xXx: The Return of Xander Cage has been flying somewhat under the radar, with news related to Vin Diesel vehicles mainly concentrating on the impending wrap-up of the Fast & Furious saga. But the extreme-sports meets-spycraft threequel is in production regardless, and it was less than a month ago that news broke of Jet Li being officially cast as the film’s villain, thus adding a dose of international stardom to the feature’s potential global appeal.

Now, news has broken via TwitchFilm that Li has departed the project for undisclosed reasons, and that his role will instead be played by fellow Hong Kong martial-arts superstar Donnie Yen.

The 52 year-old Yen is a major superstar in Hong Kong, best known to international audiences for appearing in the Ip Man films, but the actor has been a hard-working box-office draw in Asia for decades. Notably, he has appeared several times as a nemesis or foil to Jet Li. Yen had his “breakout” role as General Nap-Ian in Once Upon a Time In China II and as the spear-fighter Long Sky in the Academy Award-nominated Hero. For The Return of Xander Cage, Yen will step into Li’s role as the villain Xiang, described as an “alpha warrior” who has assembled a team of mercenaries to locate and gain control of a famous weapon called Pandora’ Box. The villains are opposed by a new team of thrill-seeking secret-agents led by Diesel’s Cage, who is (somehow) no longer dead.

Vin Diesel and Asia Argento in XXX xXx 3: Donnie Yen Replaces Jet Li as the Villain


The film, directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia), is expected to feature action sequences set in a variety of locations all over the world, is also said to involve elements of conspiracy and government secrecy. Tony Jaa, Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose, UFC’s Conor McGregor and others are also featured in the cast, with Samuel L. Jackson confirmed to return as Augustus Gibbons. Additionally, Ice Cube in talks to reprise his role from xXx2: State of The Union.

No official reason has been released for Li’s sudden departure by either the film or the star. At one point keeping to a schedule that sometimes included multiple films in a year (not unusual for Hong Kong action stars of his generation) Li had previously slowed his work pace dramatically since 2010, following a diagnosis for hyperthyroidism — a condition which affects metabolism and can cause weight-gain and fatigue. While it is not known whether this contributed to the star’s surprising exit from the film, that his role was able to be recast so quickly with an actor of such similar background (i.e., both Chinese actors in their 50s who are accomplished martial artists) suggests the role would have involved heavy participation in action and fight sequences.

While the original xXx made money, it was not well received by critics and did not earn the same raves from action fans the studio had expected when launching the franchise, becoming an early harbinger of the difficulty Diesel would have establishing himself as a box-office draw outside of the Fast & Furious films. While the new feature will likely benefit from Diesel being more established now and a team setup that clearly hopes to mimic Fast’s winning surrogate-family formula, it remains to be seen whether audiences will truly embrace Xander Cage this time around.

Screen Rant will have more details on xXx: The Return of Xander Cage as they are made available.

Sources: TwitchFilm