Champion racehorse or movie star, the secret’s the same: Grasp the opportunity
Derby Ambassador Donnie Yen Chi-tan compares the similarities and differences between top-tier horse racing and successful film making
Having appeared in such international blockbusters as Rogue One, xXx: Return of Xander Cage and the Ip Man trilogy, Donnie Yen Chi-tan has long found himself in popular demand by both overseas audiences and local film producers alike. Yet for the past five years, the acclaimed actor has always made certain to be back in Hong Kong at this time of the year to attend the celebrated BMW Hong Kong Derby.
As the Derby Ambassador, Yen has attracted the kind of warmth and appreciation from racing fans each time he has appeared at Sha Tin Racecourse ahead of the classic race as he has received from his most passionate film fans.
After two unsuccessful attempts in the Hong Kong Jockey Club administered Horse Ballot, (the method used to assign limited horse ownership to the Club’s members), it was a case of third time’s a charm and Yen is now a proud horse owner at the HKJC. His ownership of a talented sprinter, named Bad Boy, offers him a different perspective on thoroughbreds and their attributes.
“A lot of actresses and actors like me have had experience working with horses in film production. More often than not, we never have the benefit of proper training compared to what is offered by the Club, we must learn to communicate with the horse and get the act done,” Yen said, citing his first encounter with horses while filming Seven Swords.
As a horse owner now, he feels that previously he did not have the chance to appreciate enough of the care directed to the horses working in films. “The HKJC is a truly leading organisation as far as horse care is concerned. The professionals in the organisation ensure that all the race horses get excellent care from special nutrition to frequent health checks.” It has been an eye-opening experience for the international movie star.
In a recent visit to the stable of trainer John Moore, where his co-owned horse Bad Boy is trained, Yen was completely at ease with a number of contenders for the upcoming BMW Hong Kong Derby, including the possible race favourite, Rapper Dragon - as well as Booming Delight, Beauty Generation and Helene Charisma.
“I can see a lot of similarities between getting a horse meticulously prepared ahead of a big race and the production of a successful movie,” Yen says.
“For a horse to win an important race, it must have a great deal of talent, be subject to a rigorous training programme and benefit from the support of a dedicated team. From what I’ve seen, it is no different from producing a film that achieves a massive fan following.
“For an actor to have any degree of accomplishment, it is important for one to properly equip oneself and to grasp any opportunity presented,” he says. It was an opinion from one who made his success one step at a time, literally from being nobody in the trade.
At the beginning of his film industry career, Yen recalls that, he was as much an actor as a stuntman, choreographer and video editor. He was intrigued by the whole spectrum of the various film production stages. He says he just couldn’t get enough of film making.
Long before his recent involvement in Rogue One, Yen was involved in Hollywood productions including the adventure film Highlander: Endgame and sci-fi action movie Blade II. He was cherished as much as an actor as action choreographer.
Yen is obviously also aware of the subtle difference between film-making and horse-racing in their respective pinnacles. An actor never knows for sure when an opportunity comes knocking, all he can do is prepare for one, whereas a horse to compete in the BMW Hong Kong Derby - a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Yen reasons that a trainer must progressively direct a horse towards the goal, and the speed and spirit of the horse should ideally peak for that race.
Having been a Derby Ambassador for five years, the action star would one day like to see a horse of his own on the track during the classic race.
Yen has been pleased with the results of his seedy sprinter, as Bad Boy has racked up three wins from ten starts in Hong Kong – all in the span of one year. However, he added, “I wish that in the future a horse of mine will feature in a Derby, but it is the first time I have experienced the thrill of horse ownership, and there will be another time.”
For every owner, winning the BMW Hong Kong Derby is beyond comparison, Yen must also hope that, one day, his horse will enter the hall of Derby fame. But for now he may find it less of a challenge to be in the running for the title “The best action movie star in the world.”
The year’s BMW Hong Kong Derby takes place on Sunday, March 19 at Sha Tin Racecourse. Don’t miss the chance to witness the champion of the next generation. The big race is scheduled for Race 8 at 4:35 pm.