Donnie Yen was born in Guangzhou, China. His mother, Bow-sim Mark, was a kung fu master and his father, Kylster Yen, a newspaper editor and amateur musician. When Donnie was just two years old, the family moved to Hong Kong and then, when he was 11, to Boston, Massachusetts.
There, Master Bow-sim Mark became a pioneer for Chinese martial arts in America, and it was only natural that her only son was trained from early childhood in the same skills. At the same time, Donnie was influenced by his parents' love of music and reached a high level of proficiency as a pianist. All these interests would have a manifest influence on Yen's later life.
In his teens, Donnie defined his own persona by rebelling against his parents edicts. Beyond the limitations of his mother's school, Yen began training in various different fighting arts, including Japanese karate, Korean taekwondo and western boxing. Donnie also took up hip-hop and break-dancing. At the same time, he began spending his nights in Boston's notorious Combat Zone. Given that he was by now a serious practitioner of modern Wu Shu, his parents decided to send him to Beijing to train at the Chinese capital's famed Wu Shu academy.
It was when Yen returned to Hong Kong en route back to Boston that he met the famed martial arts movie director Yuen Woo-ping.
Donnie exploded onto the Hong Kong movie scene when he was cast in the lead role of director Yuen Woo-ping's 'Drunken Tai Chi'. His debut film immediately established him as a viable leading man, and Yen has remained a major figure in Chinese action cinema to this day.
Yen skills as a street dancer were to the fore in his second starring role, 'Mismatched Couples', in which he showed off his breakdance moves, as well as his general athleticism. This slapstick romantic comedy was produced by Hong Kong's prestigious Cinema City studio.
Donnie was subsequently signed by the newly formed D&B Films, and cast in the hit cop actioner 'Tiger Cage'. In this movie, and his follow-up features for the company ('In the Line of Duty 4', 'Tiger Cage 2'), Yen showed off his own unique form of contemporary screen combat, a form that included elements of rapid fire kicking, Western boxing and grappling moves.
Having established a worldwide fan base, Yen moved on to star in a string of independent Asian action features before director Tsui Hark tapped him to co-star in 'Once Upon A Time In China 2'. The film's two action highlights saw Donnie's character duel the legendary martial arts master Wong Fei-hung, played by his old friend Jet Li. The film brought Yen his first real attention as a thespian and he was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category at that year's Hong Kong Film Awards.