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Donnie Yen’s First MMA Movie Came WAY Sooner Than You Think

Donnie Yen helped bring MMA-style action into modern martial arts films, but his first display of this was actually much earlier than many realize.

Donnie Yen helped pioneer MMA in martial arts films, but he did much earlier than many realize with 1989’s In The Line of Duty IV. Yen shot to global stardom by leading the ip-man kung fu movie franchise, but his career goes back much further into the ’80s. Hong Kong movies like Iron Monkey and Once Upon A Time In China II made Yen a rising martial arts star, while the early 21st century saw him beginning to appear in Hollywood movies like Blade II and Shanghai Knights.

Yen is also well-known as a huge MMA fan, and sought to bring its blended approach to combat with his 2005 Hong Kong action movie Sha Po Langlater released as kill zone in the Western world. Yen followed the film up with another martial arts cop action film in 2007’s flash-point, standing as Donnie Yen’s best MMA movie. The combo it served with Sha Po Lang helped push MMA-based fight choreography right to the front of contemporary martial arts films. Still, Yen showed he was already headed in that direction with In The Line of Duty IV.


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The Hong Kong cop movie sees Yen as a Hong Kong cop named Donnie pursuing gangsters alongside his associates on the force. Yen’s approach to the film’s fight scenes is quite eclectic with the assortment of different techniques utilized. That’s most especially seen in his rooftop showdown with Michael Woods.

In The Line Of Duty IV Showed MMA Fight Choreography Years In Advance

In their face-off, Yen and Woods battle each other with a combination of punches, kicking, and grappling techniques that are the exact basis for MMA in modern times. While Donnie Yen has delivered countless amazing fight scenes in his career, such as multiple Jackie Chan vs. Donnie Yen fights, this approach made the end fight of In The Line of Duty IV a rarity for its time. It also showed how much Yen and director Yuen Woo-ping were thinking ahead.

MMA having become the internationally popular combat sport that it is, the mindset behind it of martial arts training adapting to all different facets of fighting has also become the dominant view in contemporary teaching. In The Line of Duty IV shows just how far Yen was ahead of the curve in applying that philosophy to on-screen fight choreography. Additionally, Yen’s friend and on-screen opponent in the movie, John Salvitti, would also be a player in his future MMA films, continuing to work alongside Yen in designing the MMA based fights of flash-point and later in Special ID.

Donnie Yen has since risen to become one of the biggest action heroes in the world with his MMA movies, the legacy of Donnie Yen’s ip-man films, and his overall career, but his early work in Hong Kong movies should not be overlooked for how much he showed the breadth of his talents. MMA is all over modern action movies, with Donnie Yen being deservedly credited for his contributions to pushing it ahead. though Sha Po Lang and flash-point might tend to get the credit for that, In The Line of Duty IVin many ways, was Donnie Yen‘s first true foray into MMA action.

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