John Wick 4’s Donnie Yen Shares Experiences Dealing With Asian Stereotyping On The Keanu Reeves Movie And Rogue One

Donnie Yen in John Wick 4 poster
(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Much like other beloved Chinese actors before him, like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and the late Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen has found Hollywood fame after becoming a big star in Hong Kong action movies. After starring in blockbusters like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the live-action Mulan in recent years, the next franchise the actor is putting his stamp on is John Wick for the upcoming fourth movie. Ahead of the 2023 new movie release hitting theaters, Yen is getting real about dealing with Asian stereotypes in big Hollywood productions. 

Donnie Yen recently shared with GQ that he’s very selective about signing on to roles these days. When it comes to making a decision as to whether to take a role, the actor asks himself if the role is “generic” and if it’s respectful to Chinese culture. Apparently the original version of his John Wick: Chapter 4 role didn’t check off these boxes until he asked director Chad Staheleski to make some changes. In his words: 

The name was Shang or Chang. Why does he always have to be called Shang or Chang? Why can’t he have a normal name? Why do you have to be so generic? Then the wardrobe again—oh, mandarin collars. Why is everything so generic? This is a John Wick movie. Everybody’s supposed to be cool and fashionable. Why can’t he look cool and fashionable?

John Wick: Chapter 4

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in Chapter 4

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Release Date: March 24, 2023 (Theaters) 
Directed By: Chad Stahelski
Written By: Shay Hatten & Michael Finch
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgard, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Lance Reddick, Rina Sawayama and Ian McShane

Yen’s John Wick character name was changed to Caine, and he’s seen in marketing materials donning a black suit and massive sunglasses rather than mandarin collars. When reflecting on his time working on the film starring Keanu Reeves, Yen said he had a ”very respectful experience” playing Caine. 

In John Wick 4, Donnie Yen plays a blind High Table assassin and friend of John Wick in the sequel. A large portion of Chapter 4 set in Japan and influenced by sword-fighting and samurai films. Reeves has teased his work on the upcoming release “hardest movie” he’s ever done.

When talking about Asian stereotypes he’s encountered in Hollywood, Yen also recalled working on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, where he played Chirrut Îmwe. Donnie Yen shared that the character was originally a generic martial arts warrior before he suggested the character be blind and have a sense of humor in the movie. Here’s what he said: 

One thing I pointed out is he was a stereotype. Typical master. Doesn’t smile.

What was initially a more cliché character was elevated for the Star Wars movie. Yen has yet to return to the Star Wars universe since playing his 2016 role, but he’s said he would “consider it” if Disney felt there was more story to tell. While the movie didn’t have a happy ending for most of its characters, Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor recently returned for the critically-acclaimed Disney+ series Andor, so hey, anything can happen. 

You can check out the latest John Wick: Chapter 4 trailer here on CinemaBlend ahead of the movie hitting theaters on March 24. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.