Keanu Reeves beyond car-fu and gun-fu boundaries in ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’

A surprise hit in 2014, John Wick struck a chord with audiences who yearned to see Keanu Reeves return to full-blown action mode. Earning cult status for its hyper-kinetic take on classic martial arts and gunplay, the film’s global success presented the producers with an inevitable question: What to do for an encore? For Reeves, the answer was clear: more action, a bigger scope and a deeper dive into the title character’s internal struggle.

The story of “John Wick: Chapter 2” is the journey of a complicated hit man struggling to protect the kinder, gentler self he embraced after retiring from the business, but unable to do so because of a debt he has accrued. “John Wick has given a marker to this character Santino, played by Riccardo Scamarcio,” Reeves explains. “According to the rules, if the bearer of the marker comes to you and wants to cash it in and you don’t do what they want, you die. If you kill the bearer of your marker, you die. So John has a problem.”

John Wick: Chapter 2 finds Reeves’ character once again engaging in explosive “Gun-Fu” sequences, which expand martial arts beyond hand-to-hand combat to encompass gunplay. To master the weapons skills required, Reeves trained with champion competitive shooter Taran Butler. “I really enjoyed working with Taran,” says the actor. “It was a great experience to work with such an expert marksman.”

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Months of “live-fire” sessions during pre-production helped Reeves hone his shooting skills, as evidenced by a video of Reeves practicing at a rifle range that went viral. Director Chad Stahelski watched the training pay off once cameras started rolling. “Keanu trained three or four times a week for 10 weeks firing anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 rounds at each session,” he says. “Once we got him dialed in so precisely with live fire, we took him into the gym with replica weapons and worked out the choreography. By the time we started shooting, Keanu had so much muscle memory he was able to perform the Gun-Fu scenes brilliantly.”

“John Wick: Chapter 2” once again showcases its protagonist’s astonishing skills behind the wheel. The movie kicks off with some unfinished business involving John’s beloved 1969 Mustang, which was stolen in the first movie. “John really wants to get his Mustang back and the bad guys make the mistake of smashing it not long after he recovers it,” explains stunt coordinator Prescott. “This pisses him off and makes him want to kill everybody.”

As he did in the first film, Reeves handles much of the stunt driving himself, including a breakneck reverse 180-degree turn that he learned specifically for the role. “I love the driving,” says the action star. “It was great to get back into the car and get to throw it around a bit. Doing the reverse 180 was new and that was fun, but the 90- and 45-degree turns and the drifting came back pretty quick.”

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When it came to portraying vehicular mayhem, director, star and stunt team were assisted by some very realistic looking crash-test dummies. “Their joints move like human joints so we used those to give a sense of realism,” stunt boss Perry says. “We wound up hitting a few people with cars, and we hit a lot of dummies.” The end result? “John Wick 2 is the bigger, meaner, older brother of the first film,” says Perry. “After Chapter 2, if they ever need to kill James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Jack Reacher, John Wick’s the guy to do it.”

Now showing across Philippine cinemas, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is from Pioneer Films.

‘Moonlight Over Baler’ offers grand love story for hopeless romantics

In a world that’s become cynical about love because of undefined relationships and messy break-ups, it’s good to know that there are still stories about undying and courageous love.

As it opened in theaters nationwide on February 8, the wholesome “Moonlight Over Baler” which is rated Parental Guidance by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). The romantic film is set in the summer of 1986 in the famous surfing town of Baler, Quezon. This is where Kenji, a Japanese photojournalist, encounters two mesmerizing women: the 65-year old former schoolteacher, Fidela, and the fiesty and seductive local beauty, Rory.

When Kenji needs to go through a series of challenges to win Rory’s heart, Fidela unselfishly helps Kenji. Not just because she has a soft spot for the young charming foreigner, but because Kenji looks so much like Nestor—the soldier that Fidela was supposed to marry in the 1940s. Fidela had waited for Nestor until she became older and in Kenji, Fidela finds some kind of promise.

Starring in the film is an ensemble of very talented performers: Elizabeth Oropesa as Fidela, Ellen Adarna as Rory, Sophie Albert as the young Fidela and Vin Abrenica as Nestor/Kenji, with Daria Ramirez, Alvin Fortuna, Kate Alejandrino, Abel Estanislao, Angie Ferro, Benjie Felipe, Jess Evardone, and many more.

The story is partly inspired by true events that happened in Pagbilao, Quezon, the hometown of director Gil Portes. Direk Gil related to screenwriter Enrique “Eric” Ramos, the story of his aunt, a teacher, whose fiance, a USAFFE soldier, went off to fight the Japanese in World War 2 and never returned. Instead of considering other romantic interests, the teacher kept pining for her missing love, praying he will come back. “When she reaches retirement age and meets a drug salesman who looks so much like her ex-fiance, my aunt became friends with this young man,” Direk Gil shares. Upon hearing the details about Direk Gil’s aunt, Eric proceeded to fashion a tale of a woman’s devotion and sacrifice across generations. Eric’s script of “Moonlight Over Baler” eventually won third place in the Dulang Pampelikula category of the 2009 Gawad Palanca Awards.

Essential to the movie is “O, Maliwanag Na Buwan,” a Tagalog ditty based on the Ilocano folk song, “O, Naraniag A Bulan.” No less than National Artist for Music and Literature Levi Celerio translated this Ilocano folk song into Tagalog version that was recorded by Pilita Corrales. Eric reveals, “The original Ilocano lyrics are actually sad but when Mr. Celerio translated them into Tagalog, the over-all message became more hopeful. From the moment I sat down to write the script, I had ‘O Maliwanag Na Buwan’ as the theme of Fidela.”

Direk Gil, Eric and producer Rex Tiri envision “Moonlight Over Baler” as a film that would inspire the young and young-at-heart to believe in everlasting love. “Nowadays when angsty ‘hugot lines’ have become the norm, we want to give the audience a reason to hope,” says Mr. Tiri. “Love is not always a bed of roses, but love is real and it never dies.”

Now showing across the Philippines, “Moonlight Over Baler” is produced by T-Rex Entertainment.