The John Wick series is one of the biggest and most popular action movie franchises around, and it has had a wide array of martial arts stars as part of its collective cast, anchored by series lead Keanu Reeves. John Wick might’ve resembled a B-movie that had slipped through the straight-to-video cracks just ten years before its theatrical debut in 2014. However, it blew past all expectations, kickstarting an ongoing franchise that has grown into a cinematic universe. The series’ success owes in no small part to the array of exceptional martial arts talent on screen.
The John Wick movies have also brought a style of “martial arts meets gun fu” action all their own to the world. This has been in evidence throughout the first three films in the series so far, culminating in the carnage on display during 2019’s John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. As the series has moved along, it has brought more and more big names in the martial arts movie world on board. Where things now stand with the huge cast of John Wick: Chapter 4, the franchise has even come to surpass the ensemble gimmick of The Expendables.
The John Wick series is firmly established as the action movie gold standard across the board, and especially so for martial arts specifically. It should be of little surprise, then, that more and more legends of martial arts films are eager to jump into each new chapter of John Wick’s adventures. Here are the major martial arts movie stars who have appeared in the John Wick movies thus far.
John Wick fans know Daniel Bernhardt well as the formidable assassin Kirill, and he’s a performer audiences are quite familiar with. Bernhardt began his career in action films as Kumite competitor Alex Cardo in Bloodsport II: The Next Kumite. Bernhardt returned for Bloodsport III and Bloodsport IV: The Dark Kumite, and would subsequently battle Keanu Reeves in The Matrix Reloaded as Agent Johnson, and again for The Matrix Resurrections. Bernhardt has also been seen in John Wick‘s contemporaries Atomic Blonde and Nobody, along with action movies like Birds of Prey, Skylines, Hell Hath No Fury, and Red Notice. Additionally, Bernhardt has done stunt work on films like Deadpool 2, Creed II, and Alita: Battle Angel, and also returned to perform stunts on the second and third John Wick movies, too.
A former professional kickboxer, Gary Daniels was a staple of B-action movies in the ’90s and into the 21st century, including Bloodfist IV: Die Trying, Deadly Target, White Tiger, Rage, and Bloodmoon. Daniels is well-known for his portrayal of Kenshiro in the 1995 live-action Fist of the North Star, adapted from the eponymous manga and anime. Daniels was also seen in the 2008 Chinese series The Legend of Bruce Lee, as well as The Brit in 2010’s The Expendables, and he also portrayed Bryan Fury in Tekken, the 2010 adaptation of the video game series. Though John Wick: Chapter 2 expanded its world, Daniels’ stunt role doesn’t make him a prominent on-screen presence in the film, but martial arts fans will nevertheless want to pay close attention to the film to spot him.
The packed cast of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum includes Mark Dacascos as the villain Zero, and aside from his renowned appearances on Iron Chef: America, he’s made a big name for himself in action movies for over two decades. Dacascos first gained recognition in the 1993 Capoeira-based martial arts film Only the Strong, and was later seen in movies like Double Dragon, Crying Freeman, and Kickboxer 5: Redemption. Dacascos also appeared alongside Kadeem Hardison and the late Brittany Murphy in the 1997 cult classic Drive, and was later seen in the French semi-historical action-horror movie Brotherhood of the Wolf. Dacascos also starred opposite Jet Li in 2003’s Cradle to the Grave, along with appearing as Kung Lao in season two of Mortal Kombat: Legacy, and making a more spiritual appearance alongside Iko Uwais in the Netflix martial arts series Wu Assassins.
Tiger Chen got his start in action films in stunts, working with the great Yuen Woo-ping on movies such as Kill Bill and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Chen also performed stunts on The Matrix films, and helped train Keanu Reeves for Neo. Chen later made the leap to headlining martial arts films, first in the Chinese movie Kung Fu Hero, followed by 2013’s Man of Tai Chi, which also marked the directorial debut of Reeves. Chen also came up with the concept of an Asian version of The Expendables, which was eventually realized as the 2019 martial arts ensemble Triple Threat, while Chen would also return to The Matrix series with The Matrix Resurrections. Chen’s role in John Wick 3 is fairly minor as a member of a gang of Chinese assassins fighting John with knives, but it was a great way to see he and Reeves work together once again.
Roger Yuan appears in John Wick 3 alongside Tiger Chen as part of the Chinese gang taking on John in a blazing knife fight, and Yuan’s past work in action movies is extremely impressive. In his work as a stuntman and fight choreographer, Yuan has been seen in action movies like the late Brandon Lee’s Rapid Fire, Beverly Hills Ninja, Blade, Blood and Bone, and X-Men: First Class. Yuan has also appeared more visibly in many action films, such as Chu in Lethal Weapon 4, Fiendish Dr. Wu in Black Dynamite with Michael Jai White, the long-running series Walker: Texas Ranger, and the villain Long Fo opposite Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon. Other films Yuan has appeared in include Skyfall, Venom, Accident Man, The Paper Tigers, and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.
As Indonesia has become a power player in contemporary action films, Yayan Ruhian has been one of its breakout stars. Ruhian was first seen in the role of Erik in Merantau, and later re-teamed with Iko Uwais and director Gareth Evans for 2012’s The Raid: Redemption as the bloodthirsty villain Mad Dog. Ruhian returned in the new role of the organized crime enforcer Prakoso in The Raid 2, and was also seen in Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse in 2015. Ruhian would also appear as Huana in the 2017 sci-fi martial arts film Beyond Skyline, the second installment of the alien invasion-based Skyline franchise, and later returned with upgraded alien limbs in the 2020 sequel Skylines, along with portraying the antagonist Ifrit in the 2019 Malaysian action movie Wira. For John Wick 3, Ruhian portrays one of Zero’s Shinobi assassin associates pursuing John, and he would also be joined by a co-star from The Raid 2.
Cecep Arif Rahman
First seen in The Raid 2 as a nameless assassin in a bloody showdown with Iko Uwais’ Rama, Cecep Arif Rahman has also been seen in other action movies, such as 3: Alif, Lam, Mim, Iseng, and the Indonesian superhero movie Gundala. Along with Uwais and Ruhian, Rahman also was seen in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though all three were notoriously underutilized in their brief appearance. Rahman would also be seen opposite Amy Johnston in the 2016 short film The Gate, directed by Kellie Madison as the basis for a larger project, and also did fight choreography the underground fighting movie Never Back Down: Revolt, also directed by Madison. In John Wick 3, Rahman works in tandem with Ruhian as one of Zero’s Shinobi assassins.
John Wick 4’s Martial Arts Stars
One would be hard pressed to name a more anticipated action movie in 2022 than John Wick: Chapter 4, with the popularity of the series itself coupled with the quartet of martial arts stars set to appear. Hiroyuki Sanada was originally to have played Zero in John Wick 3 before having to bow out, so his second chance to join the John Wick franchise is being applauded by viewers who have seen him in action in The Last Samurai, The Wolverine, and as Scorpion in 2021’s Mortal Kombat. Donnie Yen will also reportedly portray an old friend of John’s in John Wick: Chapter 4, Yen being a household name for his portrayals of Bruce Lee’s mentor in the Ip Man movies, among countless other martial arts hits like Sha Po Lang, Flash Point, and Kung Fu Killer.
Scott Adkins has also spent his career raising the bar for martial arts on film, including in the Boyka-centric Undisputed series, Isaac Florentine’s Ninja films, Accident Man, Avengement, Triple Threat, and countless others. Additionally, Chilean martial arts star Marko Zaror will also be in John Wick 4. Seen in movies like Kiltro, Mirageman, and Redeemer, Zaror also appeared opposite Adkins in Undisputed 3: Redemption and Savage Dog, and for his height and build, Zaror can kick and flip with ease.
Thanks to their casts, direction, and action sequences, the John Wick movies have come to stand today as arguably the premier action movie series. As a result, the franchise is also now an effective VIP club for martial arts stars. Of course, there’s no reason to stop that trend now – especially with more martial artists that John Wick can recruit.
NEXT: Predicting How The John Wick Franchise Will End (Every Theory)
- John Wick: Chapter 4 (2022)Release date: May 27, 2022
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