Our favorite hapa, Keanu Reeves, returns to the screen as the emotionally dead, inordinately lucky assassin who loves dogs: John Wick. “John Wick: Chapter 4” offers nearly three hours of action and sweeping landscapes with high kill and diversity scores. There is some humor, although might be a 4DX bonus. And when large neon letters are featured in a rooftop scene, I’m guessing that’s an Easter egg for East Asians.
Wick is a man in a specialized suit, one for day and one for night, Italian cut with two buttons and tapered trousers. The suits feature tactical lining–silicon carbide discs, ceramic matrices, accompanying laminates and cutting edge body armor that is sewnbetween the fabric and the lining. If the John Wick series teaches you nothing else: Don’t steal cars or kill with someone’s dog. Although no dogs die in this film, a dog plays a crucial role as does honor and friendship.
Slipping into a 4DX early movie on a Friday, we were among 4DX veterans and a few newbies, including a sister who was surprising her brother. Be sure to turn on the water. Don’t worry: I wear glasses and the spray is never enough to make water droplets on your glasses. There’s rain and blood shed and the water spray is used for both. If you can afford the cost, 4DX is really the best way to see John Wick and you’re guaranteed to not fall asleep.
Be sure to stay for the post-credits scene which sets up possibilities for the future of this world which is definitely East Asian. In case you need a review of the three preceding films, here’s my summary.
Since 2023 is “Chapter 4,” you’ll want to know how this all began. An orphan named Jardani Jovonovich in the Belarus, was adopted into the Ruska Roma crime syndicate and raised to be an assassin. He becomes “Baba Yaga,” the top enforcer of the Russian organized crime under the crime boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). But the assassin, now named John Wick, fell in love with his Helen (Bridget Moynahan). After performing an impossible task for Tarasov, he has been allowed to retire, living in New York. That was five years ago, but Helen has died, leaving him alone with a beagle puppy, Daisy, she has gifted to him to help cope with his grief. Soon after receiving the puppy, Wick meets Iosef (Alfie Allen), Viggo’s arrogant son, and Iosef demands that Wick sell him his 1969 Boss 429 Mustang. Wick refuses, but Iosef’s gang follows Wick, beats Wick up, kills the puppy and then steals the car. When Iosef takes the car to have its identifying marks removed at a chop shop run by Aurelio (John Leguizamo), he gets his first warning. Aurelio knows who the car belongs to and isn’t willing to touch it.
John Wick now enters the revenge business, retrieving his stash of weapons and funds leftover from his killer-for-hire days. He refuses Viggo’s apologies.
Wick tells Viggo, “When Helen died, I lost everything. Until that dog arrived on my doorstep, a final gift from my wife. In that moment, I received some semblance of hope–an opportunity to grieve unalone and your son took that from me…stole that from me, killed that from me. People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer, but now, yeah, I’m thinking I’m back. So you can either hand over your son or you can die screaming alongside him.”
Viggo explains to his son who John Wick is: “John is a man of focus, commitment, sheer will…I once saw him kill three men in a bar, with a pencil.”
Viggo sets a bounty on his head. In the John Wick world, bounties are registered and sent out in a mix of old-school (telephones and chalkboards) and modern tech ways. A central call center receives the bounties, lists them and sends on alerts to its cellphone network of assassins and bounty hunters of varying skill sets. A chain of hotels, the Continental, serves as neutral ground for members of the many crime syndicates under a unified code of conduct enforced by the High Table (a council of 12 leaders of the underground society) that the audience learns more about as the series progresses. In New York, Winston Scott (Ian McShane) is the owner of the Continental (in reality the Beaver Building in Manhattan) with Charon, the Continental’s manager/concierge (the late Lance Reddick).
Although Wick originally only targets Iosef, after killing Iosef, Wick is still being targeted by Viggo’s man. Wick is aided by an old friend, Marcus (Willem Dafoe), who is tortured and killed by Viggo. Wick avenges the death of Marcus and kills Viggo.
Chad Stahelski directs with cinematography by Jonathan Sela (Director of photography for “Bullet Train”). Written by Derek Kolstad. The film won the Best Fight Taurus Award at the World Stunt Awards.
John Wick doesn’t have a dog, but there’s that Boss 429 Mustang which he recovers from Viggo’s brother, Abram Tarasov (Peter Stomare), after killing Tarasov’s men. The battle damages the Mustang which he takes to Aurelio for repairs. Wick then meets Camorro crime boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) who calls in a marker, an unbreakable vow, demanding Wick’s services. But Wick wants to retire. Santino makes a convincing argument by destroying Wick’s house. Wick seeks refuge at the NYC Continental where Winston reminds him that there are two unbreakable rules in the Wickian universe: no murders on the Continentals’ grounds and honoring every marker. Wick agrees to help Santino who wants his sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini), assassinated so he can claim her seat at the High Table. As a witness, Santino sends his mute bodyguard, Ares (Ruby Rose).
Wick confronts Gianna who commits suicide, but Wick helps her meet her maker faster. That should be the end of things, but who said there was honor amongst thieves and crime bosses? Ares and Santino’s men try to kill Wick. Gianna’s bodyguard, Cassian (Common), pursues Wick to the Rome Il Continental (Museo Centrale del Risorgimento) where they share a drink.
Back in New York, Wick is not only pursued by Cassian, but also by people trying to collect the $7 million contract Santino puts out on Wick to avenge his sister’s death.
Winston warns Santino: “You stabbed the devil in the back and forced him back into the life that he had just left. You incinerated the priest’s temple, burned it to the ground. Now he’s free of the marker, what do you think he’ll do? He had a glimpse of the other side and he embraced it, but you, Signor D’Antonio, took it away from him.”
Wick ends up seeking help from the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) who helps Wick find treatment for his many injuries. The Bowery King gives Wick an M1911 with seven bullets and notes that Santino is holding a gala at an art museum. Santino sums up Wick’s situation thusly: “No wife, no dog, no home. You have nothing, John. Vengeance is all you have left.” Wick pursues Santino but kills him in the Continental lounge.
Winston helps Wick before the High Table declares him “excommunicado” which rescinds all his privileges in the underground world. Wick tells Winston that he will kill everyone who hunts him on the now doubled contract. Taking a newly adopted dog with him, Wick walks into a world where hitmen ready to cash in are tracking him.
“John Wick: Chapter” won a BMI Film Music Award and was nominated for a Taurus Stunt Award.
Cinematography by Dan Laustsen and script by Kolstad.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
The title comes from a Latin saying: “si vis pacem, para bellum” or ”if you want peace, prepare for war.” Parabellums are also a type of cartridge used on some handguns. (If you’re wondering, “antebellum” means “occurring or existing before the war.”) It’s Winston who tells John Wick “Si vis pacem, para bellum.”
The film begins right before Wick is pronounced “excommunicado” by the High Table for the killing of Santino D’Antonio in the Continental. Wick goes to the New York Public Library where he retrieves a hidden marker and a rosary. He gets treatment for his injury, but must complete the suturing as the excommunicado status prevents the doctor from finishing. Wick meets the head of the Ruska Roma crime syndicate, the Director (Angelica Huston), who asks, “All of this for what? Because of a puppy?” For Wick, of course, “It wasn’t just a puppy.” Wick presents the rosary which gives him safe passage to Casablanca.
The High Table adjudicator (Asia Kate Killon) tells Winston and the Bowery King they must resign for helping Wick and also sends a Japanese assassin, Zero (Mark Dacascos) to kill John Wick. Winston and the Bowery King refuse.
Wick meets with friend and manager of the Moroccan Continental (Essaouira’s clocktower and the inner courtesy arches were the Kasbah Hotel Xaluca Arfoud near the Sahara Desert in Erfoud), Sofia (Halle Berry) and presents his marker. Sofia is a dog person, more so than John Wick ever was. She’s accompanied by well-trained Belgian Malinois. The action scenes involving the dogs were impressive enough to be the talk of a large AKC dog show in Los Angeles.
Sofia helps Wick find the Elder (Said Taghmaoui), the only person above the High Table. When the Elder asks why John Wick wants to live, he replies, “My wife, Helen. To remember her. To remember us.” Cutting off his ring finger, Wick gives his wedding ring to the Elder who agrees to forgive Wick if he remains under the High Table control for the rest of his life.
Back in New York, Wick is attacked by Zero before reaching the Continental. At the Continental, the Adjudicator revokes the Continental’s neutral status because Wick refuses to kill Winston. The High Table assassins come for both Winston and Wick, but the Adjudicator is forced to parley with Winston. Winston shoots Wick who falls to the street. Although Winston is reinstated, Wick is taken to the Bowery King.
“John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” won the Austin Film Critics Association Best Stunts Award, the Online Film Critics Society Best Stunt Coordination Award, the Taurus World Stand Award, the BMI Film Music Award and the British Film Designers Guild Award for Best Production Design – International Studio Feature Film, Contemporary.
Stahelski directs. Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Marc Abrams and Chris Collins (“Sons of Anarchy”) wrote the script. Cinematography by Dan Laustsen.
John Wick: Chapter 4
This film begins in the desert with four horsemen. We soon realize that the one horseman is chasing the three others. John Wick is in Morocco and he kills the Elder (George Georgiou). Elsewhere, Winston’s betrayal of the High Table is dealt with. The Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård ), a senior member of the High Table, meets with Winston and Charon, and kills Charon. The Marquis also has the NYC Continental destroyed. The Marquis then forces a retired High Table assassin and an old friend of Wick’s, Caine (Donnie Yen), to come out of retirement by threatening the life of his daughter. Caine, uses a cane because he is blind, like Master Po (from the 1972-1975 TV series “Kung Fu” played by Keye Luke) or the late Edo period (1603-1867) itinerant blind masseur and swordsman Zatoichi (座頭市) who first appeared in 1848. There are more references to the “Kung Fu” TV series, but I won’t spoil that here.
Wick travels to the Osaka Continental (National Art Center in Tokyo), run by his friend Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada) whose daughter, Akira (Rina Sawayama) is the concierge. The assassins of the Marquis and his right-hand-man, Chidi (Marko Zaror), find Wick at the hotel where we are also introduced to a new nameless character, the Tracker (Shamier Anderson), who has a Belgian Malinois as his “emotional support animal.”
Although his daughter, Akira, warns against helping John Wick, Koji replies, “Friendship means little when it’s convenient.”
Koji and Caine battle while Akira and Wick escape. Back in NYC, Wick meets with Winston in front of Charon’s gravesite. Winston advises Wick to challenge the Marquis to a one-on-one duel, but Wick can only do this on behalf of a crime family. If he is successful in rejoining the Ruska Roma, he will be able to wipe the slate clean and Winston will have his hotel rebuilt.
There will be more international travel (Berlin, Paris and New York) and churches will be used for unholy things, but no dogs will be killed. That 222 steps that Wick has to climb in order to fulfill his sunrise duel commitment will seem endless. There might have been one glaringly red neon sign about the theme which happens atop the Osaka Continental where you see the four-character motto (四字熟語 or よじじゅくご): 初志貫徹(しょしかんてつ）or carrying out your original intent.
John Wick’s original intent was to avenge the death of his dog, the crushing of his hope and last connection with his recently deceased wife, Helen. He tells Caine, “Those who cling to death, live.” Yet Caine replies, “Those who cling to life, die.” The Marquis tells Wick, “There’s no John out there, no happy man with a normal life. There is only John Wick, the killer.” More importantly, John Wick doesn’t have a daughter and fathers and daughters seems to be a theme in this film.
Wick’s dog from “Chapter 2” won’t play a prominent role in this outing, but a dog is a key issue. The violence here is creative and over-the-top cartoonish. Is there a message staging one of the scenes in Paris at the Arc de Triumphe (de l’Étoile), a monument dedicated to those who fought and died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleanic Wars? You decide. But just how many times can a guy get shot, hit by a car, fall a few stories and still get up and, without sleep, run up and down and up 222 steps? That suit really lasts so get the name of that tailor. Taking all this violence in at a 4DX theater makes this movie experience more like an amusement park ride, full of jolts and rolls and some splashing water.
The controversial Yen does well as the blind assassin and director Chad Stahelski, a self-proclaimed fan of the Zatoichi films, does well in making this situation believable with a script written by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch. While I’m okay with the action scenes, the presence of cherry blossoms seems a tad overdone. Do we really need them to tell us this is Japan? The scenes in Japan mixes guns with swords and daggers as you might expect. While it’s nice to see Hiroyuki Sanada playing a good guy, even if it’s a good bad guy, I wish he had a larger role in the film, especially considering the Zatoichi influences.
Of course the Zatoichi character is Yen’s and this isn’t Yen’s first outing at a blind swordsman. In 2016, he was Chirrut Îmwe in “Rogue One,” a blind warrior who believes in the Force. Chirrut Îmwe and his companion Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen ) die in the Battle of Scarif as the rest of their team break into the Imperial archives. There will be moments during “John Wick: Chapter 4” you might be reminded of “Star Wars” or the Japanese influence on “Star Wars.”
“John Wick: Chapter 4” scores high on diversity without seeming to pander and make me wonder if there has to be a Black person in every so many frames as some films do. Black and White isn’t diversity in 2023 and the John Wick series has included Black, Latinos and people of Asian descent throughout.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” premiered on 6 March 2023 in London and made its North American premiere on 13 March 2023 at the South by Southwest Film Festival. The film was released in the US on 24 March 2023. Be sure to stay for the post credits scene.
SPOILER ALERT: The unnamed dog from Chapter 2 reappears at the end of Chapter 4, seemingly adopted by the Bowery King as the Bowery King and Winston visit John Wick’s grave which is beside his wife’s.