The transcript below is from the video “Every Real Martial Artist Who Appeared In The John Wick Films” by Looper.
From kickboxing to kicking everyone’s butt, here are real martial artists who appeared in the John Wick films.
The 2014 “John Wick” film didn’t mark Daniel Bernhardt’s first time sharing the screen with Keanu Reeves. He had previously appeared as one of the sinister agents alongside Reeves’ Neo in “The Matrix Reloaded.” However, “John Wick” allowed the two to battle in a more direct and tense encounter. In the film, Bernhardt plays one of Viggo’s stooges, Kirill. He tries to suffocate John by putting a bag over his head during a tight and closely matched clash for survival. John wins, of course. As Bernhardt revealed to Kung-fu Kingdom, he trained in kung fu and moved on to kickboxing and boxing at a later stage. He also practiced Taekwondo, and trained under Grandmaster Hee-iI Cho when he did “Bloodsport 2.” Bernhardt has kicked his way into numerous films and television projects in the action genre. He even had a starring role in the short-lived series “Mortal Kombat: Conquest.” Speaking about his “John Wick” experience with Kung-fu Kingdom, Bernhardt credited Chad Stahelski for how the fight scenes turned out, saying, “Chad has done every martial art you can imagine. He’s a master in probably 10 martial arts, there’s nobody else that I know that’s more gifted than him.”
Not many people recognized Scott Adkins as Killa Harkan when images of the character first surfaced for “John Wick: Chapter 4.” Yet, the Kingpin-esque character showed off something that most Adkins fans have known for a while – he is a versatile and talented actor with enviable martial arts skills. Whether he is literally kicking it alongside action superstars like Jean-Claude Van Damme’s and Sylvester Stallone in “The Expendables 2,” fighting his way into B-movie excellence with “Boyka: Undisputed,” or bringing the laughs in Netflix’s vampire comedy “Day Shift,” Adkins always delivers. While he has become the undisputed king of direct-to-video action movies, the British actor’s history with martial arts began when he started taking judo lessons at 10 years old. However, a mugging incident in his early teens inspired him to take his training even more seriously, prompting his studies of Taekwondo and kickboxing. Eventually, he trained himself up to instructor level in kickboxing. As Adkins revealed to The Wrap, he has known Chad Stahelski for a while and asked to be a part of the “John Wick” films. “I’ve been bugging him since John Wick 1!” Eventually, the director brought Adkins into the fold but informed him his role wouldn’t be as straightforward as he imagined. Adkins told the outlet, “[Stahelski said] ‘You’re going to be in a [fat suit], playing this German head of the German Table. I actually relished the challenge and the opportunity to create such an amazingly evil, yet jolly character.”
Does Donnie Yen even need an introduction at this point? He’s one of the most celebrated Hong Kong action stars of all time. His films have changed the landscape of action cinema and pushed the boundaries of what’s possible with each release. Rightfully so, “John Wick: Chapter 4” includes the bona fide legend in the role of Caine – an acquaintance of John and a lethal blind assassin. In terms of martial arts ability, Yen is the real deal. In an interview with Men’s Journal, he revealed his martial arts training started at a young age, saying, “My mother was a martial arts master and she used to run a wushu school, so I started my training with her. But there was a quick fascination for what the body could turn into, as well as with the physical aspect of martial arts. I was innately a curious person and I found myself hungry for knowledge on how to get stronger.” Yen explained how his desire to improve took him down a path of discovery where he also enrolled in boxing classes and took up bodybuilding. All these elements combined helped him to build the discipline needed for martial arts and acting. When he was cast as the iconic Ip Man, Yen also trained with Wing Chun masters, developing his skills even further.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Mark Dacascos is one of the most underrated actors in the business. Since the early ’90s, he has appeared in smaller budget films such as “Only the Strong” and “Brotherhood of the Wolf.” However, he only received his flowers when he was cast as the main antagonist Zero in “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.” “I am happy to say that on John Wick, no injuries.” Thanks to his electric performance and phenomenal moves, the world finally saw Dacascos has the action chops to rival the Van Dammes and Seagals of the world. Dacascos has a serious martial arts pedigree in real life as well. His father is Sifu Al Dacascos, the founder of Wun Hop Kuen Do Kung Fu, while his stepmother Malia Dacascos Bernal is one of the most celebrated and dominant martial arts fighters in the U.S. In an interview with Inside Kung-Fu, Dacascos revealed how he had maintained his training in wun hop kuen do, while also learning Muay Thai. He also discussed why he never stopped training, even when he wasn’t doing many action projects at the time. He told the outlet, “I come from a traditional martial arts family and it’s my hope I never stop training and I never lose that traditional aspect of it. Meaning the salutation before and after class, the respect, the discipline, the honor — I love that.”
Chilean actor Marko Zaror might not be an instantly recognizable name to the general American audience, but for action connoisseurs, his presence in a film is a sure indication that it will metaphorically and literally kick hard. In “John Wick: Chapter 4,” Zaror plays Chidi, the ruthless High Table member who tests the ire of everyone as he attempts to put down another dog in this franchise. Fortunately, no one is about to let that slide around here anymore, and he gets his just desserts. Zaror became interested in martial arts after watching the likes of Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Bruce Lee. Inspired by these on-screen superstars, Zaror began his training at a young age and was well established in Taekwondo and kickboxing by the time he was an adult. From there, his path took him into modeling before he found his footing in acting. Speaking to film journalist Rohan Patel, Zaror revealed how much work he puts into preparation for his movies. He explained he treats them as if they are his “Olympic Games” and he needs to arrive on set ready to compete at the highest level.
As the big bad of “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” Zero has a few disciples who duel with John in the film. Two of his Shinobi assassins face off against John in arguably the film’s centerpiece fight
in the glass office. One of the assassins is portrayed by actor and martial artist Yayan Ruhian. Indonesian action cinema fans know all about Ruhian from his appearances in Gareth Evans’ “The Raid” films.
He is very fast and able to keep up with other sublime martial artists such as Joe Taslim and Iko Uwais. Ruhian is a practitioner of pencak silat and became an in-demand instructor, even teaching
the Indonesian police force at one point in his career. However, martial arts isn’t simply a hobby for him, as silat became a major part of his whole being. He told The Jakarta Post, “There is something that you call wiraga [physical aspects], wirasa [artistic aspects], and wirama [rhythm aspects] in silat. A silat practitioner must be able to master these aspects and they will eventually be beneficial in their lives.”
Hiroyuki Sanada has been in the film industry for decades. While he transitioned to Hollywood in the early 2000s, it feels like he only recently started receiving the praise he deserves. Hot off playing Scorpion in 2021’s “Mortal Kombat” and appearing in “Bullet Train” and “Army of the Dead,” Sanada was cast as Shimazu Koji in “John Wick: Chapter 4.” Sanada is also an accomplished martial artist who decided early on in his life that he would combine his love of martial arts with acting. He explained to KungFu Magazine that he enjoyed both Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen, so he found a way to merge all his passions into one. He trained in Shorinji Kempo and Kyokushinkai karate before he joined Japanese legendary actor Sonny Chiba’s stunt school. Sanada credited Chiba as his mentor, saying, “When I was 13 and training with Sonny, he told me that acting and actors have a long life, like a marathon, so the most important thing is to continue acting. And by the time I reach 30, that will be the time when I get a real first big chance to do something.”
The biggest highlight of the “John Wick” films is discovering how innovative John can be when he finds himself in trouble. Not only can he adapt his fighting style, but he can also switch up his strategy when
he encounters new and challenging opponents. In “John Wick: Chapter 2,” he meets a sumo assassin who isn’t going down easy, even after a hail of bullets and swift kicks to the groin. He appears to be an immovable object until a headshot from John’s pistol does the trick. The sumo assassin is portrayed by Yamamotoyama Ryūta, who is a former Japanese sumo wrestling champion. He was considered one of the heaviest sumo wrestlers of all time before transitioning into acting. Director Chad Stahelski revealed to Flickering Myth that before “John Wick: Chapter 2” he saw a sumo fight and decided he wanted to include a sumo wrestler in the movie. Then he met Ryūta and was immediately impressed by his sheer size. “I know kung fu.”
Tiger Hu Chen
Keanu Reeves owes a lot to Tiger Hu Chen. Initially, the two met on the set of “The Matrix,” where Chen acted as Reeves’ martial arts teacher and taught him the moves he needed to portray Neo. From there, a friendship developed between the two of them, with Reeves eventually directing the 2013 movie “Man of Tai Chi” and casting Chen in a pivotal role. Chen and Reeves received another chance to combine their powers in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” where Chen portrayed a Triad assassin. Before leaping into Hollywood, Chen achieved success as a martial artist. He had trained in wushu since the tender age of 8 and participated in several competitions before impressing in karate as well. His life changed, though, when he met fabled Hong Kong choreographer Yuen Woo-ping and it kickstarted his journey into the world of cinema.
“John Wick” started as a revenge film but has evolved into a massive universe with intriguing lore and dynamic characters. In “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum,” The Elder is introduced as a mysterious figure
who works with the High Table. Portraying the character is French actor Saïd Taghmaoui. While the actor is now known for his role in “John Wick” and his appearance in “Wonder Woman,” he was a boxer before he decided to hang up the gloves for the lights, camera, and action. He was quite accomplished as well, ranking second in his weight class in France. His role as The Elder also came at the right time for him as he had suffered something of a career setback in the recent past. Taghmaoui revealed he had been set to portray the Bond villain when Danny Boyle was attached to the project that became “No Time to Die.” However, after the director famously left the production, the filmmakers went in a different direction – one without Taghmaoui.
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