Tag Archives: Donnie Yen

Freedom from Tyranny

John Wick: Chapter 4

by Hope Madden

What do you want to know? John Wick: Chapter 4 doesn’t disappoint.

Guns, blades, cars, swords, fire, motorcycles, explosions, horses, bludgeonings, fisticuffs, playing cards, dogs. Of course, dogs.

Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Clancy Brown, Bill Skarsgard, Shamier Anderson, Aimee Kwan, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Keanu Reeves and Lance Reddick. Farewell, Lance.

Do you need to see the first three installments to follow the plot? No. It’s good to know that John Wick (Reeves) wears a bulletproof suit. Otherwise, he’d just look silly pulling up his lapel all the time. Other than that, you can probably figure out the gist. The stakes? High. The villains? Bad. The good guys? Professional villains. The best thing about being four episodes in is the needlessness of context or exposition.

Chad Stahelski returns to helm the latest, having carved out an impressive niche in action with his 2014 original. Since then, John Wick has become a cultural phenomenon sparking more copycat action flicks than Die Hard or Taken and solidifying Reeves as an undeniable if  unusual cinematic presence.

Chapter 4 is not just more of what makes the series memorable, it’s better: better action, better cinematography, better fight choreography, better framing and shot selection. Sandwiched between inspired carnage are brief moments of exposition set within sumptuous visions of luxury and decadence. This movie is absolutely gorgeous.

One of the reasons each episode of this franchise surpasses the last is that the franchise is not exactly about John Wick. It’s a love letter to a canon, a song about the entire history of onscreen assassins and their honorable, meticulous action. Genre legends arrive and we accept a backstory that isn’t detailed or necessary because the actors carry their cinematic history with them, and that’s backstory enough.

It’s hard to believe it took this many sequels to get us to John Wick v Donnie Yen, but it was worth the wait. Yen’s wryly comedic presence injects the film with needed levity. Plus he’s a better actor than Reeves and he looks less silly when he runs.

Skarsgard ­– though his French accent is dubious – fits the bill as the diabolically privileged Marquis who’s forgotten that “a man’s ambition should never exceed his worth.”

Hats off to Stahelski, his entire ensemble, stunt department, action choreographers and crew. No one could have guessed back in 2014 how this would snowball, but the director at the helm has managed to up his game once again.

In Fact, It’s a Little Bit Frightening

Kung Fu Killer

by Hope Madden

Do you love Hong Kong action movies? Director Teddy Chan does. To prove it, he’s created a love letter to the genre with his latest film KUNG FU KILLER.

Someone is murdering martial arts masters, beating each with his own specialty. Does the noble (yet righteously imprisoned) master Hanhou Mo (Donnie Yen) hold the key to finding the culprit before he kills again? And even if he does, can he be trusted?

The film’s a pretty traditional police procedural – spring Hanhou Mo from prison and he’ll help you catch your killer – but really it’s an excuse for hand to hand combat, then blade to blade combat, sometimes on rooftop, sometimes in boats, sometimes on giant skeletons of some kind, sometimes in traffic…

To enjoy this film you will have to open yourself up to it. It helps if you can also overlook the poor police work…and the acting…and the writing. But let’s be honest, that’s hardly the point of this exercise. One guy is killing masters in each discrete martial arts skill – weapons, boxing, grappling, etc. – and working his way toward the one man who has mastered them all, Hanhou Mo.

Is it true what evil Fung Yu-Sau (Baoqiang Wang) says, that martial arts is meant to kill? Can Hanhou Mo do as his beloved asks and restrain his fists? Oh Hanhou Mo, why must you be so damn noble?!

Chan celebrates his genre, peppering scenes with loving odes and fun cameos. Yen – veteran of every facet of martial arts and Hong Kong filmmaking – may not be much of an actor, but he’s fun to watch in this mash note of a movie. His Hanhou Mo is as elegant and restrained as Wang’s Fung Yu-Sau is disheveled and explosive, making them an intriguing set of oppositions in battle.

Chen’s camera is the real star, though, capturing the flashing swords and flailing limbs like surgical instruments or ballet moves. He throws in enough retro reaction shots to overjoy longtime fans – clearly the audience for the film – but finds his own visual flair.

KUNG FU KILLER is not a great movie. But it knows what it is, and with one goal in mind it delivers the goods.