Hong Kong “Mulan” star Donnie Yen this week reiterated his political loyalty to mainland China as he teased work on the upcoming theatrical adaptation of popular video game “Sleeping Dogs” and announced “Golden Empire,” a new China-backed crime thriller.
His hometown is currently roiling under the impact of a controversial new national security law imposed by Beijing that strips Hong Kong of many of its former freedoms, which came into effect July 1 — the anniversary of Britain’s handover of the territory to China. Ten people protesting its stipulations were arrested within 24 hours of its enactment, including a 15-year-old girl.
The same day, however, the “Ip Man” star feted by posting a celebratory message complete with champagne bottle emoji to his Chinese and western social media accounts. Under a video montage of himself tickling the ivories and shaking hands with Chinese president Xi Jinping, he reminisced: “Recalling such memorable night [sic] in 2017 where I had the privilege to performed [sic] with piano Mastro [sic] Lang Lang for Chairman Xi and wife along with several hundred guests who came to watch the show and celebrated the night!”
Comments on his Instagram version of the post have been “limited,” and show only positive feedback. But on his official Facebook account, the post was met with more teeth by fans baffled by his “celebration” of what many have deemed a devastating occasion.
“He probably has 100 million reasons. But indeed tragic seeing such [a] talented person like Donnie fighting for the people on set but unable to do the same in real life,” wrote one commenter.
Yen himself responded directly, writing in English: “I am fighting for the Chinese people, which indeed for the longest time, [have] been undermined and disrespected, but worst abused.”
Yen is best known in the west for his turn in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “xXx: Return of Xander Cage,” and plays Mulan’s mentor Commander Tung in Disney’s upcoming live-action version of “Mulan.”
But staying in Beijing’s good books is likely key for Yen, 56, who these days is one of Asia’s most bankable stars thanks to the China market.
Last December’s “Ip Man 4” grossed $165 million in China, but just $3.7 million in Hong Kong (and $4 million stateside), making the mainland far and away Yen’s most lucrative fanbase.
He also recently starred in “Enter the Fat Dragon,” a comedy backed by China’s Bona Film Group that cancelled its planned Feb. 16 theatrical release because of the coronavirus and moved directly to streaming.
His next project appears to be “Sleeping Dog,” an action movie adaptation of the popular 2012 video game of the same name developed by United Front Games and published by Square Enix.
Yen confirmed his participation in the film over the weekend, posting a video of himself busting a few warm-up moves at the gym and writing that he is “aiming to make another breakthrough movie.” He will star as main character Wei Shen, an undercover police officer who infiltrates the Hong Kong triads. “I am excited to start preparing for the next challenge,” he said.
First announced in 2017, the project will be produced by Neal Moritz’s Original Film (“Fast and Furious”) and DJ2 Entertainment and is listed as currently in pre-production, though neither company replied to Variety’s request for comment by press time.
Yen will also star in and co-produce a new crime thriller called “Golden Empire,” about a drug lord wanted by authorities in both the U.S. and Mexico. It will be backed by China’s Starlight Media and SA Inc., with Starlight’s CEO Peter Luo also producing.