“No one knew what I was talking about,” laughs Stahelski while discussing how he came up with that easter egg. “Even the screenwriters were like ‘What are you talking about?’” Wuxia is the genre of fantasy-themed Kung Fu films, novels, and comics. Like Tolkien and sci-fi, wuxia influenced John Wick.
“In Japan, it’s Chanbara, you know, the samurai movies—just slang for Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang!” Stahelski says. The idea came out of discussions between the director and star Donnie Yen, who plays blind Caine in John Wick: Chapter 4. Yen has starred in dozens of Wuxia films throughout his career and just finished directing and starring in Sakra, a film based on a classic Wuxia novel. Yen and Stahelski wanted to give Wuxia a subtle nod. “No one’s getting us, so I’m just gonna name the radio station and see if somebody gets it.”
Assembling the Assassins
Along with Yen, Stahelski tapped some of the best leading men of action in the business for John Wick: Chapter 4. For authenticity’s sake, he sought actors who were genuine martial arts practitioners. The choice is in keeping with 2019’s John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, which saw the inclusion of Mark Dacascos (Zero), Yayan Ruhian (Shinobi #2), and Cecep Arif Rahman (Shinobi #1). For Chapter 4, Stahelski reached out to old friends and actors he’s been a fan of for years, veteran martial arts actors like Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada for the role of Shimazu, Marko Zaror to play Chidi, Scott Adkins to become unrecognizable under mounds of makeup as Fat Killa, and Bill Skarsgård for the villainous Marquis. Additionally, he added some fresh blood in the mix, bringing on Shamier Anderson as the anti-hero Tracker and Rina Sawayama to play Akira, a daughter who quickly finds herself in need of revenge.
The filmmaker found Anderson though another project he produced.
“I’d worked with on this little movie that I knew through Halle Berry called Bruised. And he had this small part, kind of a dirtball promoter.” Initially, Stahelski approached Anderson covertly, downplaying the movie he was casting for. He told Anderson that he was working on something akin to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and he was looking for someone to be like Eli Wallach’s character, but he was going to have a dog. “I didn’t tell him what it was for and he was like, ‘Wait, is it John Wick 4? I’m in! I’m in! Whatever!’ He didn’t miss a beat.” Anderson has a background in Boxing and Wing Chun, plus he stands at six feet and two inches, so he’s built for action.
The lead female assassin was something completely different. Rina Sawayama is a reigning pop music singer who had never acted prior to John Wick: Chapter 4 beyond her music videos. “I found Rina Sawayama on a YouTube video. I just liked the way she looked, and then I went down the rabbit hole of all her videos…” Stahelski cold called her in London from Berlin and asked her to come for an audition. She thought he was a little crazy, but Stahelski offered to fly her over and introduce her to Reeves. “It was one of the best auditions I’ve ever seen,” he claims. “She went from never having acted in anything other than music videos to massive scenes with Hiroyuki Sanada, Donnie Yen, and Keanu Reeves and she nailed it in the stunts. We couldn’t have been more happy.”