Action star Donnie Yen says he signed on to play an ancient Chinese secret service agent in his new film _ even though it was another kung fu epic _ because he wanted to tackle the role of a villain who discovers his humanity.
Historical or martial arts blockbusters have dominated the booming mainland Chinese film market in recent years _ and Yen is one of the genre's biggest stars. The mainland-born, Hong Kong and Boston-raised actor most recently starred in the hit biopic of Bruce Lee's teacher, "Ip Man." Other recent action credits include "Hero," "Seven Swords," "Flash Point," "Dragon Tiger Gate" and "An Empress and the Warriors."
Promoting his new movie "14 Blades" in Hong Kong on Tuesday, Yen told reporters while he's always looking to broaden his repertoire, he agreed to another action flick because he could explore a villain's transformation.
Hong Kong director Daniel Lee's kung fu thriller revolves around the Chinese emperor's secret service in the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) _ the "Jin Yi Wei" _ which Yen described as orphans who were trained into ruthless killers used to pursue the emperor's personal vendettas. Yen plays Qing Long, a secret service agent who's betrayed and hunted by his colleagues. He falls in love while on the run, discovering his compassion after years of senseless killing.
"14 Blades" describes how the relationship transformed "a killing machine to a real human being," Yen said.
"This is very different from the other ancient Chinese epics I've starred in," he said.
Yen, a veteran action star who once trained with Jet Li's teacher in Beijing, joked that his co-star, newcomer Kate Tsui, was a clumsy fighter _ but added that actual kung fu prowess doesn't matter as much as capturing a fighter's spirit.
"Whether you know kung fu isn't the most important thing. The most important thing is whether you can project the aura of an ancient fighter," he said.
"14 Blades" is scheduled to be released on Feb. 11.
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