporter confirmed the NY Post story.

In a nutshell:

  • The reshoots are happening in mid-June
  • They were ordered after Disney execs screened the initial cut
  • The execs claim the current cut is “tonally deaf” from what a Star Wars movie is
  • The preview was only screened internally at Disney, and there were no test audiences as reported by NY Post
  • The December 16 release date will push though as planned

rogue one reshoot

Let’s analyze:

The reshoots are happening in mid-June

Rogue One started production in August last year, with principal photography going until February. A June reshoot means they are working hard to fix the movie before Star Wars Celebration Europe, which happens in London on July 15, and Comic Con, which starts on the last week of July.

Historically, these two massive events are marketing goldmines for Disney. And with Rogue One being this year’s offering, the pressure is on to provide a more substantial teaser to one-up the trailer released in April.

If the mid-June shoot stretches several weeks, the cast might even be in London to attend Celebration Europe. Last year’s Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim was attended by nearly the whole TFA cast, lacking only Harrison Ford and Adam Driver. It was also the first appearance of the First Order stormtroopers and BB-8. Presumably, we should see a similar star-studded appearance by the Rogue One cast to drum up anticipation, and the reshoots could coincide with that.

Disney execs feel the tone is off

From the get-go, Rogue One was being marketed as part gritty war film, part heist movie. Did Disney have a change of heart after viewing the initial cut?

The Hollywood Reporter’s source stated “This is the closest thing to a prequel ever. This takes place just before A New Hope and leads up to the 10 minutes before that classic film begins. You have to match the tone!”

This is the first solid confirmation we have that the last moments of Rogue One will lead right into A New Hope. In the supposed panic over the reshoot, it seems that most people missed this relevant intel. So whatever changes that need to be done might have to do with the ending, rather than the story as a whole, to match the style and tone of A New Hope for continuity.

Historically, most of Disney’s live-action movies are four-quadrant attractions. This means they appeal to both sexes, as well as the under-25 and over-25 age demographic. In contrast, a war film generally appeals to a male audience. The source further claims the reshoot seek to add “lightness and brevity” to the finished film. Maybe the current cut is too testosterone-driven, and Disney thinks it lacks the grand epic feel of Star Wars.

But more importantly, the ending itself could be too gritty or tragic, like Saving Private Ryan. What if the whole Rogue One team gave up their lives to transmit the battlestation plans to Princess Leia? Even in their darkest moments, the Star Wars films sought to add hope to the end scene, and the additional shots seek to rectify that. Instead of Jyn and crew gazing into the sunset while dying from their battle wounds, Disney might have ordered a happier ending to hit that four-quadrant sweet spot.

The release date will push through

While the initial NY Post report made it sound all doom and gloom, follow-on reporting by other outlets confirmed that the movie launch is unaffected. Rogue One’s December 16 release stays on target. Even The Force Awakens needed three weeks of extensive reshoots during post-production, and it still launched as planned.

Since Rogue One is the first standalone film, it’s also the first that doesn’t have to follow the Star Wars formula. Fans are already speculating whether there will be an opening crawl, an end-wipe, or the familiar musical score.

forest whitaker rogue one.jpg“If you keep reshooting, what will it become?”

What if Rogue One goes further than that? When it was originally shot, the lead star for the Han Solo film hasn’t been cast. Now that Alden Ehrenreich landed the role, the reshoots could potentially add him as a cameo, or even in a post-credits preview for the next anthology film. The Marvel franchise is famous for its cameos and post-credits surprises. And it also happens to be owned by Disney.

Regardless, we know that director Gareth Edwards and crew will be quite busy in the next few weeks. Whether their hard work pays off will be determined in December. And we can expect to know the full story behind today’s drama by next year.


While the Rogue One squad scrambles, check out the latest update on the Han Solo spinoff!

Rogue One News: Donnie Yen to Return for “Additional Photography”

First update: One of our Chinese-speaking readers says the original interview seems to suggest that Donnie Yen is returning to the UK to fill gaps in the movie.

Second update: It’s confirmed: Yen is returning to London to reshoot scenes for Rogue One.

With less than 6 months to go before Rogue One, a principal actor has revealed that he’s not yet done with the film.

Actor Donnie Yen, who plays one of Jyn Erso’s dirty band of rogues, says he has to return to London to do “additional photography”. In a local interview last week, the Hong Kong-based actor was asked if he’ll be spending Father’s Day with his kids:

“I can’t. My wife and I will be flying to Japan in two days for a project. After that, I’ll be flying all over the place for some more work. I’m going to have to go back to London soon too, to do some additional photography for Rogue One.”

London is currently the production epicenter for both Rogue One and Star Wars Episode VIII. Rogue One began shooting last August 2015, even as Disney was hyping up The Force Awakens.

So what does this mean for Rogue One? Some possibilities are:

  • Principal photography is not yet done, and Yen was just on break
  • The cast may have been called back for reshoots
  • Filming is done, and Yen is flying back to do promotional material (such as photoshoots, spreads and merchandising).

According to Redditor ArlonDarke, who speaks Cantonese, “From the original interview, Donnie seems to be suggesting that the reshoot, rather than just being for promotional material as suggested, (has) to do with filling in some gaps in the movie. Maybe Gareth Edwards decided to expand Chirrut’s role a little. In any case, he’s probably involved in some new shots.”

In the case of The Force Awakens, principal photography ended in November 2014, over a year before the film’s release. The rumored reshoots at Skellig Michael as late as September 2015, just 3 months before TFA hit theaters, turned out to be false. It was actually the preparatory shoot for Episode VIII.

If anything, Disney seems to be planning very well ahead. So ongoing production or even a reshoot at this stage for Rogue One would be unusual for the franchise, but not out of the ordinary in the filming industry.

Donnie Yen was the first to leak photos of the Death Trooper and Shore Trooper helmets on his Instagram and Facebook page, as early as August 2015. They were quickly deleted within 2 hours. His wife Cissy Wang may also have accidentally leaked a key detail when she posted this on her IG last March:

The original caption was “So cool, it looks just like the one on set when I visited hubby!” Although with the release of the Edelweiss leak, she may have been talking about a mockup of the U-wing, whose cockpit looks similar to the T-47 snowspeeder.

The actor has been as busy as a mouse droid since September, being involved in Rogue One as well as XXX: The Return of Xander Cage. Both projects have kept him flying back and forth between Hong Kong and the studios for the past 9 months. In fact, he just finished shooting XXX last May 20.

donnie yen chirrut rogue one

When he was asked if he would turn down Hollywood films to spend more time with his family, Yen revealed his motivation for appearing in Rogue One:

“It was never really about the money. I picked up those jobs because they were a rare opportunity. I did Rogue One because my kids are huge fans of Star Wars.

In fact one of them, 7-year old James, is a budding Sith lord:

He seems to be a pretty cool guy. As the lead star of Ip Man, Yen does his own martial arts fight scenes, having knowledge of taekwondo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, and judo. He’s also one of the few Star Wars characters to incorporate martial arts in his role, alongside Darth Maul actor Ray Park who was an expert in kung-fu and wushu. Anyone as deadly as Maul in hand-to-hand combat is alright in our book.

Donnie Yen will appear as Chirrut, a “spiritual warrior” in Rogue One. As one of the few melee characters in Star Wars, I hope Hasbro turns Chirrut’s awesome blaster stick into a toy for Donnie’s little kids!

chirrut

Thanks to rebel spy Cherry Wong for translating the interview, and to Reddit user ArlonDarke for the additional intel!


 

Hungry for more Rogue One intel? Check out our in-depth analysis why the U-wing isn’t a starfighter!