(Welcome to Best Action Scene Ever, a column dedicated to breaking down the best, most effective action sequences throughout the genre. In this edition, we're kicking off Wick Week with a look back at one of the most exhilarating sequences in the entire franchise: the knife fight in "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.")

It's not happenstance that the "John Wick" movies have exploded in popularity since first arriving on the scene in 2014. Set entirely in New York City and incredibly thin in terms of actual plot, the small-scale original nonetheless is an action masterclass, plunging audiences into an entirely new world with its own unique rules. With each and every installment that's followed, the Keanu Reeves-starring franchise has upped the ante in terms of both scope and scale. Where the first mostly kept the action constrained to various set pieces of Wick taking on hordes of bad guys while armed with a single firearm, the Chad Stahelski-directed sequels went to a never-ending bag of tricks to keep things feeling fresh. Sometimes, shooting an endless wave of henchmen in the head with superhuman precision can get a little old, you know?

That's where "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum" comes in. In this one sequel alone, we get a brutal hand-to-hand melee between Wick and 7-foot-3 NBA athlete Boban Marjanović, an extended chase with Wick on horseback, samurai warriors atop motorcycles, and, of course, the Halle Berry show with her pair of killer Belgian Malinois hounds. But early on, "Chapter 3" sets the bar so high that the upcoming "John Wick: Chapter 4" apparently needed to become one of the greatest action movies ever (seriously, read /Film's review by Jacob Hall here) just to top it. I'm talking, of course, about the visceral thrills of that knife fight.

The Scene

Picking up immediately after the events of "Chapter 2," the threequel begins with our trigger-happy hitman on the run — not just from scores of fellow killers looking to close a lucrative contract, but everyone in the assassin underworld who are now Wick's sworn enemies after he broke the Continental's golden rule. As it turns out, "Thou shalt not kill on company grounds" tends to be a sticky subject for the higher-ups. Barely holding it together after surviving the aforementioned brawl with the minor antagonist played by Boban Marjanović in the New York Public Library, the injured Wick flees the streets and winds up in a derelict weapons shop.

Desperately trying to stay one step ahead of his pursuers so he can book passage safely out of the city, Wick does what he does best — improvise. Wick finally turns the tables on the assassins right on his heels, turning around to fight them off. But in one of the franchise's most unexpectedly hilarious and playful moments, everyone involved in the fight takes a beat to look around and realize that they happen to be fighting in a shop filled to the brim with antique knives displayed behind glass. Even without re-watching the clip included above, you can pretty much guess what happens next.

It's flourishes like these (from a screenplay credited to writers Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams) that spice up the film's action and, in this case, instantly adds a shot in the arm to what was already a brutal and drawn-out battle for Wick's life.

Why It Works

Let it never again be said that you can't bring a knife — or, more accurately, a room full of them — to a gun fight. The hallmark of any great action sequence is one with clear geography and a sense of characters actually interacting within a dynamic environment, bone-crunching stunt choreography to really sell viewers on the carnage taking place on screen, and the feeling that an actual story is being told through all the fighting. Though practically every action scene in the "John Wick" franchise more or less follows these tenets (and all with a bare minimum of misused shaky-cam, to boot!), the knife fight in "Chapter 3" stands out more than the rest precisely because of the level to which Chad Stahelski, Keanu Reeves, the various stunt performers, and stunt coordinators and fight choreographers all worked in tandem to pull this off.

To this point in the series, Wick has largely fought either one-on-one in close combat or had the element of surprise and the assistance of an inexhaustible supply of guns to help mow down all the bad guys in his path. This relatively standalone little sequence, however, strips Wick of any advantage he's previously had. Outmanned and without any weaponry whatsoever, the entire sequence begins with our hero stumbling onto an antique weapons shop and frantically assembling a gun out of spare parts — all just to shoot one single enemy in the head to buy him some time.

From that point on, Wick is put squarely on his back foot and back up against the wall as he and the goons on his heels are funneled into one claustrophobic hallway lined with knives, axes, and other pointy objects hazardous to one's health.

The Key Moment

Remember what I said about every action scene telling its own little story? To take that even further, true master filmmakers know enough to approach these sorts of set pieces like any other aspect of a narrative — meaning that one must pay attention to pacing, tone, and even act structure. For half the sequence, Chad Stahelski and his team of collaborators stage a white-knuckle fight that (mostly) replaces the instantaneous results of a bullet to the chest with the much more prolonged handicap of knives being thrown each and every way. Right away, viewers who may have been a little desensitized by the rampant gun violence of this series will notice the refreshing twist that attackers don't simply go down after one knife wound. They simply pick themselves back up, dig the knife out of their own body, and use it as another weapon against Wick.

Similar to the hotel siege that takes place during the climax of "Chapter 3," loaded up with enemies wearing impenetrable body armor, John is forced to come up with a very different method of putting down anyone with the misfortune of getting in his way. That means breaking limbs, smashing henchmen into glass displays, all but burying them in knives, and, in one notably nasty instance, forcing a knife into one attacker's eyeball (played by stunt performer Tiger Hu Chen, who's worked with Reeves on several movies before). The cherry on top comes when Wick fends off all his enemies, notices one last injured man pulling a knife out of himself on the ground, and heaves a stray axe right into his skull before walking away.

All throughout, Stahelski keeps an impressive hold on finding the humor out of such a ridiculous sequence of events … but without ever making the characters themselves self-aware about the gag. From beginning to end, the roughly 5 minute scene plays out like a gore-splashed short film that gives audiences a slightly different flavor of what "John Wick" has to offer. Until we get to see "Chapter 4" for ourselves, we have no choice but to crown the knife fight from hell as the pinnacle of the franchise.

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The post The Knife Fight In John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum Is The Best Action Scene Ever appeared first on /Film.