Although a lot of us have entered the “John Wick” franchise thinking that it’s its own thing, a mere peek into the history of cinema will show that action-packed series owes a lot to samurai films, Westerns, and of course, action films from the days of yore. And Chad Stahelski and his incredible team are well aware of that, and they wear their inspirations on their sleeves. All the “John Wick” films are filled with references, Easter eggs, and homages to films and literature, and “John Wick: Chapter 4” is no different. Since we probably have a long way to go, let’s not waste any time and get on with it.
Major Spoilers Ahead
“John Wick: Chapter 4” opens with lines from Dante’s Inferno. When John Wick met the Bowery King for the first time, he said that John’s descent into Hell had begun, thereby referencing Dante’s Inferno from “Divine Comedy,” which involved Dante going to Hell via nine stages of suffering with a poet of Roman descent, Virgil. John technically has been through Hell; he has almost died, and he has returned to the world of the living. Now, he’s about to unleash Hell on those who’ve wronged him. So, maybe the repurposing of the famous poem doesn’t exactly mean that John is journeying into Hell. In fact, he’s becoming the personification of Hell, and everyone has to pass through him to survive. BTW, out of all the action scenes in “John Wick 4,” John personally appears in a total of 9 setpieces. So, the allegory makes sense. The first one is in Morocco, the second one is on the rooftop of the Osaka Continental, the third one is in the glass panes of the Osaka Continental, the fourth one is against Killa, the fifth one is at the 7th arrondissement of Paris, the sixth one is at the Arc de Triomphe, the seventh one is in that house, the eighth one is on the Montmartre stairs, and the ninth one is the duel at the Sacré Coeur.
Lawrence Of Arabia
David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” match cut a close-up shot of Peter O’Toole blowing out a burning matchstick with an extremely long shot of a sunrise. After lighting up a pentagon in John Wick’s training room, the Bowery King takes a deep breath and then blows out the matchstick. That’s when editor Nathan Orloff cut to a shot of the sunrise. I don’t think that’s where the references end because the horse riders of the High Table and John Wick riding in the distance, barely recognizable due to the heat shimmer, echo the shot of Sherif Ali arriving at his well.
Ned Kelly’s apparent last words are brought up multiple times to comment on accepting death because Wick and Winston are not just preparing themselves to confront death, but accept it as well. But, probably more interestingly, Kelly and his gang were synonymous with a bulletproof suit that protected their chest, shoulders, back, and crotch, along with a helmet that protected their head. That was all the way back in 1879. Meanwhile, “John Wick” imagines a future where assassins can wear a three-piece bulletproof suit that can even resist bullets from a shotgun.
Marquis’ Father Can Be A Follower Of Martha Beck
When Winston and Charon meet Marquis Vincent de Gramont, he says that his father used to tell him that how one does anything is how one should do everything. Apparently, the aforementioned quote was coined by Martha Beck, who is an author, life coach, and public speaker with various degrees from Harvard University. So, it seems like one of the writers, or Chad himself, is a fan of Beck and, hence, has decided to include her teachings in this circus of violence.
The first name that comes to everyone’s mind upon seeing Donnie Yen’s Caine, a blind, cane-sword-wielding mercenary, is Zatoichi. Created by Kan Shimozawa, the character made his first appearance in a 1948 essay and eventually went on to feature in 26 films while being portrayed by Shintaro Katsu, Takeshi Kitano, Show Aikawa, and Shingo Katori. Caine’s penchant for not being interested in gambling is probably a subversion of Zatoichi’s habit of gambling. But since Yen is from Hong Kong and Zatoichi is Japanese, I am not sure if the comparison is fair. By the way, Yen has played a blind action hero before in “Rogue One.” And going by the tease at the end of “John Wick 4,” he’ll be playing Caine for a long time now.
The Menpo Mask
The High Table soldiers from “John Wick 3” wore pretty generic-looking but bulletproof masks. The ones in “John Wick 4,” though, wear bulletproof menpo since they are Japanese. Traditionally, the menpo was worn by samurai warriors in feudal Japan. But since this is modern Japan, you see gun-wielding soldiers wearing it, thereby keeping up with the times and staying in touch with their roots.
No, I’m not talking about the DC comic series, the DC animated film, or the upcoming “Flash” movie, which is based on “Flashpoint.” I’m talking about the Hong Kong action film by Wilson Yip featuring Donnie Yen, marking the duo’s second collaboration and paving the way for many future collaborations. Anyway, in a kinetic fighting scene in “Flash Point,” Donnie Yen did a wind-up punch, something that’s usually seen in animated fighting scenes. But he did it with such conviction that no one batted an eye, and it became instantly iconic. In “John Wick: Chapter 4,” we see Yen do it again after displaying his other iconic move, i.e., the flurry of punches made famous in “Ip Man” (another film by Wilson Yip and starring Donnie Yen).
Although the origins of the nunchaku are iffy, if you mention that particular weapon, everyone associates it with Bruce Lee because he was the one who made it incredibly popular, at least in films. So, when John Wick starts using a nunchaku to bash anyone and everyone around him, you can feel the spirit of Bruce Lee flowing through that scene. In addition to that, Donnie Yen’s black suit, white shirt, and black tie ensemble is probably an homage to Bruce Lee, something that Yen incorporated into the film to push back against the racist characterization of his role. This isn’t the first time the franchise has referenced Lee because “Chapter 2” had an entire fight sequence set in a room full of mirrors, much like the one from “Enter the Dragon.”
Scott Adkins as Killa in that purple three-piece suit is a very obvious homage to the legendary Sammo Hung’s appearance in “SPL: Sha Po Lang.” Guess who else was in that movie? That’s right. Donnie Yen. Well, “John Wick: Chapter 4” isn’t the first time that Adkins has appeared across Yen. Adkins has also worked with Yen in “Ip Man 4.” Although Adkins doesn’t share screen space with Marko Zaror (who plays Chidi) in this film, they’ve worked together before in “Undisputed III: Redemption” and “Savage Dog.” By the way, if you are hearing the names of Scott Adkins and Sammo Hung, or even Donnie Yen, for the first time, there’s no need to be ashamed. Just make a note of it and start watching all the incredible work they’ve done.
I Am Klaus
If the director, writers, and Keanu himself punch me for saying what I am about to say, I’ll totally take it. But when Klaus kept saying, “I am Klaus,” I was instantly reminded of this running gag from Craig Ferguson’s era of “The Late Late Show,” where he and his fellow robot skeleton, Geoff (Josh Robert Thompson), pretended to be German. Geoff dubbed himself Klaus and kept saying, “I am Klaus,” at the end of every sentence. If not that, it can be a homage to Groot from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” who can only say, “I am Groot.”
John Wick Self References
The first “John Wick” film had the titular character running after Iosef in a club called the Red Circle while wading through a sea of people dancing between pulsating lights. After losing sight of him, Wick unleashed his gun-jutsu on Iosef’s henchmen, and it ended with Wick being thrown off the balcony by Kirill, played by Daniel Bernhardt. Echoes of that scene are there in the fight sequence in Killa’s nightclub (which is a combo of Kraftwerk Berlin and the Alte Nationalgalerie), down to the rave, the music, and Wick’s fall from a great height. There’s no Bernhardt in this scene because Kirill was technically killed in “John Wick.” But the actor has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo when the assassins in Paris prepare their guns because Bernhardt has a long working relationship with Keanu and Chad. Additionally, Winston repeats a line from “Parabellum” as he sees the commencement of the attack of the assassins on Jonathan.
The place where Winston meets the Marquis is filled with paintings. The ones that I noticed are “The Raft of the Medusa,” “The Barque of Dante,” “The Death of Sardanapalus,” and “Liberty Leading the People,” among many, many others. Winston says that the painting “Liberty Leading the People” represents the cost of tyranny. But, as per Delacroix, that’s liberty personified, and she is leading the people to freedom. Given the context of the scene in “John Wick 4,” it makes sense because John is looking to be free of the bindings of the High Table, while Winston is seeking the cessation of his exile.
When Winston begins to leave, Vincent reminds him that if Wick loses the duel, he has to die with him. Winston looks at the painting next to him, which is “The Raft of the Medusa” by Théodore Géricault, and repeats Ned Kelly’s saying. I am not sure if there’s any thematic significance there, but I don’t think it’ll be a stretch to say that there’s a direct line between the painting’s commentary on survival by cannibalizing one another and everything that’s happening in “Chapter 4” for the sake of survival. On a side note, this scene and the conversation kind of reminded me of a similar scene set in an art museum in “Skyfall” between James Bond and his quartermaster.
“John Wick 4” has a pivotal scene at the Trocadéro Square, where the location and time of the duel are decided, and an action scene at the Arc de Triomphe, where Wick is chased by a bunch of assassins. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” had a pivotal scene at the Trocadéro Square, where Walker revealed his true intentions, and an action scene at the Arc de Triomphe, where Ethan Hunt was chased down by the French police. Given how “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” was one of the greatest action films of the past decade, it makes sense to tip one’s hat to that film. Yes, it can be totally random. But given how prominent “Fallout” was, I think it was on Chad and the rest of the team’s radar before going into their own film.
John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves, sits in the Mairie des Lilas subway station and waits for the train to arrive. Subway stations and trains were a big part of Neo’s (also played by Keanu Reeves) journey in “The Matrix” and “The Matrix Revolutions.” The connections do not end there, of course. Laurence Fishburne has played the role of Morpheus in “The Matrix” franchise, and he also portrays the Bowery King in the “John Wick” films. Chad Stahelski, the genius behind the “John Wick” franchise, has also been a part of the stunt team in “The Matrix” movies along with David Leitch. Chad doubled for Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix” films and showed up as a major character named Chad in “The Matrix Resurrections.” The subway scene in “John Wick 4” has Wick standing in front of a mirror, which is an object that’s used to bring someone out of the Matrix and later used to travel between locations inside the Matrix. There’s a long-running fan theory that the entirety of the “John Wick” series is a simulation that Neo is in.
During the subway scene, the painting titled “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Caravaggio shows up as the Bowery King hands over Wick’s newly made suit. The painting depicts Thomas the Apostle’s doubts about the resurrection of Jesus Christ as he wanted to know if Christ had been really killed and then resurrected. John Wick has a lot of Christian imagery. John Wick kind of looks like the most popular depiction of Jesus Christ. He technically dies in “Chapter 3” and is resurrected in “John Wick 4.” I don’t think anyone casts doubt on his return. But there’s this underlying theme that if Wick manages to beat Caine and Vincent at the duel, he’ll become a “sect,” which is exactly what happened when Christ returned from the dead. So maybe that’s the parallel that is being drawn here.
This one is pretty simple. Walter Hill’s “The Warriors” had a radio announcer updating the progress of the protagonists as they make their way through New York City while being attacked by the antagonists. The final act of “John Wick: Chapter 4” features Wick going all the way from the 7th arrondissement to the Sacré-Cur, while a radio jockey updates the assassins about Wick’s location and plays songs like “Nowhere to Run” and “Marie Douceur, Marie Colère” to set the mood. It’s kind of hilarious that the radio channel is named WUXIA, which is the genre that films like “14 Blades,” “House of Flying Daggers,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Hero,” and “Shadow” belong to.
Dragon’s Breath! I can’t believe that tons of people claim that they love Keanu Reeves’ “Constantine” and that they want a sequel. And yet, when Dragon’s Breath showed up, and Wick used it to shoot up a bunch of assassins, not a lot of people noticed the “Constantine” reference. Anyway, Dragon’s Breath is a rare piece of weaponry that was given to John Constantine to fight off literal demons. Yes, both of those characters, played by Keanu Reeves, are named John. Both of those characters are associated with Christian imagery. And both of them have now used a firearm called “Dragon’s Breath.” Is John Wick secretly John Constantine? No, but you are free to use your imagination.
‘Door,’ ‘Hotline Miami,’ Or ‘Malignant’
After the bike chase and before climbing up the stairs, John Wick has to fight a bunch of assassins in an abandoned apartment. It’s a single-take or one-take sequence. But instead of doing it the traditional way, with the camera following the character from behind and then inserting cuts whenever something crosses the frame, Chad and his team go for a top-down angle, likely with the help of a drone camera. Hence, we get an eagle’s-eye view of the whole scene. There are similar scenes in the 1988 film “Door” by Banmei Takahashi and the 2021 James Wan film, “Malignant.” At least, these are the two films that come to mind. In addition to that, there are tons of top-down shooter games, but the one that makes heavy use of a shotgun is “Hotline Miami.” It can be either of them or none of them, but there’s no doubt about the fact that it’s a fantastic action sequence.
As per Letterboxd, Chad Stahelski loves “Amélie.” That’s what brought him to the Sacré-Cur. But during that process, he discovered the side steps leading up to the location. And that’s why we got that painful but hugely enjoyable fight sequence on the Montmartre stairs.
John Wick is famous for using a pencil to kill people. We saw him actually do it in “Chapter 2.” But in “Chapter 4,” it’s actually Donnie Yen’s Caine who puts a pencil through Chidi’s hand. Given Caine and John Wick’s friendship, it’s possible that Wick acquired the ability to use a pencil like a knife from Caine.
‘The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly’
Well, there are several references to “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” directed by one of the most prolific filmmakers, Sergio Leone. John Wick having echoes of the Man with No Name, played by Clint Eastwood, is as clear as day. Then there’s Shamier Anderson’s Mr. Nobody, who is literally a man without a name. Blondie, or The Man with No Name, possesses a pocket watch that plays music when opened. Caine possesses a similar pocket watch, which has a photo of his daughter in it. And then there’s the duel between Caine and Wick, complete with Western-esque music mixed with Wick’s theme.
These are just some of the references, Easter Eggs, and homages in “John Wick 4.” Some of them have been purposefully inserted into the film by the makers, and the rest are parallels that I have observed. They can be correct, or they can be wrong. Either way, it greatly impacted my viewing experience. That said, if you notice any inspirations, hat tips, or details other than the aforementioned ones, please feel free to share them with “John Wick” fans.