“I have served. I will be of service.”
Mr Wick returned to our screens earlier this year with his latest descent into the nightmarish path of consequences and rules (assassin style of course) and the time is almost upon is for its home release. The light of franchise is still burning bright, with Chapter Four announced to arrive in May 2021. If you’re like me, that wait just seems like an eternity away. However, if you wish to fill that Wick-less void in your life, I’ve got a few suggestions as to how to fill it.
The astonishing craft that goes into the Wick franchise is informed by the diverse influences of Stahelski and co. From Melville’s iconic heist caper aiding the namesake of The Red Circle Club or crafting pistols from scrap in a Leone western, this universe is bursting with admirable nods to the legends that shaped the vision of the franchise. Following on from the latter influence, here is my first suggestion.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)
Sergio Leone’s beyond iconic conclusion to the Dollars trilogy is a barnstorming encapsulation of the spaghetti western genre. This third instalment is armed to the teeth with Torino Delli Colli’s compositions, Morricone’s earworm score and Age / Scarpelli / Vincenzoni’s tactile writing. While the core premise surrounds a lost cache of confederate gold in the dried up plains, Leone’s makes full use of the word “journey” before you even reach the white knuckle climatic standoff. This will always remain a must see for the genre.
On the other hand of 1966 while Leone was finishing his trilogy, Franco Nero emerged with brilliance in Sergio Corbucci’s Django. Before Tarantino revived the character in Django Unchained, Nero was wandering through the tumbleweed, dragging his mysterious coffin on his back. The plains are scarce of resources or any semblance of moral code, embodied in a washed up town under army regime. Naturally, when a new gunslinger comes along, there’s bound to be a few six shooters included.
Cut from a similar cloth to that of Eastwood’s “Blondie”, Nero’s Django is a treat to watch as his piercing blue eyes survey the surroundings.
A BETTER TOMORROW II (1986)
John Woo’s sequel just a year after it’s predecessor, demonstrating in full force that Woo means business. When I think of the Heroic Bloodshed genre, I ALWAYS think of Woo first. His name is ingrained with the iconography of stylish gun-fu, no nonsense protagonists and clear cut revenge. Without spoiling anything, Chow Yun-Fat’s popularity was so powerful after the first instalment that it was no brainer for Woo to get him back for more.
While there have been many imitators of Yun-Fat’s “Mark Gor”, nothing comes close to the sunglasses induced grins of the original. With action so good it’s hair raising, Woo’s Tomorrow entries are forever the blueprints for the genre.
OUTLAW: GANGSTER VIP (1968)
Toshio Masuda’s overlooked yakuza instalment began the Gangster VIP saga. Trading in numerous action sequences for a grounded tale of blood tinged redemption and struggle, Masuda directs Tetsuya Watari’s Goro with a delicate hand. Rival gangs intercept each other with brute force but the real conflict lies with Goro’s attempt to assemble the pieces after leaving prison. If you’re looking to dip your toes into this genre, then this is a superb place to start.
THE NIGHT COMES FOR US (2018)
I have only watched this film recently in the last couple of months, but holy shit, this deserves a place on this list. The main focal point for this will be guttural, unforgiving action sequences that never relent. Amongst those sequences are the first rate performances of Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais and Julie Estelle. With an emotional hook poised to strike from the first few minutes, the momentum behind Taslim’s performance is palpable to the bloody end.
Off the back of the his last actioner Headshot, Timo Tjahjanto is a talent that I VERY much look forward to seeing more from.
KILL LIST (2011)
Ben Wheatley’s 2011 psychological hitman thriller is more than just that genre summarisation. Without spoiling too much, much like the recent Midsommar, Wheatley has a blast playing with your perception of the situations and fates that characters embark on. Thinking specific exchanges of dialog in retrospect made mine and JumpCut co-founder Nick Deal’s skin crawl when we discussed this film recently. Kill List is one of Wheatley’s finest creations by far.
I could gush about Michael Mann’s 2004 thriller masterpiece for hours. With a duo of peerless performances from Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise, Mann applies his intoxicating sensibilities onto Stuart Beatie’s script with staggeringly brilliant results. Pulsating with a sense of “real time” as the narrative’s events unfold over a few hours in film time, Dion Beebe (with additional work from Paul Cameron) soaks up the existential aura of Los Angeles night life in the digital realm.