INTERVIEW: Chris Yen on 'Black Rose' & Yuen Wo-ping


INTERVIEW: Chris Yen on 'Black Rose' & Yuen Wo-ping
TV viewers around the US got a genuine wake-up call about kung fu movies on Feb. 11th, when Today show host Matt Lauer broadcast live from Hong Kong. In a salute to the local film industry, Today first aired a mini-documentary highlighting not only familiar faces like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, but also Yuen Wo Ping and Paul Fonoroff. The taped segment, however, was a lead-in to Lauer's live interview with Chris Yen, sister of Donnie Yen and daughter of martial arts master Bow Sim Mark. With Hong Kong Harbor providing a dramatic backdrop, Chris discussed her martial arts background and her featured role in the new kung fu comedy Protege de la Rose Noire, AKA Black Rose. Directed by Donnie as a follow-up to last summer's hit Twins Effect, Black Rose also stars the Twins and Ekin Cheng.

Chris grew up in Boston, where she trained at her mother's school, the Chinese Wushu Research Institute. Chris and her brother also studied music, and learned to perform in front of an audience at a very young age. As a member of the CWRI Performance Team, Chris traveled around the world, and she took medals in international competitions in China. When big brother Donnie went off to work in Hong Kong, Chris was his biggest fan.

And Black Rose isn't her first time in front of a camera. Hong Kong filmmaker Yuen Wo Ping is, as Keanu Reeves pointed out, "a very good master of kung fu", and also the long-time mentor of Donnie Yen. Chris Yen's earliest film experience was as a child actor on the set of Close Encounter With A Vampire.

KFC: What was it like working with Yuen Wo Ping?

Chris Yen: I remember it being kind of crazy. I remember being taken out of school and put on a plane to Taiwan, and going directly to work. I remember being yelled at a lot. It was my first time on a movie set, and I wasn't used to doing the martial arts that way. I'd always practiced forms but this was different. And I wasn1t used to the dialect. Now I can look back, and I understand. He had a bunch of kids running around!

KFC: So it was a tough experience?

CY: I've heard that all the "old-school" martial arts filmmakers are hard on the crews. It was like boot camp. That's the way they were trained back then. I remember one scene where the kids were all supposed to kneel in a circle and cry, and we couldn't squeeze out any tears. So he told us to take some sticks and hit each other until we were really crying! My mother was with me the whole time, even when we worked three days and nights without stopping. She knew I really wanted to do this, and I have a stubborn personality. But after we went back to Boston, she told me I had to finish school before I could do anything like that again.

KFC: Your mother always said she was proud of you for working so hard. There was a story about scallions...?

CY: I had to eat raw scallions, which I hate! And crawl on the ground and eat dirty chicken off the ground! But the worst was the snakes! There was a scene in a cave and they had a bag full of snakes, some dead and some alive, and I had to hold them!! I hate snakes the most! So there were snakes, dirty chicken, scallions, and Master Yuen yelling at me - it was a pretty wild experience.

KFC: And then back to Boston and school.

CY: When Close Encounter of A Vampire played at the China Cinema in Boston, I took my school friends. That was strange too, seeing myself on film.

KFC: Did they like it?

CY: They said, "Is that you?"

KFC: So after you graduated from Boston College, what next?

CY: I went to Singapore and worked in an advertising agency. Then Donnie needed someone to set up his website, and he asked me to work for him. This was when he was working on Blade 2. It was a chance to come back to the US and do something more creative.

KFC: So you worked as his assistant?

CY: First, I just went with him to Japan, for Princess Blade. He was the action director, and it was my first chance to see what it was like to be behind the camera. I was more of an observer, but I also helped Yumiko [Shaku] with stretching and sword moves, and I was thinking, "Wow, there's something in this business I really like." Some people said I should be a stunt double, and I thought, "I can do this!"

KFC: What was next? Shanghai Knights?

CY: No, first we went back to the US for the Iron Monkey release, and I learned a little about the business side, by tagging along on meetings with Donnie's agent and publicist. Then I went back to Japan on my own, to work with Kenji [Tanigaki] on [video game movies] Shinobi 1 & 2. He's the director - I think they're up to part five now. I was a camera assistant, and I did a little stunt doubling, and assisted the actors. I was in four or five scenes doing double sword and some jumping, some kicking.

KFC: And then Shanghai Knights?

CY: On that film I was Donnie's personal assistant. It was great because I got to meet and work with Jackie and his team. That was fun! Jackie is a very sociable and friendly guy, and being around him brightens up your day. I also met his wife and son, and got to hang out with them.

KFC: Jackie's son is making a film now entitled Shi Mian Mai Fu that's attracting a lot of attention

CY: Yeah, it's got an all-star cast and a big production company behind it.

KFC: Did you talk to Jackie after the Today show broadcast?

CY: No, he left right away on another boat.

KFC: The clip from Black Rose that ran on the Today show, the one that shows you fighting the Twins, looks incredible!

CY: That's from the main fight scene, towards the ending.

KFC: The trailer looks really funny. There's a scene where the Twins are made up to look like kung fu guys from the 1970's films!

CY: That's one of my favorite scenes! Donnie has Gillian training in Snake Fist and Charlene learning Drunken Fist, and there's a Drunken Master parody!

- Jean Lukitsh


The entire Today Show interview with Chris Yen is available at (To find it, scroll down to the "Day 3: Hong Kong" heading and click on "Watch the video of Matt's adventures." After a media window opens, scroll down to another "Day 3: Hong Kong" heading and click on "The magic of martial arts." For more information on Donnie Yen visit his newly designed official site.