John Wick came out of nowhere with a gun in our face, and he's coming back for #JohnWickChapter2. It was the role #KeanuReeves was born to play – the stoic hitman badass with a touch of heart. He’s the type of character that bad guys like messing with to entertain us. Thank you, villains!
Among other badasses like Jason Bourne and Bryan Mills, #JohnWick is the kind of character we love to see get pissed off. Jason Bourne just wants to be left alone, and failing to kill him makes it worse. Bryan Mills just wants a decent job, but jerks had to kidnap his daughter. Hearing Liam Neeson’s angry voice is enough to keep you up at night. John Wick is the man you send to kill the boogeyman. We don’t ever want to set him off, because he’ll explode like silent dynamite. If any thug is still alive, consider it a privilege from John Wick.
It's An Old School, Martial Arts Revenge Movie
John Wick is the surprise action movie we all needed. It focused on excellent action choreography, non-verbal dialogue, and simple editing – three simple techniques that American action movies need to be successful films. What makes John Wick such a standout among other action flicks of the last decade is that it resembles most old school martial arts movies. We have our main character who wants nothing more than a simple life. When things go bad, they go on a fighting spree to get it back.
Old Shaw Brothers cinema had simple stories, with several characters sharing one common goal. Throughout the films, they would fight each other to get there. The classic #BruceLee movies always had vengeful characters, with no other thing in mind but anger and justice. No matter what it was, revenge was key and Bruce Lee was there to sidekick you to death. Take Bruce Lee out of those movies and replace him with John Wick — the results would barely change.
In his book, Commentaries on the Martial Way, Bruce Lee states how motivation to fight for life and death is the adrenaline from emotional experience. It is simple as someone you care about gets attacked – then boom! You’re pumped to fight. John Wick is no different to a Bruce Lee character and what he says about fighting. John Wick begins his story coping with the death of his wife. Even in death, his wife shows him a path to happiness in a form of a cuddly puppy. The old kung fu revenge flick doesn’t let happiness stick around, and John Wick’s quiet life is taken from him. Boom! He’s motivated to fight.
The simple premise quickly invites the action, and the action in John Wick is very interesting in terms of storytelling. The action speaks louder than words because the old school martial arts formula is driven forward the story. In a way, it’s like parkour, moving from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. With the old-school revenge flick, Bruce Lee would use the nunchaku as the extension of his body – a way of taking down his enemies as quickly as possible.
So too does John Wick, but with his unique style of gun-kata, a term coined in the movie #Equilibrium. Most old-fashion martial arts movies utilize this fight parkouring method, and examining John Wick, he is moving quickly from A to B to get justice. With such a simplistic form of storytelling, we are invested in the character emotionally and cheer every time he shoots a bad guy point blank. The simple premise also strengthens John Wick’s badassness because it pits him on a straight line where nothing can stop him. The mobster’s son was doomed the moment he spoke with John Wick at the gas station.
Bruce Lee's #EntertheDragon is almost the same as John Wick, as Bruce Lee's goal is to kill the man responsible for his sister's death. He goes from humble Shaolin member of the temple to determined killer. Flip his character with John Wick, and Bruce Lee would be punching and kicking people in night clubs rather than in fight tournaments.
The beautiful thing is that Bruce Lee and Keanu Reeves share similar physical acting tropes, keeping their dialogue at a minimum and letting their physical acting take control. Many would argue that Keanu Reeves's acting isn't all that great, but his stoic nature is wonderful. While Bruce Lee is a big philosopher on life and the martial way, he expresses the same as Reeves when it comes to emotion. With a film like John Wick, it's perfect for Reeves to channel Bruce Lee in a classic revenge tale.
The Old Formula Is Refreshing
Movies nowadays require at least a few cuts to establish one single flip or a punch. The fun thing about vintage martial arts movies are the limited cuts that show the awesome fights without being distracted. This is the same with John Wick. We see Wick fight and shoot people point blank with few cuts, and yet it feels so exhilarating. Bruce Lee choreographs his fight scenes a bit slower than the standard practice, and it (surprisingly) shows more intensity; it feels more grounded and believable.
So, what have we learned from the likes of Jason Bourne, Bryan Mills, John Wick, and even Bruce Lee? We know not to piss them off, but it’s so fun to see them take people down in a blink of an eye. It’s OK to say you want to watch a martial arts movie for the fights, because they are emotionally compelling. The old Shaw Brothers films always end, literally, at the very moment the good guy wins. The moment the bad guy dies, the good guy walks away and the credits hit the frame. John Wick does the same. After everything settles down, Wick finds another cuddly puppy to begin life again.
John Wick proves that it can be a throwback martial arts flick while reinvigorating the action genre in American cinema. Using tropes from a Bruce Lee movie is a refreshing step into giving simplicity the attention it deserves. John Wick is a movie Bruce Lee would make, but with nunchakus.