By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Writer
Keanu Reeves, returns as an inordinately lucky assassin seeking revenge against the underground world of highly organized crime, all of which was sparked by the death of a puppy. John Wick: Chapter 4 is nearly three hours (2 hours and 49 minutes) of action against majestic landscapes and cityscapes. The kill count is ridiculously high, but there is some humor, although that might be a 4DX bonus. There’s also a red neon Easter egg in Japanese.
Lionsgate didn’t invite AsAmNews to a press screening, but I slipped into a 4DX morning screening (at Regal LA Live) because I consider this South Korean innovation (developed by CJ 4DPlex, a subsidiary of the South Korean cinema chain CJ CGV) the best way to see action films. 4DX approaches the big screen experience like an amusement park with swerves, air puffs and water splashes. In the case of a John Wick film, water is used during scenes of blood or rain splatter. Be sure to turn on the water before the film starts and don’t worry: I wear glasses and the spray is never enough to allow water droplets on your glasses to make your vision blurry.
If you’re not familiar with John Wick, he’s a man in a specialized suit and a bad haircut. Days after his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan) died, her gift of a Beagle puppy arrived. Wick had been the world’s top hitman but retired to marry Helen. Soon after the pup arrives, the son of a crime boss steals Wick’s car and kills his pup. Thus the saga of vengeance began in 2014. In the first chapter, Wick kills the man who took his car and his dog, adding the dude’s father as a bonus. During this process, his friend, Marcus (Willem Dafoe) dies.
In the second film, Wick recovers his car but a crime boss calls in a favor that Wick owes him. As an additional incentive, this crime boss blows up Wick’s house. When Wick assassinates the target, he’s double-crossed, resulting in all the assassins in the Wickian world hunting him for the bounty placed on his head by the governing board of crime bosses, the High Table. By killing the double-crossing crime boss in the neutral zone of a Continental hotel, Wick finds himself kicked out of the underworld and all the protections and privileges afforded to him are rescinded. He does have some loyal friends–Winston (Ian McShane), the owner of the NYC Continental hotel that serves as a neutral territory and another crime boss, the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), but they will come under pressure as well.
In the third film, Wick has a dog, and is preparing for war. He is owed favors which take him to Morocco where he meets with the only person above the High Table, the Elder. Although he makes an agreement with the Elder, High Table assassins still pursue him.
John Wick: Chapter 4 begins in Morocco with the Elder (George Georgiou). In New York, the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård ), a senior member of the High Table, meets with Winston and Charon, (the late Lance Reddick). The Marquis also has the NYC Continental destroyed. The Marquis forces an old friend of Wick’s, Caine (Donnie Yen), out of retirement by threatening the life of his daughter. Caine is ordered to kill Wick.
The first showdown between Wick and Caine is in Japan, at the Osaka Continental which is run by Wick’s friend Koji Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) whose daughter, Akira (Rina Sawayama) is the concierge. Besides Caine, the right-hand man of the Marquis, Chidi (Marko Zaror) and his league of assassins take on Wick, but we’re halfway through the film so Wick isn’t going to die yet.
If you don’t read Japanese or Chinese, you might miss the large red neon sign of a four-character idiom 四字熟語 (よじじゅくご） which reads 初志貫徹(しょしかんてつ）and means “carrying out or sticking with your original intent.” The original intent of John Wick was to avenge the death of a dog and preserve the memory of his love for Helen. How does that play out? You’ll have to see the film and decide.
Directed by Keanu Reeves’ stunt double for the Matrix series, Chad Stahelski, the John Wick series is all about setting up the action and showing stunt scenes with cinematic flair against dramatic landscapes and cityscapes (cinematography by Dan Laustsen). In John Wick: Chapter 4 , there are references to the TV series Kung Fu (1972-1975) as well as the itinerant blind masseur swordsman Zatoichi (座頭市) who first appeared in writing in 1848 and later was the lead character in Japanese films and TV. Stahelski is a self-proclaimed fan of the Zatoichi.
Stahelski uses technology to make the blind assassin conceit as believable as possible with a script written by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch. The scenes in Japan mix guns with swords and daggers as you might expect. Of course, this isn’t Yen’s first outing as a blind warrior. In 2016, he was Chirrut Îmwe, a blind warrior who believes in the Force in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 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.
No dogs die in this John Wick flick, but there is a suggestion in the post-credits scene that the saga will continue with people of East Asian descent in central roles.
If you can afford it, see this film in 4DX.
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.
For my full review which includes a more detailed summarization of the previous three films, visit my blog: AgeOfTheGeek.org.
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