Everybody Was Gun Fu Fighting

Keanu Reeves and Adrianne Palicki on John Wick's ground-and-pound action

Keanu Reeves, David Leitch, and Adrianne Palicki
Keanu Reeves, David Leitch, and Adrianne Palicki (Photo by John Anderson)

In Fantastic Fest headliner John Wick, Keanu Reeves depicts the title character as the most frightening killer amongst frightening killers. As his enemies say, he's not the bogeyman – he's who you send to kill the bogeyman. But Adrianne Palicki's rival killer Jenny is not exactly a retiring flower. "She's a real see-you-next-Tuesday," said the Friday Night Lights star.

Wick has retired from his work with the Russian mob, and is only dragged back in when the son of a gang lord (Game of Thrones' Alfie Allen) crosses a moral line. With a bounty on Wick's head, Jenny's just in it for the money. "She's the epitome of what you think an assassin would be," said Palicki. "Heartless, degenerate – this is fun for her, it's a sport. But John, he has so much heart, and he's doing it for all the right reasons, and you completely understand why he's killing all these people. He's doing horrible things, but you're like, 'Yeah, get it done.'"

"I love John Wick's grief and his power," said Reeves. "For me, when I really first felt that was in The Lord of the Rings and you would read about Strider, and you'd think, 'Wow, here he comes.'" When Wick kills, it is for good reason, and with merciless efficiency, Reeves explained, "which I think helps him be not the reprehensible, pathological, sociological killer that he could be. He's just really capable."

Reeves is a Fantastic Fest veteran, unveiling his directorial debut Man of Tai Chi there in 2013. That was about a good man trying to save his soul; with the bloodstained Wick, "there's a bit of a swing in the pendulum here," he said. "For me, it was fun telling this mythological, Old Testament, revenge tale. But I don't quite think of it as revenge. I think of it as reclaiming."

One major change after Man of Tai Chi is in the fighting sequences. Rather than the clash of formal styles, this is ground-and-pound, MMA with added firearms. Reeves said, "The directors call it gun fu, but I also get to do car fu, because I throw some nice moves with a car."

And Jenny is just as tough. The part was originally written for a man, but gender-swapped – a change that Palicki applauds. She said, "I love that she was ultimately one of the worst villains, and that one of the best battle sequences is him fighting a chick. That's awesome." While she has a background in action films (GI Joe: Retaliation, Red Dawn), "this was the first time I got to learn a real martial art. Judo, jujitsu. I got to throw people around." But while Palicki had a week and a half to refine her choreography, Reeves was training for dozens of set-pieces, and only had four hours to rehearse with her. "It wasn't even four hours at once," she said. "It was between shots. It was, 'OK, they need you back on set.' 'OK, we'll grapple a little later. I'm not nervous about this fight at all.'"

John Wick opens theatrically Oct. 24.

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Fantastic Fest 2014, Keanu Reeves, Adrianne Palicki, John Wick, Man of Tai Chi

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