For years, fans have been rooting for Keanu Reeve’s titular character in the “John Wick” franchise, an unstoppable force on a relentless quest for vengeance.
But as John fires his last pistol in this fourth installment and viewers witness an emotional reunion with his late wife, Helen, it appears that the long-awaited conclusion of the franchise has finally arrived. Or has it?
Premiering globally today, Chapter 4 boasts an array of adrenaline-pumping action sequences, with a star-studded lineup formidable for an ending to the beloved franchise. Stars of the film, Keanu Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada, sat down with NextShark to share their reflections on the film and discuss what becomes of their characters.
Man’s best friend makes a poignant return in the latest installment. This time around, viewers are offered a glimpse into John’s perspective as he saves a dog from imminent death. The desperation and urgency echo the circumstances surrounding the death of his beagle, Daisy, in Chapter one, reminding us of the emotional origins of his story.
“I think it was in Chad Stahelski, the director’s mind,” he says,” He loves dogs, and he loves dogs in ‘John Wick.’ Having that kind of upmanship from the hounds was important to him.”
The film features plenty of recurring imagery from Chapter 1, in many ways bringing the story full circle.
“John is walking down some stairs and I took my pistols off, took my belt, laid my gun down. And we had seen through the series him always taking the weapons out of a basement, or stuffing them back in a bag, or having to get them out of a vault. So that was intentional.”
“Was it emotional? Yes. It was beyond nostalgia, it was in the moment.”
Reeves and Stahelski have repeatedly mentioned leaving the fate of the franchise in the hands of the audience – the films will be made as long as long as there’s sufficient demand. But even then, will John’s death be believable for someone who has evaded it so many times?
He’s a man who’s survived even the most unlikely of life-threatening situations: a knife wound, multiple knife wounds, a gunshot, multiple gunshots, a fall off a building, and multiple falls off multiple buildings, among others. The question remains whether the audience would accept the circumstances of his final scene as a fitting end for the resilient protagonist.
“I wanted to be sincere in the character, and I felt that it was a journey of death and coming to peace. And I think, for Chad, and for the filmmakers and for the storytelling of it all, we wanted to keep some aspect of hope alive,” Reeves says.
“In a weird way, it’s almost a continuance even beyond the death of John Wick. Will he come back, will he resurrect? In a way so that he could have this sweet-bitter, bitter-sweet [ending], leaving it up to the audience. That even if he did die, the audience would hopefully feel that he had a good death. And be happy for John and his peace. And if you didn’t want it to be the end of the character, there might be a glimmer of hope.”
One thing is certain: no viewer would be satisfied with the ending if John’s death came at the hands of someone unworthy of claiming the title of John Wick’s slayer. Fortunately, those hands belong to Donnie Yen, martial arts icon, who makes a striking appearance in the series as the Daredevil-esque, cane-wielding Caine.
Caine is brought on with an order to kill John, and with his daughter’s life on the line, he has no choice but to comply.
His character is unlike anything we’ve seen before, but perhaps that wouldn’t be the case if the role had been given to someone else. Yen previously spoke out about how he’d requested to have certain elements of his character changed – things too often seen in martial arts roles, such as stereotypical names and attire.
Reeves gives a nod to the actor for transforming the role into something more. “He did what a wonderful artist would do, and he came to the story and wanted to make it his own. And he did that. I thought his performance was lovely and layered and textured and emotional. And I think the role afforded him that opportunity, and I think he took that opportunity and made something beautiful.”
Yen wasn’t the only martial arts veteran in the film, as Hiroyuki Sanada assumed his long-awaited place in the franchise. Originally cast as Zero in the third chapter, an injury during training delayed his arrival. But this new role as John Wick’s loyal friend Koji Shimazu might have been more fitting for him anyway.
“When Chad called me again, I was so happy. I had to return to him someday.”
“I love Koji Shimazu because my role is an old, old friend of John. John and Koji grew up together, trained together, and helped each other. It was easy to use our own chemistry in the role.”
It’s been 12 years since Sanada and Reeves worked together on a set, for the 2013 film “47 Ronin,” and Sanada says it’s as though no time has passed for the two and their chemistry together.
While it was Sanada’s first time working with Yen, the two moved along with ease, he says, their background making it easy for the two to collaborate and improvise on set.
“No need for words. We just do it – move, put in the ideas. No rehearsal, just BOOM!” he exclaims, snapping his fingers. “We had a basic choreograph, but on set, we always put in new ideas. And then Chad, watching us, gave us freedom. Chad was enjoying our collaboration and chemical reaction.”
Taken under Sanada’s wing during months of training and daily reading sessions was Rina Sawayama, the singer-songwriter making her film debut in Chapter 4 as Koji’s daughter Akira.
“When we started shooting, it felt like father and daughter bonding time. Like a real father and daughter,” he said, his pride evident when he went on to speak about her confidence on her first day on set.
Koji departs from the film too soon for many viewers, but Sanada offers us a more definitive resolution than John’s unforeseeable fate:
“She [Akira] will hold onto my spirit. She’ll do something [with it]. I don’t need to do it myself.”
Grace Kim is a New York-based Entertainment Contributor for NextShark
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