Donnie Yen had John Wick 4 director make Chinese character’s name less ‘generic’

Donnie Yen said he and John Wick: Chapter 4 director Chad Stahelski made an effort to steer clear of Chinese stereotypes, starting with changing his character’s “generic” name.

The Hong Kong actor makes his John Wick debut in the franchise’s fourth film – debuting in cinemas on 27 May – as assassin Caine, an old friend of Keanu Reeves’s legendary titular hitman.

However, according to Yen, Caine wasn’t his character’s original name.

“The name was Shang or Chang,” the actor told GQ in a recent interview. “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?”

He then brought up his character’s stereotypical “wardrobe” of “mandarin collars”, asking: “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?” Yen argued.

It was after he had a conversation with Stahelski, asking if they could change his character’s name and costuming, that he said the director agreed to his request.

Donnie Yen and Keanu Reeves in ‘John Wick’ (Getty Images / Lionsgate)
Donnie Yen and Keanu Reeves in ‘John Wick’ (Getty Images / Lionsgate)

The Independent has contacted Stahelski’s representative for comment.

Yen teased that Cain’s restyled look pays partial tribute to his hero, the late martial arts star Bruce Lee.

The Rogue One actor clarified that his frustrations weren’t aimed only at John Wick. “I had a very respectful experience working on John Wick. Overall, I enjoyed making the film,” he said.

Instead, Yen said he was raising these issues as a way of exemplifying the challenges he and fellow Asian actors face in Hollywood.

As the 2023 Oscar nominations recognise numerous first-time Asian nominees, there has been an increase in actors who have come forward to share their stories.

Most recently, Everything Everywhere All At Once’s James Hong was praised after he “roasted” Hollywood in his SAG Awards acceptance speech.

94-year-old Hong explained that when he started his career, many producers felt that “Asians were not good enough and they were not box office”.

“But look at us now!” he exclaimed. Everything Everywhere won the SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. The film is currently nominated for 11 Oscars – more than any other film – including Best Picture.

The 2023 Academy Awards broadcast live on ABC on 12 March, beginning at 8pm EST/5pm PST. Find the full list of nominees here.