“That was an epic moment”: “John Wick 4” martial artist on that traffic battle, honoring Bruce Lee

Marko Zaror is currently appearing on screens across the country playing Chidi, a henchman for the Marquis (Bill Skårskgard) in “John Wick: Chapter 4.” (He will be remembered most for his scene with a dog.) But the Chilean martial artist also stars (in a double role), produced, and did the fight choreography for “Fist of the Condor,” opening April 4 in select theaters.

The new film, which was produced by Zaror’s company, is a throwback to his idol Bruce Lee‘s films. Guerrero (Zaror) is hoping to recover a sacred book that may be in the hands of his twin brother, Gemelo (Zaror). To keep the manual safe, Guerrero must first defeat Gemelo’s colleague, Kalari (Eyal Meyer). Flashbacks show how Guerrero trained with the maestros Wook (Man Soo Yoon) and Condor Woman (Gina Aguad) before the ultimate battle.

“He gave me freedom to experiment with my techniques and create the rhythm of the fight.

“Fist of the Condor” showcases Zaror and his powerful body in ways that are quite different from “John Wick: Chapter 4.” But both films showcase the benefits of passion, patience and persistence, along with physical and mental exercises. In “Wick” Zaror’s Chidi proves to be a relentless killing machine who believes he should be the one to take out John Wick. In “Fist,” Zaror undergoes training where he must walk on his hands and even jump over a bar while his legs are bound together as preparation to fight his rivals. 

The action scenes, are, of course, the main reason to see both films, and Zaror is poetry in slow motion in “Fist of the Condor,” especially during a fight scene on a beach where he is seen in some breathtaking balletic moves. This is in stark contrast to his scenes in “Wick” where he has a series of intense action scenes fighting John Wick in the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe and on the steps of Sacre Coeur. 

The actor/martial artist spoke with Salon about his two new films.

You had some amazing fight sequences in “John Wick: Chapter 4.” How do you adapt your martial arts style to the film, and did you get to choreograph any of your fights?  (Check out Zaror going mano a mano with Reeves around the 1:41 mark below.)

As a character, you want to always bring your own way of movement to the role. Jeremy Marinas, the fight coordinator [for “John Wick”], let me play and incorporate them. When I proposed, “I’d rather do it this way . . .” he gave me freedom to experiment with my techniques and create the rhythm of the fight. In the traffic scene, you are collaborating with the stunt drivers, and it is very precise; you have to be sure to hit your mark, so a car won’t run over you. There is a lot of focus and concentration. We kind of co-created, because there was a big plan and a direction that they want to go with each scene; so as long as I don’t interfere with that final objective, I can play and add my flavor to it. 

Chidi varies his engagement based on each fight he is in. Can you talk about how you recalibrated his technique in each sequence?

“With ‘Wick’ you feel that pressure — this is the big leagues now, and you have to deliver at your max.”

We tried to create an arc for the character. In Osaka, Chidi is least [engaged], he was evading. “I’m not going to bother with these people.” Then, when he gets a chance to fight John Wick, there is an anxiety and excitement. It was Chidi’s moment to prove to the Marquis that he was better than Donnie Yen, who was hired to kill John. That was my character’s struggle through the movie, and that level of adrenaline and anxiety is matched in his very dynamic and explosive movements.

You have a swagger that is appealing in “John Wick,” and your character is frustrated by his inability to kill John. What are your thoughts on playing this kind of villain? 

I like this type of bad guy. In his world, he’s the hero, and he is superior. He doesn’t believe in codes of honor and “star assassins.” He represents The Table, and he thinks he is the best assassin. Chidi’s boss [the Marquis] is just there to enforce the rules. Chidi is the expert killing machine. For me, I’m the cool guy here. I love how you start hating this cool guy. I’m not trying to be likable. People cheer when the dog gets me and pees on my face. When Chad [Stahelski, the director] told me he was creating this dynamic with the dog, that for me was an epic moment.  

The scale of “John Wick” gives you great exposure, but “Fist of the Condor” gives you more control. What is it like going from one extreme to the other?

Both are beautiful in different ways. Of course, “Fist of the Condor” is so personal, and it comes from my life journey as a martial artist. I gave all my notes to the director on nutrition, training, philosophy, fears in life and then created something — that really allowed me to express myself honestly in a film. I wanted people who love martial arts to know my journey. It is a lot of responsibility [making “Fist”]. You get the problems of a production — needing money and having to change things — there are a lot of challenges. When you are in a monster production like “John Wick,” where everyone on set is the best at what they do, you sit and learn and enjoy. As a producer, I tried to absorb everything and see how Chad communicates with his crew and how he engages with Keanu and what my role is. I was more of a student. In “Fist,” I’m the boss and need to ensure s**t happens. On “John Wick,” I just smiled 24/7 and had the best time of my life. This is the moment I’ve been working for my whole life; it puts me in front of millions. “Fist,” hopefully people will see it, but with “Wick” you feel that pressure — this is the big leagues now, and you have to deliver at your max. I like that adrenaline and challenge. 

“When I first saw Bruce Lee’s body, I thought ‘This guy is from another planet! His body is on another level!'”

Marko Zaror in “Fist of the Condor” (Well Go USA)

There are not many Latin martial arts films. How popular is this culture in South America?

In Asian culture, you don’t need to have a backstory to explain why a character in a film knows martial arts. [People think] we don’t have a culture of martial arts in Latin America, but it does exist. There are a lot of martial arts people who live in Latin America and love this [genre]. That was my case. I am a Latino martial artist who grew up in Chile and was inspired by Bruce Lee. “Fist” is how I take the genre and make it my own with my culture — the scenario, the music, the characters and the styles of fighting. The film is an homage to Bruce Lee and a way of saying thanks. 

Can you talk about creating the fight scenes in “Fist of the Condor”?

The first challenge, Guerrero doesn’t want to fight. He wants to protect the sacred manual. That gives room to create a different type of choreography. He is not the attacker; the other guy wants to win so you need to create a different dynamic. My character needs to respond to his attack — I want to hurt him right away. I’m a superior fighter, so how much can I play with him? When you have an opponent who is more of a threat, you can’t play anymore. You have to take him down or things will go south. It’s a totally different choreography. When you throw in the emotional aspect of the choreography, there is margin of error and frustration. That allows you to create different techniques than if you are fighting with confidence. You see the confidence with the first fight and then the guy pulls a mirror on Guerrero [to exploit his weakness] and things change. That allows for a change in choreography and different techniques.

Your body is spectacular. Can you talk about developing it?

“To have a better life and be a better human. That is what martial arts does for people.”

That’s what happened to me when I saw Bruce Lee, and that’s why physicality is such an important thing. I will not allow myself to be in front of a camera unless I look like a superhero. It is such an impactful thing. When I first saw Bruce Lee’s body, I thought “This guy is from another planet! His body is on another level!” You believe that he can beat 100 people at the same time. I worked on my diet and nutrition to get to that shape — I try to maintain it for a whole year so when a film project comes, you just tweak some things and get ready. I am constantly experimenting with nutrition. 

Condor Woman tells Guerrero to get rid of his ego. How do you keep your ego in check? If “Fist” succeeds or fails, it’s on you, whereas the box office take of “John Wick” does not rest entirely on you.

I’m just trying to be the best version of myself. Martial arts taught me that lesson. What people think about me — that I’m good or bad — is not going to change my reality. If the film is successful or not, it is not going make me a better person. It’s just a moment, and your journey continues. Just keep walking. If you fall down, stand up and just keep walking. You are not walking for just one goal. You walk because you love to walk and be totally honest with the journey you take. My life hasn’t changed no matter what stage I am in in my career. My priorities are to be kind and treat others the way I want to be treated myself, to take care of my body, train and get better every day. Failure and success don’t matter. 

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

I appreciate your philosophy. Is that what you want fans to get from these genre films?

We make movies to connect with people and inspire someone to discover their path. To have a better life and be a better human. That is what martial arts does for people. You learn discipline and you want to achieve and improve, so you need to be consistent and focused. Sometimes you need to work for something and that requires discipline. If you want a plant to grow, more water does not make it grow faster. You need to be consistent and water it every day and then it will grow, and you have to care for it every day and it will turn into a bigger tree. We are co-creators of our reality by decisions we make and the actions we take. When you make a decision and take actions because of fear and jealousy, things may go in a direction you don’t like. When you follow your instinct and discover your passion and love, and listen to that, you open doors. But that is hard to do. 

“John Wick: Chapter 4” is in theaters now.

“Fist of the Condor” opens April 4 in select theatres prior to its debut as a Hi-YAH! Original April 7.

Read more

about this topic


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar