The plot of John Wick: Chapter 4 is still under wraps. But other details about the movie, which is currently in pre-production, are starting to come out as it gets closer to filming. One of those details is the film’s increasingly amazing cast.
At the beginning of the month, Deadline announced that martial arts legend Donnie Yen had signed on to play an old friend of John Wick’s. Last week, they reported that Japanese action star Hiroyuki Sanada, hot off his performances in Mortal Kombat and Army of the Dead, will be playing an as of yet undisclosed role. Yen and Sanada join an already amazing cast that also includes Bill Skarsgård, Shamier Anderson, pop artist Rina Sawayama, Laurence Fishburne and, of course, Keanu Reeves.
The talent and star power of these performers is undeniable. But there’s something else that we at the AWMA noticed as we looked over the cast list. They also bring a significant amount of martial arts experience to the table. Given the John Wick franchise’s deservedly good reputation for innovative and exciting fight scenes, we are excited to see where this leads.
In celebration and anticipation, we’re dedicating this week’s blog to a look at the many martial arts that are represented in the John Wick: Chapter 4 cast so far.
It would take a whole book to explore all of the martial arts that the incomparable Donnie Yen brings to the table. The self-described mixed martial artist has experience in Tai Chi, Taekwondo, Jeet Kune Do, Hapkido, Boxing, Kickboxing, Judo, wrestling, and more. He even invented his own martial art for the Star Wars universe.
But the most unique martial arts skill that Yen brings to the Wick universe is probably his extensive background in Wushu. When he was a teenager, Yen spent two years training in Wushu at the Beijing Shichahai Sports School. (That’s where he first met Jet Li.) He has since used those skills to successfully compete in Wushu and become a global action movie sensation.
And he’s still going strong.
According to the World Shorinji Kempo Organization, Shorinji Kempo is a training system that was founded by Doshin So in Japan in 1947. Its principles are self-reliance, strength, compassion and a desire to help others. Its benefits include an ability to defend yourself, improved physical condition, and mental well-being.
As it turns out, Shorinji Kempo can also provide the foundation for a lifelong action film career.
Hiroyuki Sanada began training in Kendo a few years after he made his cinematic debut in the 1965 Sonny Chiba vehicle Game of Chance. “When I started acting at five, since way back then, I always felt physically weak, knew I was not healthy,” he told Kung Fu Magazine. So by age eight I decided to do swimming and began practicing kendo for my health and not for film. At age 10 someone told me that if I wanted to ever do acting again in the future that I should stop. So I did.”
When his father passed away a year later, though, the young Sanada started looking for activities to ground him and to help him deal with emotions. What he found was Shorinji Kempo.
From Shorinji Kempo, Hiroyuki Sanada expanded his martial arts training to include Kyokushin Karate, the style of full-contact Karate that was founded in the 1950s by Mas Oyama. Armed with these martial arts foundations, Sanada went on to train at Japan’s first stunt school, Sonny Chiba’s Japan Action Club. Put together, all of this training has made Sanada one of the most well-rounded and interesting martial arts and action film stars.
There are also some photos of what appears to be a young Bill Skarsgård doing Karate floating around on Pinterest, but we haven’t been able to find any further information on them.
Donnie Yen also has a background in Karate.
Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne both trained extensively in Kung Fu while preparing for the original Matrix movie. The legendary choreographer Yuen Woo Ping agreed to sign on for the project on the condition that the actors themselves were willing to learn Kung Fu and wire work.
The actors were so impressed with what they learned that they told Kung Fu magazine that they were interested in keeping up their training after filming wrapped.
“I feel the best I’ve ever felt,” Laurence said, “and I hope I can continue the martial arts training. When the film is over, I’d like to find some people to teach me some more. And stay in it, because obviously it promotes the health and longevity. That’s no mystery. So the martial aspect, at least the health aspect of it for me, has been just the greatest blessing.”
“The push and pull, the resistance. The soft and the hard. What I really dug was the Chen style Tiger (one of the stuntmen) was showing me. I saw an article in your magazine about it, and I’d love to pursue that. If there was any form of taijiquan I’d do, I’d love to do Chen style. I like the speed of it, and the way they hold that power, shaking from the earth all the way out,” Reeves added.
Donnie Yen also has a background in Kung Fu.
Keanu Reeves trains in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Machados Jiu-Jitsu, and the influence of that work can be seen throughout the John Wick franchise.
“As you get deeper and deeper into training, you get less and less [of a] normal life, which I’ve enjoyed the focus of it,” Reeves said in a 2017 video about his BJJ career. “My friends are like, ‘Where did you go?”’I’m in the training paradigm. I really enjoyed the physical side of it. I’m a virgo. I like tasks, I like puzzles, I like trying to get good at something, so it’s fun to do the physical stuff.”
Donnie Yen has also trained in BJJ.
Laurence Fishburne has received some MMA-influenced self-defense training from none other than Anderson Silva.