Donnie Yen believes performing martial arts choreography in action films is much like playing music.

The martial arts star says that a good performance comes from how the actor delivers the choreography that someone else has initially created, likening it to a musician playing a composer’s work.

Donnie YenDonnie Yen likens martial arts choreography to musical compositions

“A lot of people ask me, ‘how do you engrave your personal style in every film?’” Yen said. “By being in the film. Actions, particularly action, it comes natural.”

Part of this for Yen is adding his personal touches to the choreography. “I’ll probably take the choreography and blend it,” he continued. “It’s the way you deliver. It’s like music, someone can compose a certain piece of composition, but it’s the musician that's going to play it out.”

Yen explained that when working on a film he’ll initially take a step back and see the choreography that has been laid out, before deciding how he’ll adapt it.

“When I start performing I change the moves here and there and change this and that and without realising, I change everything,” he said. “But that’s the whole idea, thats the fun of acting.”

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But according to Yen, the main secret to being a great on screen martial artist is knowing how to steal the camera’s attention. “It’s not just about martial arts ability. It’s not just about physical capability. It’s about understanding your camera, understanding how to draw attention,” Yen explained.

“Some actors can just stand in the back and they can basically steal the show, it’s about making the audience fall in love with you through your performance,” he continued.

“Wether it is an expression, a facial expression or an emotion that touches upon all of us. Body movement maybe, the way you walk, the way you smile, the way you move, that little twist in there. That is part of being an artist.”