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Donnie Yen Helped Make His Character Less Stereotypical In ‘John Wick’ Sequel


Donnie Yen, who stars in ‘John Wick: Chapter 4,’ said he helped advocate for the redesign of his character, which was originally intended as a very stereotypical Asian male.

The actor, action director and martial artist told GQ Magazine in an interview this week that he pushed back on his character’s initial identity, including his generic name and traditional wardrobe.

“The name was Shang or Chang,” he said in the interview. “Why does he always have to be called Shang or Chang?” Why can’t it have a normal name? Why do you have to be so generic? Then the wardrobe again – oh, the mandarin collars. Why is everything so generic? It’s a “John Wick” movie. Everyone is supposed to be cool and fashionable. Why can’t it look cool and fashionable? »

Yen, who is Chinese, said director Chad Stahelski agreed to the changes, so his character was revamped with a sleek costume and a new name – Caine.

In the film, which will be released on March 24, Caine is an assassin caught between the powerful High Table and his friendship with John Wick (Keanu Reeves).

Yen told GQ that Asian stereotypes aren’t exclusive to “John Wick,” but this case is indicative of Hollywood’s choice to often create one-dimensional Asian characters.

Yen, known in the United States for his role in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, is considered one of China’s hottest actors. His character in the “Chirrut Îmwe” space opera franchise was also meant to be a generic martial artist in early drafts of the script, he said, until he insisted it be changed.

“One thing I pointed out was that he was a stereotype. Typical master. Doesn’t smile,” he said during the interview. He said he helped flesh out his character after suggesting they gave him a sense of humor, challenging that trope.

In the top-grossing movies from 2010 to 2019, 35% of Asian characters embody at least one common Asian stereotype like a martial artist, according to a 2021 study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment and House of Gold.

Sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen previously told NBC News that Hollywood generally repeats what has worked in the past, including problematic shots.

“The earliest portrayal of Asians was just East Asians, and the stereotypes were accent, exotic, mean. All of those tropes haven’t changed in 100 years,” she said. said “That’s why we have an overrepresentation of the stereotype as well as the overrepresentation of East Asians [compared to other AAPIs]because Hollywood is just repeating itself.

Stahelski and Lucasfilm did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.