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John Wick 3 Parabellum Film Review

Updated on May 28, 2019
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With an Olelo community video series "in development," Ms. Freeman finds a few moments to share her film thoughts.

I’ve been on a year-long hiatus

While attending online film school (a big Aloha to Instructor X), I had a bit of a break from writing unique content. While the hiatus was a change of pace from the normal preparation and viewing for the Movie of the Week, I had completely forgotten I had written a film review of John Wick Ch2, on its Opening Day at Ward Cinemas in 2017. Please visit this link, for the backstory of John Wick Ch2, encompassing minor John Wick beats.

And, you don’t have to be Jennifer Lawrence, to say you are taking a year-long hiatus.

Why is it called Parabellum?

I am asked this question by my film fanbase, so I thought I would address its meaning in this week’s column.

Picking up from the last moment in John Wick Ch 2, less 10 minutes that can’t be accounted for, the latest film has a futuristic look. In the original John Wick, the daytime scenes were washed out, while the nighttime scenes had the dark, gritty look. Same for most of JW2’s cinematography. I would liken it to be the “John Wick” style, derived from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and any of its 6 worldwide versions. A lot of films in the 2019 pipeline bear a close resemblance to Blade Runner, namely Avengers: End Game’s scene with Hawkeye in Japan, as he’s fighting Akihiko, long sword-to-sword, in true Samurai fashion.

I really like John Wick’s stylized look, as it adds to multiple antagonists’ character arcs, while John is running from every known assassin worldwide, as his journey is being told in JW3, as Winston had declared him as being “ex-communicado,” within the hour, at the conclusion of JW2.

Pertaining to the film story, parabellum is used at the end of the Second Act, where it means to make war, in order to achieve peace. This starts Act 3, where resolution is shown. Fan film story Qs arise:

1. Why does John want peace?

2. Is it only John who wants peace? Or, are there others, who also want the balance of power to be put back into its place?

3. How does one define power?

4. Who knows who, and for how long, and what’s everyone’s relationship?

5. Does John have friends, but doesn’t realize it, who will help him on his ex-communicado journey?

6. What happens next?

7. How does it all play out?

All these questions and more surprises, are answered throughout the 130-minute running time.

What’s the John Wick 3 story about?

JW3 is a continuation of the trilogy, as the fans know it.

Written by Derek Kolstad, who created and wrote the previous 2 screenplays, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams, the latest chapter is different, and still doesn’t disappoint using the JW formula. Film fans will absolutely like the action, adventure, stunts and armory factor, that the previous 2 films built-up in the series.

The main characters include:

John Wick – played by Keanu Reeves.

Bowery King – played by Laurence Fishburne.

Sophia – played by Halle Berry.

Winston – played by Ian McShane.

Charon – played by Lance Reddick.

The Adjudicate – played exceptionally well by Asia Kate Dillon.

Are there any new characters introduced?

There are The Bowery King’s assistants, one of whom was the street sighter in the Subway, where John hid underneath the homeless canopy, to escape the Bad Guys in JW2. His character’s since been promoted, and there’s a new street sighter, who is identified as Tick Tock Man, in the Alleyway in JW3 (played by Jason Mantzoukas).

Yes, there are new antagonists, as every bounty hunter in the world is out for the prize of $14 million for the death of John Wick. Taking a page from the tale of the Western, not only is capturing the outlaw not enough in the modern world, there is a rather high price tag attached for the outlaw’s death, as he is the #1 target on the company’s chalkboard. Without some suffering first. Because, in Assassin World, as said by Solomon Lane: without great suffering, there can be no peace.

Everyone seems to want a piece of the bounty, beginning with:

  • Antagonist #1 – Ernest, in “The New York Public Library” scene.
  • Antagonist #2 – Chinatown gang, in a classic Western scene, redone inside a Chinatown warehouse.
  • Antagonist #3 – Eastern European gang, at the rainy intersection, leading to a Livery Stable scene, into a modern Cowboy scene.
  • Antagonist #4 – Zero, played by Mark Dacascos, the familiar face from Hawaii Five-0’s Wo Fat, played against Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin), and Zero’s gang (which includes “The Twins”). Zero and his gang are hired by the Adjudicate, who is introduced into the film story, to ascertain what happened, regarding one of the High Table’s newly elected members (who was killed by John Wick on the grounds of the New York Continental and died in JW2).
  • There are numerous assassins throughout the movie, both in full body armor and in street clothes.

The introduction of an Adjudicator fits well into the overall Justice-themed story arc. Duties-wise, she has the investigative skills of an actuary, administrative law judge, and lone justice seeker. Whose agenda is she serving?


Why people go to see John Wick films

It’s to see John whup some you-know-what, as well as receiving some-you-know-what.

From the beginning shot to the end, there is a solid stream of action: hand-to-hand combat, kicks, punches, blood (no guts), killing, dying, assorted handguns, rifles, shotguns, armory wall (no launchers this time), blood and brains shot onto the backwall, horses, motorcycles, hammers, a varietal of endless knivery, gas bombs, running, ducking, avoiding being shot at, chase sequences, people crashing into vehicles, vehicles hitting John Wick, military grade rifles, survival in the desert skills, blood piercing of various body parts, swords, point-blank range shooting, falling off of buildings into the street or alleyway below, crash sequences involving motorcycles and people, John mounting a motorcycle from off the ground.

This is what led to the Hong Kong films popularity in 1970’s & 1980’s, and there has been a resurgence with the recent remakes. As much as I like watching the JW action sequences, I really liked this one MA scene. Reminiscent of Enter the Dragon, the original one with Bruce Lee, some of the martial arts fans cheered during Premiere Night, as what appeared to be a simple “kick it out” scene, turned into something a bit longer: intense but good.

While in attendance at the theatre, which is situated nearby the Marine Corps Base, you’ve never been through a John Wick movie, until you’re sat through it with fellow marines. They really like John Wick. Maybe even more so, than Ethan Hunt in the MI series.

Of course, without taking an official poll, I wouldn’t know which Action Hero would rank higher.

On Opening Day at the 16-plex, while checking A Dog’s Journey (in the official capacity), I informally observed that John Wick has an even greater film following, among the local Oahu people. As the afternoon wore into evening, uncles and cousins of all different ages, were buying tickets to see the feature. Ethnicity didn’t seem to matter, as all people enjoy this series. The World was suddenly arriving at the 16-plex, which marked my cue for exiting.

TrueFact: Consolidated Ward had a line at the Box Office on Opening Day, for Parabellum. Both screens were full at first time showings.

The scene is a fusion of different MA styles

If you’ve practiced martial arts in any form or fashion, then the style used in the one fight scene, looked great on-camera, and is effective in taking the opponent down. Being a very close derivative of CHA3, some of the moves that students learn inside of the classroom, is used on-screen by both villains, while they are trying to take John out.

CHA3 is a Hawaii-based form of Kajikenpo, which is its own style, developed from street fighting, with origins in Kalihi. The founders developed CHA3 from Filipino boxing, along with street fighting moves. Considering the early history of Kalihi town on Oahu, this would make sense that the original 4 founders used this technique mostly for self-defense purposes.

Tamed down inside of the classroom, the student moves are very dancelike, but the blows are effective in any physical confrontation. Most of the numbers end up with the opponent on the mat, with a restrained blow above the neck (including the head), with either Bare hand, Short stick and/or Knife combination.

  • In student practice, the plastic fighting knife is used, only for feeling purposes, so that a student knows how a knife feels, when poked with it. Most of the middle level students laugh at the knife, but we do take it seriously, from a practice standpoint.
  • Related to Knife arts is Short stick arts (Cahoi), where, when your instructor feels you have demonstrated responsibility and respect for the art form, you are given a short stick, with your last name etched into the handle.

It is a very ritualistic practice, as one studies the art form, progressing into other MA poses (aka numbers).

When to use MA

Confrontation using MA is the last step in resolution.

While learning CHA3, the student is respectful of the martial art form, and pledges to use their skills in self-defense, and not carelessly. CHA3 belts are earned, not given. In a rather strange turn of events, my father had studied the same MA form, post High school and pre-college, because he was interested in it (before I was born, circa mid-1960’s).

  • Comparing notes with Dad many decades later, I discovered he had one of the CHA3 founders as his instructor. He said that Adrian Empanado was very strict, and when it was MA time, everything else was forgotten in the studio. Dad learned the true essence of CHA3, and even he said it was lethal, as Instructor Adrian was serious about the art form.
  • While I was on my way from moving from a beginner’s White belt into a second level Purple belt (after 6 months of devoted practice on the Mainland), Dad said that after 2 years of studying with Instructor Adrian, he only earned a half White-half Purple belt.

Clearly, the belt is given by your work ethic, and awarded by your instructor.

Dedication, commitment, and respect are also other factors. As with all martial arts tradition, you are asked who your instructor is. While Dad learned in early 1970s from a founder, I was a student of the MA form in early 2010’s, from Instructor Greg, whom was taught by Instructor Frank. Instructor Frank studied from the original founder, whose son now oversees CHA3 schools, based out of Oahu.

A “student for life” attitude

Throughout learning, there is practice in all types of conditions and with different opponents. Just because you are a female, doesn’t mean that you can’t take the hit like one of the guys!

Conditions meaning that it will be too hot or too cold, depending on where you are practicing. I’ve practiced in the heat of summer (100 degrees) and the cold of winter (0 degrees). There is a lead bottom to the Everlast bag, where everyone practices their leg kicks with The Bag. Just don’t hit the bottom of the bag, as you’ll walk away with a huge foot injury: everyone is warned about the Bag on Day 1.

I’ve seen some of my MA colleagues take their frustration out on the bag, for personal reasons, and the challenge is “to make the Bag move with your kicks.” Surprisingly, with some guided instruction, the Bag can be hit repetitively, without damaging your shin or leg. And, without wearing protective gear.

It takes time to learn how to do this. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Different opponents are interesting, as MA was originally developed, to help “the little person” take down the bigger opponent. Or, having an opponent with long legs, who knows how to kick, is almost impossible to take down, so as a student, you need to figure out another way to beat this person, which is observation and stamina.

Being a smaller female, who knows some of the moves, means you must make a conscious decision to use the MA skills lastly, as verbal negotiation is foremost in any confrontation.

MA fighting is the final judgment call. A verbal warning is usually given first. If a perpetrator doesn’t heed the MA warning, and continues to harass the MA person, then it could be considered self-defense from this point on. Manslaughter charges normally go away. If involved in an altercation, local law enforcement will use the MA skillset as a determining factor, if anyone dies from the MA fight. Please see the insert below, for a true story.

Ageing Instructor Frank was jumped by several attackers at night. Being an 8th degree CHA3 black belt for quite a better part of a decade, the perpetrators didn’t know this when they attacked “The Old Man.” As much as this may seem like a scene out of a movie, Instructor’s decades-long of old school training immediately kicked in, and he sent all the attackers into local ICU. The fight was done in about 1.5 minutes, as the perps came at him with pipes and knives, and Instructor was unarmed. From underground reports, 2 of the 3 died within a few days after the attack, and the 3rd perpetrator has motor damage to his brain, and can’t walk straight, to this current day. Due to the CHA3 method, Instructor walked away intact, with only a large bruise to one eye and a few body bruises, which healed up in about 7 weeks.

When to use MMA gear in MA practice

I’m not the expert by any means in this arena, but my husband at the time, encouraged me to order the professional grade Muy Thai gloves and MMA shin guards, as he wanted me to come home in one piece from practice. At this beginning point, I did not order Head guards, as CHA3 studio rules forbid contact, above the shoulders, when you are a beginner. Only the black belts go full contact, in competition only.

Sizing of gear is important, so make sure someone else, accurately measures your hand dimensions and calf area. With my small stature, I was one size bigger than the Junior Boy for shin guards, so I had to order an X-Small Women’s via a specialty online shop. Bear in mind, most of my male opponents are twice my weight, and/or twice my physical size, so they were quite surprised when I showed up in practice with Pro gear. They didn’t know that smaller sized gear existed.

In case you were wondering, I am the same physical height as Actress Scarlett Johansson.

When to spar

Sparring is fun, too, if you have the right partner, who’s not out to prove himself (herself). Little kids are lethal with CHA3 moves, too, so watch out for them in practice. I almost got myself taken down by a 9-year old in practice! In beginning practice, a good Instructor will let everyone have a break, where they go into the gender-specific dressing room, and put on their protective gear, underneath their uniform.

Sparring is supposed to test your hand-to-eye judgment, as you take on different opponents, in a timed set, usually 5-minutes a round, in the beginning, and longer sets as everyone progresses. It also tests your focus, where some spar-ees have extreme intensity, that they don’t hear the Instructor end the session. With two opponents’ adrenaline rushing, this is understandable.

House rules must be observed

The Instructor sets the ground rules: no contact above or below a certain part of the body, and in a friendly spar, there are no points kept. Sideline cheering is okay. Sparring also teaches respect, what’s allowed in fair fighting, and improvement techniques.

Out of respect for your fellow teammate, we bow at one another after a sparring round.

We don’t wear any jewelry during practice. Rings, necklaces, and earrings must be removed, as it could get entangled, in some of the numbers that are being practiced. Entanglement means blood. And no one wants to clean up blood on the 4-inch thick studio mat.

Boxing and MMA rules have different timings, but a 5-minute intense spar, burns up more calories and is a physical workout like none other. I can see why some of my male friends love to spar, at the local gym. My other half sometimes comes home with a huge eye bruise (“Oh, honey, you forgot your blocking!”).


which leads back to the MA moves in Parabellum

What makes this one movie scene stand out in my mind, is Director Stahleski’s tracking shot, where the mirrored floor reflection is shown, almost like the tracking shot used in the Opening Scene in John Wick Ch 2, where the water can be seen on the surface, before the cars hit one another.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, Sister is sitting way too close inside of the theatre, if she can see the mirrored reflection, gleaming off Keanu’s shoes, but shot at the right speed, where the camera motion captures all the martial arts moves. Most of the local uncles and cousins were getting into this MA scene, while trying to remain calm inside of their recliner seat.

Upon viewing the movie once on Premiere Night, and then in bits and pieces during movie assignments, I had a full viewing a second time around at the last showtime of the evening (it’s less crowded in-theatre at this time, plus you have a better pick of seating). I realize that I sat too close on Premiere Night in Row B, and could not appreciate the action sequences.

Future note to self: Must sit a little higher in the auditorium, perhaps one or two up, from where I usually sit.

The One Fight scene was continuously shot

Most of the ending portion of this MA sequence was continuously shot, and not edited together, like some of the Marvel movies.

Upon my second viewing, from the seat directly in the middle of the Promenade Deck (aka Row D), I really appreciated this scene, as it turned into real sparring, near the end of the sequence. The Twins didn’t let up on John, and neither did he. Authentic components include:

  • Keanu on his knees, fighting with his upper body, and delivering effective hits to both opponents. This is a Kendo training method, as well as an instructor-led method, to test upper body movements. This stance was effective, since the opponents were smaller than John, and a nice way to even up the MA playing field.
  • The opponents pausing long enough to gather a quick breath, and then back to sparring.
  • Keanu flipping the opponents over, while still on his knees.
  • John never getting a break, and sweating on-camera.
  • Street fighting in hand-to-hand combat techniques, where the flipping of the wrists occurs and was captured excellently in the mid-level lighting.
  • There was no knivery in this scene.

As a non-active student of the martial arts, this fight sequence makes excellent training material.

I also really liked this martial arts sequence, since it is Keanu taking the hits from two opponents, each opponent having his own style. While highly blocked (aka Stunt people practice the moves before filming it) and well-choreographed, the fight seemed to be genuine, as each opponent took turns trying to take out John. It felt like I was watching a choregraphed sparring match.

  • With beginning martial arts students, kicking low with effectiveness is sometimes better, than kicking high, as height will come with time and muscle flexibility. The back-kick that one of the opponents delivers in this sequence, was effective in lowering Keanu’s frame to the ground, where the opponent then continued beating on John. Again, using a derivative of CHA3, the smaller opponent continued to pummel John Wick to the ground.
  • Most of the legshots were at Keanu’s chest level, which, on a non-6’4” framed person, would be just above shoulder-height on a 5’10” person. This means that the MA stunt performers have many years of MA experience, if they can kick that high.

Real moves in action

Another authentic component to this sequence: the opponents taking turns with John, but only two opponents at a time.

This is a more respectful fighting manner, as all the Bad Guys seem to admire John Wick (“He’s been retired for 5 years, remember?”). Taking turns with John, makes you really wonder who the Bad Guy in the movie is. In fact, the sequence was so authentic, that the Marine Corps guys started a discussion in the middle of this sequence, about not having seen that style before, and that it was interesting. Even they were learning martial arts techniques, while not on duty.

The way in which this scene with The Twins ended, is in a respectful John Wick manner.

Physicality for the actors

With the audience predominantly male (of all ages and ethnicities), they come to see John Wick in action. A lot of the audience members like Keanu Reeves as John, and admire that he does his own stunts.

For this role in the latest film, he was in good physical shape, a little slenderer than pumped up, as seen in the “Stitch me up” scene. Some of the guys in the audience, couldn’t watch this scene, as John’s time has expired with the Stitch doctor, and John has to self-stitch his arterial wound.

Halle Berry as Sophia is also in great physical shape, and the “Shoot out in the desert” scene was also good, judging by the Marine Corps guys’ responses in Row C, when Sophia uses her dogs to aid in escaping the hideout (“Wooh, using the dogs … oh boy! We never did that overseas.” “Shush, we’re not supposed to talk about it” “Oh yeah, that’s right”).

Most of the Marine Corps guys were blown away by the film. Normally, they have a post-film discussion while walking out to the lobby area, but this film left both groups of guys speechless, as they walked out of the auditorium for the evening.

JW3 one-liners

With every John Wick film, there are one-liners that are meant to end the talking and start the action. Ch 3 doesn’t disappoint. Here are some memorable one-liners from this chapter:

  • “He killed my dog.” “I get it.”
  • I have served. I will serve.
  • I’m management now. Not service, I don’t go around shooting people anymore.
  • I’d like to speak to the Manager.
  • Winston, I need more fire power!
  • 12-gauge shots, very effective.
  • “He’s been in retirement for 5 years.” “5 years?”
  • Be seeing you.


Why did he have to go out to the desert? I don’t get it

Asked by the local film fan following, the desert scene was filmed, to celebrate the 57th anniversary of the filming of Lawrence of Arabia. The 2018 lenses and lighting are much different than what was used in filming LoA, but JW3 pays homage to this classic film.

[begin MINI-SPOILER in this one section only …]

  • On his self-redemption journey, John re-visits his origins inside of the Karlovsky Theatre with The Director, who rips his ticket, for a one-way trip to Casablanca. The Movie Viewer also learns John Wick’s true name, and where he came from. Also, we learn that John is multi-lingual.
  • Upon his arrival in Casablanca, before more blood is shed, he is given safe passage by Sophia, and is saved by her Concierge, who escorts John to the Morocco Continental. Just like JW2’s Bath scene, where John was involved with Gianna, before marrying Helen, the backstory of John and Sophia is revealed in JW3.
  • The desert was part of John’s choice, after he sought guidance from Sophia’s former boss, on where to find The One, who sits above the High Table. Accepting the assignment from The One, means that John has redeemed himself, but now must prove himself, by killing a close friend.
  • This marks his return from the desert, back to New York City.

[end MINI-SPOILER in this one section …]

Parabellum has a 130-minute running time. With a lot happening on-screen, the running time was non-noticeable by me. With that being said, I survived the latest Avengers: End Game’s running time of 182 minutes in Week 17, but that film also moved very well due to the crafting of the story.

By far, the longest (but by far, the greatest) film is Ben-Hur, at 3H40M. Lawrence of Arabia is also on the Top 10 list.

From JW movies, which one was your favorite?

See results

I am fortunate to be re-checking JW3

Also known as “The Girl who Checks the Movies,” I am fortunate enough to be checking this feature, in its 2nd week, for Lionsgate. It will be interesting to see who shows up for Week 2, as Week 1 was pretty sold out at most theatres on Oahu.

Please scroll down for more overlapping assignments, as theatrical entertainment services broadly encompasses a lot of different in-theatre experiences.

Why do people continue going to cinema?

Great story survives the boredom factor, as I’ve been noticing lately in-theatre. I am convinced that certain uncles and aunties come to theatre, to escape the heat. With many Oahu theaters remodeled with Recliner seating, this is the expected norm for the paying patron.

Laying back and trying to stay awake to watch the movie, requires a favorite stimulant. Luckily, most theatres serve coffee, tea or Monster energy drink, to aid you in this part of the shared movie experience. If consuming an energy drink, don’t forget to eat a meal. Sugar Free Red Bull’s are great, but I must remember to eat a rather full-sized meal, just prior to consuming the energy drink. Taurine makes your system run at a faster rate, so you eat more food for metabolic burn.

Or, if you’re like some of the people, between the air conditioning and the one comfy spot in the recliner seat, you’ll be asleep before the Feature starts. This happened to me, during my 1st viewing of Black K Klansman, that I had to pay another fee to see it again, a few days later. That was a great movie.

TrueFact: During my Full Viewing assignment of Avengers: Infinity War, the uncle next to me zonked out during the first 10 minutes and woke up about 5 minutes before the film’s conclusion, when Thanos’ “End Game” scene happened. His first question was: What did I miss?

Other multimedia forms of John Wick

Since John Wick is an assassin, the latest Fortnite game has a skin, which players can mask up, when playing Fortnite. This means the player can get into the shooting style of John Wick, and RPG all day/night long. For an entertainment option, this is probably one of the safer ways to act out your aggression, instead of taking to the streets.

There have been fan requests for the Pop! doll version of John Wick. No other characters were requested at this time. I will do my best to pass on the information to the appropriate department, as there are creative licensing issues involved. Reminiscent of any Star Trek movie or episode, the response is: Duly noted.

For TV fans, there is The Continental, which is currently in development with Starz, a Lionsgate-owned subsidiary. Check back for more details on the Hub, as I’ll let you know how this TV series will be unfolding.

Is there a John Wick 4 planned?

While composing this blogged content for my readership, the Hollywood News fed in, and YES, Lionsgate has approved a release date of May 21, 2021, for John Wick 4. Things move fast in the business.

For the fans in the audience, your wish has been fulfilled. Be sure to check back for more news, as it unfolds, as I’ll be reporting on this branded entertainment, which shows no sign of stopping.

While performing an Open Check assignment for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, I did cross paths on a Sunday afternoon with my fellow film friend, Phyllis D., who was not impressed with Parabellum, since “he killed everyone. Every single person.” She said that for being a well-hyped film, she was disappointed enough to ask for her money back. Upon further discussion, she also didn’t see JW2, but did see the original one which she liked a lot. I recommended that she watch #2, which leads directly into #3’s opening scene.

Even Door Greeter Cassie, is advising people to see films #1 & #2, before you go see #3, “otherwise you will not understand the third one.”

Thank you for reading this week’s film column. More to come, as summer’s just beginning. Week 22’s movies of the week are Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Ma and Rocketman, as we roll into the super busy summer season.

Take care and aloha, Pam

© 2019 Pam Freeman


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