There are a number of “Interesting Facts About John Wick” listicles out there. (http://www.hollywood.com/movies/x-facts-you-didnt-know-about-john-wick-60646890/ served as source for me here)
Among the things one learns is that Keanu Reeves had a 104 degree fever due to the flu during the shooting of the “upper floor” of the Russian Nightclub scene, which we are in the meat of. (There is also claim he learned all the choreography on the day of shooting which I find dubious given the slick polish but he is a consummate professional. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was true.)
It strikes me that this might add something to the general sense of altered reality that permeates this whole sequence, the intent, superhuman focus of John Wick. Presumably “don’t barf or pass out, hit your marks” was a running commentary in Keanu’s addled brain here.
He did train in several wrestling arts (Judo, Japanese ju-jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu — I currently hold several international medals and a three stripe purple belt in BJJ myself) for the movie and it pays off here, as John Wick pushes the standing corpse of the last redshirt he shot through the double doors of this padded, brightly lit waiting area, through a similar hallway and back into the moody blue and red lighting and pounding music of the nightclub proper.
For clarity, I refer to wrestling arts as ‘ground’ and boxing/striking arts as ‘stand-up’.
During this thirty seconds John displays several of what have already been established as his signatures: absolute focus, perfect aim, snap decision making (he never shoots a civilian) , smooth, calm physicality and ‘holding down a guy till I have time to shoot him in the head’.
Possibly the most effective tactic in hand to hand combat is elevation change. Bursting through that double door after his last target John goes down to the floor as another guard rushes him, grabbing that man’s arm and spinning on his back. His right leg hooks the man’s knee, a sweep take down familiar in all the aforementioned ground arts. And then John proceeds to hold this feckless, luckless red shirt down by the forehead as he shoots at mobile targets in several directions.
At one point the guy tries to get up, raising an arm. John spins on one knee, sweep kicking that hand back down. This motion stands out in the fray as looking like the single move I was able to pick out, even on first watch, as seeming “choreographed”. It’s smooth and pretty but it’s slow. Staged even. I blame that flu bug.
Then he shoots the guy in the face and moves to the next stage of the club, back to the mood lighting. Weirdly, Iosef hasn’t made it out of the building yet (Wick spots him running on the catwalk and out another door in the next section), which given the timing here is a little weird but okay.
John reloads again, advancing onto the mezzanine of the club. The integration of gunplay and hand to hand continues, John using his weapon as a blunt instrument more than once, to club and shove men off him. 52:56 has one of the best examples of this in the movie where John uses the weight of the gun in his hand to upward break the extended arm of an attacker. It’s a throw away moment, barely registering in motion, but pure magic from an action standpoint. Those upward arm breaks are a BJJ standard, applied to the elbow joints in submission grappling to allow for a tap before permanent damage occurs — in combat, as the movie shows, the joint or or bone are equal targets. Even that (approximately) two extra pounds of weight the loaded gun provides would be devastating, in terms of kinetic impact.
At 53:00 we pause, John once more silhouetted in the bright colored lights of the club, about to execute a spinning arm control on another attacker.
I have to say, as a BJJ practitioner, that art’s fingerprints are all over this section (and the next few). I was already in love with the movie before now but at this point I would have cheerfully given years off my life to go back in time and be involved in making it. The intricate, intelligent, polished (as I said) seamless violent beauty of even just this thirty seconds of time are breathtaking.
And we’re not even at the best bit yet.
Next time Chapter 12: What’s With the Mustache?