The Russian Nightclub “fight scene” in John Wick became almost instantly one of the greatest set pieces ever put on film. It’s the ultimate expression of what “Gun-Fu” should be. (Gun-Fu is a term from the Christian Bale movie Equilibrium that posits a kind of close combat martial art with hand guns involving an instantaneous, super human calculation of trajectories). The John Wick version is by comparison simple, brutal and intense.
So, exactly like the rest of the movie.
It’s hard to talk about the Russian Nightclub in a vacuum so I’m doing this prologue, covering the two minutes leading up the kick off.
Even those two minutes don’t cover the gentle mercy of Wick giving the guard Francis a chance to leave before the fighting starts. Francis — an older man, grizzled and massive — clearly has little personal loyalty to the flashy punks being raised as the next generation. And he knows there won’t be anyone left alive to chastise or contradict him at the end of the fight. He can walk and make up a good story later.
Then we enter the bathroom of the spa area under the club and see Victor (Toby Moore — who plays the right hand man of the Kingpin in the first Netflix season of Daredevil and is brilliant in it) cleaning up.
It’s moodily lit, in low red and blue and there is no background music, other than the muffled pounding of the nightclub through the ceiling, one presumes.
This scene serves to build tension and reinforce the “horror movie but we’re rooting for the unstoppable killer” motif as the camera and audience see Wick silently knife a man in the reflection in the mirror, but Victor, head down, misses it.
Victor does see the blood and turns into Wick’s punch, a straight to the nose with the same precision as his knifing showed. Wick questions Victor with the aid of a few well-placed blows (among them a savage leg break) and a towel garrote.
This is the spot we get the first real recital of the sins committed against Wick as he kills one of the perpetrators, his “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…”
It’s not clear if he drowns Victor or breaks his neck, though they heavily imply the more concrete and certain neck break.
The Massacre at Casa Wick isn’t personal. He’s just making sure he stays alive to exact his revenge; it’s just cool, precise self-defence.
But here, as we lead into the body of the fight, we see a more reckless Wick, charging alone into an uncontrolled, uncontrollable space, with an unknown number of opponents and an environment he can’t predict.
So we get the knowledge that Wick’s not hidebound. That he’s used to and good at improvisation. And that he thrives on both being the attacker — and thus in control of the forward motion of the action — and doing the unexpected.
This is the “old” John Wick, the one who’s name Aurelio (John Leguizamo) only had to invoke to be absolved of what one would think was the capital crime of striking the boss man’s son.
This is the Angel of Death made flesh.
And the Angel is coming for Iosef through the guards on the bathhouse level, one knife strike at a time.
The Russian Nightclub Gun Battle is about to kick off.
Next time: 50:00 to 50:30 Bringing a Knife AND a Gun to a Gunfight