No Hollywood franchise is doing ballistic, ballistic, heart-wrenching fighting action better than the “John Wick” series, and in its latest installment, the ranks of talented assassins join Keanu Reeves in bringing the hitman saga to the forefront. next level.
Developing the western-influenced underworld and jidaigeki of “John Wick: Chapter 4” as the titular man in black increases the body count in his quest for revenge, stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski tapped into a host of action stars. international. to complicate the journey of his anti-hero.
However, many of the best sequences in the 169-minute sequel belong to a trio of faces that are new to the franchise, some of whom could return to the ever-expanding Wick-verse.
Hiroyuki Sanada as Shimazu Koji
Japanese screen legend Hiroyuki Sanada was initially set to reunite with his “47 Ronin” co-star Reeves in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” but had to drop out due to a training injury. A few years later, Stahelski called about a new role that had been written just for him: Shimazu Koji, the early owner of the Osaka Continental, who shares a deep and loyal brotherhood with John Wick.
“I said, ‘My God, he gave me another chance,’” Sanada recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll see you on set.'”
Sanada, 62, brings a soulful presence to Koji, the moral center of “Chapter 4,” who risks his life and his neon-drenched luxury hotel to defy the High Table’s cruel wrath. “Chad asked me to carry the samurai spirit in Koji,” Sanada said, and because of that code, Koji can’t refuse to help his old friend.
She also poured her off-screen friendship with Reeves into their on-screen chemistry. “I love the rooftop scene where we’re drinking whiskey, talking to each other. It’s the only quiet scene in the movie,” she said. “It was like we were talking in real life. Sometimes I forgot the camera was there.”
Born in Tokyo, Sanada began acting at the age of 5, developing a love for European and Hollywood films – “musicals, action, fantasy, everything” – and studied dance, singing and martial arts before joining the famous Japan Action Club from his mentor Sonny Chiba. at 13
Established as a movie star in Japan and Hong Kong, he put his skills to the test starring in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1999 production of “King Lear,” which he calls “the greatest challenge of my life.” “I learned how difficult it is to mix cultures,” he said, “but respecting each other, learning from each other and creating something new that no one has ever seen is very interesting.”
It also made him more determined to pursue international projects. Soon after, he landed the breakout role of himself opposite Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai.” Since then, Sanada has appeared in America in everything from “Rush Hour 3” to “LOST” to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Next, he will star in and produce the FX miniseries “Shōgun,” based on the 1975 novel. “If he didn’t take a role in Shakespeare, he wouldn’t have a role in Hollywood,” he said.
Rina Sawayama as Akira
Pop singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama was hoping for some downtime after writing her second album when she got a call too intriguing to pass up: the director of the “John Wick” movies wanted to meet her, and he was free. for the next three months?
“If someone had said, ‘Years from now,’ you’re going to walk up the stairs at 3:00 am to this really big guy in a suit, pretending to stab him…” he said with a laugh. , flashing back to the scene-stealing fight filming in which his character Akira daggers her way into a much larger adversary. “It’s such a surreal moment!”
Sawayama didn’t know it yet, but the years of hard work she had put into her music career were about to open an unexpected door into acting for her.
Her family moved from Japan to England when she was 5 years old, causing a difficult transition into the British school system as a non-native English speaker. But in music, she found connection and self-expression. Working day jobs, she saved to self-finance her career and didn’t sign her first record deal until she was 29. “I didn’t realize I wanted to be an artist, write my own music, and turn my experiences and my life into music, and my world. until I was in my late teens,” said Sawayama, 32.
Choosing the indie route gave him space to experiment with sounds from nu metal to New Jack Swing to UK garage and hone his talent for turning personal introspection into genre-defying dance-pop. When her 2020 debut album was met with acclaim, she heralded the arrival of an audacious multi-writer who has also danced, acted and co-directed her own music videos.
Fast forward to “John Wick 4”: Stahelski was in preparation in Berlin trying to play the role of Akira, the cautious janitor at the Osaka Continental and daughter of Sanada’s Koji, when she fell down the rabbit hole of Sawayama’s job.
Music videos like “XS”, in which she plays a demented host for the home shopping network, and “Bad friend”, which sees her playing an angsty salaryman, displayed a chameleon-like presence and physique. Similarly, the director cast Asia Kate Dillon in “Chapter 3” after seeing them in an episode of “Billions.” He offered the role of her to Sawayama, inviting her to adapt it to her instincts.
It took months of training to prepare for his film debut, working with Keanu Reeves and Sanada. Even so, Stahelski was prepared to take advantage of Sawayama’s abilities in case the complex action sequences proved too complicated. She didn’t have to worry: in the first week she had memorized a fight scene.
“From all the dance training and live shows, the stress doesn’t get to Rina,” she said, describing the training run that showed her what she could do. She “she’s hitting the bow and arrow, she’s doing a knee slide, she’s doing two judo throws. I was like, ‘We’re good.’”
Sawayama makes an impressive debut as the agile and deadly Akira is forced into action, but his performance is also based on conflicting emotions, torn between his father’s wishes and his concern for him as he aids John Wick. He was pleased that Akira, one of the few female characters in the franchise, was not sexualized but had her own perspective and agenda.
“It’s very clear to the audience if they really want to be in this world or not. I can tell the story and I don’t have to worry about how I’m portrayed, or how I’m portraying Asians,” said Sawayama, who is looking forward to reprising the role of Akira in the future. “I loved that him. He wasn’t a stereotype. He was a real person. And he wouldn’t have said yes if he wasn’t like that.”
The not-so-secret weapon of “John Wick 4” is the biggest action star to join the franchise: Hong Kong film icon Donnie Yen.
As the blind assassin Caine, another old friend and antagonist of Wick’s perhaps final chapter, he fills the screen with fresh wit and deadly grace: a deadly Fred Astaire with a sharp cane who steals the movie every time he slides across the screen.
For Stahelski, a lifelong obsessive of martial arts and action, asking the star of “Ip Man” and “Once Upon a Time in China II” to join the “John Wick” universe was intimidating. One of Asia’s most successful crossover stars seen in “Rogue One” and “Mulan,” the actor-producer-director had turned down many Hollywood roles before.
“I’m asking for a little bit of a life commitment, to put your life on hold for me, and it’s not a ‘Donnie Yen movie,’” the director said. “We have invited you as a guest into our world. It was a bit daunting.”
Yen, 59, only agreed if he could recast the role, which Stahelski admits had been written with “placeholder” detail. “The name was Shang or Chang,” Yen said. G.Q.. “Why can’t it have a normal name?” Stahelski appreciated the blunt honesty: “Donnie took the pages and said, ‘I don’t like the character. But I want to be in it. You want to work?”
Yen found intriguing ways for his character to reflect Wick. “He said, ‘John Wick is great. I want to be cool. I want to make this something that you and I haven’t seen,’” Stahelski said. “He gave me a great education on what the Chinese public likes, or what the Asian community might prefer over a stereotypical role.”
They arrived at a new name, Caine, with its various meanings: as brother-in-arms to Abel of Wick; as a nod to the tramp “Kung Fu” by David Carradine, and the recovery of the supposed exclusion of Bruce Lee from the role; and in the literal sense, the personification of his sword-like weapon of choice.
Yen sent the director a picture of Bruce Lee in a skinny tie and suit, which inspired Caine’s dapper look. “We started with this riff about Chow Yun-fat and how we both love John Woo and thought, ‘We’ve got to be as cool as Chow Yun-fat,’” Stahelski said. “If John looks this cool, Caine has to look this cool.”
Yen, whose latest film as director and star, “Sakra,” is also set to be released this year, brought his own take on Caine’s fighting style, integrating fencing into his action vocabulary. And for his most emotional scene, in which he will duel the injured Koji, he and Sanada collaborated to create their own choreography based on the characters. “We tried to get the audience to see: What are they thinking? What are you feeling? Why do they have to fight? Sanada said.
“That’s why I love ‘John Wicks’ so much: it’s this nexus, this fantasy land, where you can have the legend of Hiroyuki Sanada, you can have the legend of Donnie Yen, and bring them together to create something that hasn’t been. done,” Stahelski said. “If I, as a 14-year-old, could see that, I’d go, ‘Ahhhh!'”