The son of Madame Bow Sim Mark, Donnie began training in martial arts at age four. He also trained in tai chi, wushu and tae kwon do. After he began to study wushu in Asia, he was approached by Yuen Wo-Ping, and the rest is history.
He made his movie debut with Yuen in "Drunken Tai Chi" in 1984. The villainous role in "Once Upon a Time in China II" brought to him the nomination of the Best Supporting Actor Award in 1992. During that period he also participated in several TV series, including "The Fist of Fury" (1995) where he played Chen Zhen. Yen debuted as scriptwriter, director and producer of "Legend of the Wolf" in 1997.