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Watch Boston’s biggest star on Thursday night

Films at the Gate launches on Thursday night 8/26 with BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS – 2009. (Full schedule here.) Curator Jean Lukitsh reminds us that BODYGUARDS star Donnie Yen may just be Boston’s biggest movie star:

Forget about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. In Asia, the biggest star to come out of Boston is Donnie Yen. IP MAN (2008) and BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS (2009) are not only blockbusters, they took “Best Film” awards in Hong Kong for the past two years. This year, IP MAN 2 even beat IRON MAN 2 at the box office in China. The Hollywood Reporter profiled him this month in recognition of the fact that, after over two decades of genre work, Donnie Yen is now a bona fide leading man.

Donnie Yen, Boston Common, late 1970's. Photo provided by Klysler Yen and Pat Lybarger.

Yen moved to Boston from Hong Kong in 1974 with his parents. His father, Klysler Yen, is the editor of the Boston edition of Sing Tao newspaper. His mother, Bow Sim Mark, has taught tai chi and related Chinese martial arts in Boston for the past thirty five years. Master Mark trained in modern competition wushu as a teen, and then studied for ten years with one of Guangzhou’s best-known tai chi experts, Master Fu Wing-fei. Donnie grew up in Newton, where his family settled, and in Chinatown, where his mother had a school on Harrison Ave. He hung out, like the other Chinatown kids, at the movie theaters, especially the Star and Pagoda, which were on the fringes of the old Combat Zone. That was where they could sometimes see fights that weren’t on the screen, and maybe even jump in.

Donnie only lived in Boston for about six or seven years, but they were a formative time for him. He was a teenager here. He learned to breakdance and he learned to box. He competed at kung fu tournaments, and he tested himself in other ways. Then he went off to Beijing to train with the wushu team there, and next turned up in Hong Kong working as a stunt man on Yuen Wo-ping’s films. If you want to know what happened after that, check his entry on imdb.com. Nobody can say the guy hasn’t paid his dues. –Jean Lukitsh.