Photo: The New Paper/Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios

Clad in a leather jacket and surrounded by an entourage of Stormtroopers at the Grand Hyatt hotel, Donnie Yen looked every inch the imposing hero he plays in gongfu films like Ip Man.

Yen plays blind warrior Chirrut Imwe in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first Star Wars spin-off film. It is set between Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope.

“It took me nine months to learn how to say that name,” he said, smiling, at the Rogue One Asia Hong Kong press junket last month.

For the record, it is pronounced “Choo-root Eem-way”.

Yen is the first Asian actor to play a major role in a Star Wars film, something he considers a great honour.

Still, he almost turned down the opportunity as he was reluctant to be away from home for months on end.

It was his children – Jasmine, 12, and James, 9 – who convinced him to act in Rogue One.

“My kids are bigger Star Wars fans than I am, especially James.

“He has read the comics and owns the Lego toys.

“I even asked him, ‘Which of Daddy’s movies do you like best, Ip Man or Star Wars?’ And he said Star Wars,” Yen said.

Chirrut is not a Jedi, as the lightsaber-wielding warriors are supposedly extinct during the time period that Rogue One is set in, but is still a Force-sensitive martial artist

So does Yen regret not having a lightsaber of his own?

“I don’t need a lightsaber to beat Darth Vader’s butt,” he said with a grin.

“A true warrior doesn’t need any particular weapon.

“You can give me anything, like this bottle of mineral water, and it can be used to fight.

“I’m involved in the fight choreography of all my movies.”

Yen said Chirrut plays “an important part of the puzzle” because of his mastery of the Force.

It was his idea to make Chirrut blind to add a more interesting dimension to the character.

He said: “When you are blind, you can’t see but have to instinctively feel instead.

“And this is connected to the power of the Force.

“I had to make believe I was in complete darkness… This is made it harder than other action films I’ve done.”

Yen clearly has no regrets being part of the Star Wars universe, saying he had a blast filming Rogue One.

“Being on set in London, I felt like I was in a theme park every day,” he said.

It may look as though Yen is chasing more Hollywood movie roles, as he will also be appearing in action film xXx: Return Of Xander Cage, which also stars Vin Diesel.

It opens here on Jan 26.

But Yen insists he is not specifically seeking Hollywood parts.

He said: “Being in Hollywood films is not something I aim for or believe in, because those movies are not necessarily better. There are a lot of bad Hollywood films out there, too.”

Yen believes more collaborations between Hong Kong and Hollywood are the way of the future.

“By working together, we can make better movies,” he said.

 

The orignal version of this story was published in The Straits Times on December 14, 2016.

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