Fists Are Now Guns: On John Wick

wick 1

A few days ago I watched John Wick, and I will be completely honest: I haven’t recovered. Somehow the tropiest, most uncreative film (the villain not only kicks the dog, he kills it [traumatically]) managed to rope me in and keep me engaged for a full two hours and then several days after that.

The only thing I knew about John Wick going in was that Keanu Reeves’ stunt coordinator from The Matrix was involved and that the varied minds of Twitter thought that the assassin underworld of the film’s fiction was pretty cool. I thought I would really care about the assassins and their network (I love some good hinted worldbuilding). I ended up being wrong, as I didn’t much care for that at all, but I was fascinated by the violence.

John Wick renders gun violence beautiful. There’s no way around it. It turns the destruction of the human body, of the human brain, into a wonderful choreographed experience on par with the most beautiful dance performance.


This makes sense to me. After all, The Raid: Redemption and its sequel have taken the fist and the melee weapon to their very limits. In the realm of punching people there just isn’t that much left to do.

That’s a strange thing to say, of course, because we all know that the martial arts film (in its many genres) is all about elucidating an answer to the question “what can a body do?” The Raid: Redemption gestured to a far outlier of physical performance; The Raid 2 squeezed the body itself like a sponge and left it bone-dry.

The progression of raising the stakes has two places to go after The Raid: you can increase the gore or you can change the stakes themselves entirely. John Wick chooses the second option and defers to melee weapons or fists only when they are necessitated by either the plot or the disarming of John Wick himself, our assassin protagonist. For example, look at the clip below (the first scene is my favorite in the film) (please watch the entire thing).


What John Wick gives us here is a world where the punches and kicks of old become bullets. It is the same choreography style–like a Jackie Chan or Jet Li film, Reeves balances his responses to each different enemy perfectly, dispatching them with ease. Where Chan might have poked them in the eyes or Li might have kicked the inside of their knee, Reeves merely shoots them directly in the head. The formerly “impersonal” kill of the gun becomes intimately personal and close, implicitly arguing that the stakes of the bodily action film have changed here. Guns are no longer the sole domain of the spray and pray antics of Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stallone; they are tools used in their own way to achieve their own kinds of ends and are as explicitly attached to human action and intention as Keanu Reeves’ own hands and feet are.

[It is worth noting that the film dispenses with its own logic at the end for the final fight.]

There’s something in the wind about the “surgical” action star these days. They’re single-use tools (every role Jason Statham  has ever played) who cannot help but survive at all costs (Mark Wahlberg across the board). It is the evolution of the Reagan-era hypermasculine hero who excels at bodily fitness.

Schwarzenegger and Stallone were atomic bombs that exploded and rained hell down on their enemies. Reeves and Statham (and to some degree The Rock in Faster) are computer viruses meant to shut down particular ways of life. The work of connecting this up to political programmes of the past and future (mutually assured destruction vs. the war on terror) isn’t difficult to do.

In any case, John Wick offers us a world beyond the physical and relational horizon lines of the action films of the past 40-50 years, and I’m very intrigued to see what filmmakers who are inspired by this film will go on to make and remix from it.

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Violet Forest’s “VHS Girls”

I don’t have any context for this piece, but it’s haunting nonetheless; a purposeful fragmentation in a medium that always felt fragmented when you used it. The linearity and the usage of the video camera meant that a full tape might have a whole year of birthdays, holidays, and random moments stapled to one another. People would die in the gaps, or they would be born, or people would fall out of lives into complete opacity. But still, there they were on the tape, neatly lined up and occurring in sequence whether we liked it or not. Forest’s piece takes that reality and proliferates it across screens, making it all apparent at once. Really brilliant.

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Bundled, Buried and Behind Closed Doors

I really enjoy this video both for what it is and as a teaching tool. There’s a weird oscillation in new media studies where some people are stuck in the 1990s and treat the internet as some kind of immaterial, ephemeral space, and on the other end there are people who understand it purely as a physical and geopolitical phenomenon. I find myself in the middle of that, and I think this video does a great job of impressing the seriousness of the material on the viewer while also letting the immaterial weirdness float on top of it all.

In any case, good video, show it to people.

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Stone Cold Steve Austin is an Allegory for the Internet

You can watch that video to see Stone Cold Steve Austin yelling “what?!” in the face of basically everyone he ever came into contact with in a professional wrestling setting. That was his trademark, at least as much as I can remember it: he was incredibly difficult, sand in the gears, and he used that to get the rhetorical upper hand. He made you play his game.

It’s weird to me that this is the MO of contemporary internet discussions in a lot of ways. Think of GG, the Internet movement par excellance, in which every assertion of verified evidence of abuse and harassment is met with “prove it.” This “prove it” is a form of “what?!” and its sole purpose is to drag the conversation down to basic levels of argument in order to start over, as if the terms of the conversation haven’t already been accelerated for months.

It’s important to note that it doesn’t stop and start with GG. They learned it from others–the Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly interview segment is wholly based around the forceful “what?!” They take issue with a single presupposition, always resetting back to a single start point where they have the upper hand.


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Released: Vomit Bear

vombearThis past week I was attempting to recover from two months of crunch on Epanalepsis (it’s coming along great), and I made a small game called Vomit Bear. I made some mouth sounds music and enlisted the help of a lot of wonderful people who made sprite art for the game.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

You can play the game here.

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Jean Epstein on discontinuity and continuity

Discontinuity becomes continuity only once it has entered the movie-viewer. It is a purely interior phenomenon. Outside the viewing subject there is no movement, no flux, no light in the mosaics of light and shadow that the screen always displays in stills. But within ourselves, we get the impression that is, like all the other data of the senses, an interpretation of the object, that is to say, an illusion, a ghost.

- Jean Epstein, The Intelligence of a Machine

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SMK Speedruns Psychonauts

A great video across the board.

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