John Wick, John Wick, who doesn’t know John Wick? The action thriller franchise first took the world by storm in 2014 with its unique and engaging plot, as well as Keanu Reeves’ powerful performance in the title role. His portrayal of the character is one of the main reasons why the films have been so successful, as has the franchise’s impressive attention to detail and action scenes. It’s a well-crafted and fully-realised world that feels both believable and intriguing, but it also features a supporting cast that deliver excellent performances to help flesh out the story around Reeves’ assassin. The latest release in the franchise, John Wick: Chapter 4, does just this, and, like the previous films, it has attracted millions of filmgoers to the cinema. Aimee Kwan, a British actress of Thai-Malaysian origin, was one of the newest additions to the cast. Although she has a small role, Aimee added great value to the story of one of the main characters, Caine, who is portrayed by Donnie Yen.
Born and raised in London, Aimee graduated from the Royal College of Music as well as Oxford University, in addition, she is also a talented pianist and violinist. Aimee’s adventure with John Wick: Chapter 4 began when she flew to Paris to shoot her scenes, though at the time she didn’t know it was the action franchise she was going to be a part of.
“I didn’t know I was auditioning for John Wick,” Aimee explains. “It was actually nice [not to know] as you don’t think too hard, you just kind of go [for it] and think ‘okay, this is a recording for a project’ and I just did my best.”
“When I was flown to Paris, it still wasn’t confirmed, but when touched down they took me straight to make up, checked my hair,” Aimee adds with a chuckle.
“Hold on a second, you were flown to Paris without knowing what you were about to do?” I ask.
“Pretty much so. That said, I had suspicions, and when I realised it was John Wick, I was like ‘okay, okay.’ And then I was in a makeup room, I remember I was the first one there having it done, and then Donnie Yen came in saying ‘Good morning,’” she adds.
“Oh dear, if this happened to me, but instead of Donnie Yen it was Keanu Reeves walking in, it would have been the last day of my life,” I exclaim, laughing.
“Now that you are saying you would have died, I felt somewhat like that. Donnie Yen casually walked in to say ‘good morning,’” Aimee comments further. “It was great to be around Donnie, and we did end up doing some scenes, but not all [of them] made it into the film.”
With Donnie Yen, Rina Sawayama, Hiroyuki Sanada, Aimee and many others, John Wick: Chapter 4 brings a respectful representation of Asian talent to the screen. Having said that, we can’t forget the issue of underrepresentation of Asian female actors in Hollywood films is a complex and multifaceted one, with several factors contributing to the problem. One likely reason for this is the lack of diversity in the Hollywood decision-making positions; Many films are produced and directed by non-Asian individuals who may not have the same lived experiences, or perspectives, as Asian women. This can lead to stereotypical or limited portrayals of Asian women on screen, and although John Wick is Aimee’s first Hollywood role, she is aware of the ongoing issue of a lack of representation for actors with a similar background to hers.
The same goes for media that often causes Asian talent to be “invisible”. Despite an impressive body of work, many are still overlooked. Therefore, I asked Aimee about how we can all do a better job of holding the media accountable across the overall entertainment space.
“People, like yourself, who report and write about Asian [culture and talents] but not in a way that makes them this kind of shiny fad, that is so important,” Aimee explains. “[in all honesty,] there are many Western media outlets that are not particularly consistent with their reporting of Asian cinema, as they might not see it as an important topic. However, outlets like yourself do it constantly because it is important and the impact it has on consumers, whether they are in Asia or outside of Asia, is vital. And I think we see this even if you do a lot of coverage on artists in Asia, or Asian artists that are outside of Asia, and that balances too as people assume that both are the same, but they are not. For instance, when you interview a Korean actor, and they are based primarly in Korea, they will have a different experience of the entertainment industry than an actor who was brought up in the West like Simu Liu, for example, and how he has had to build his career. It means that outlets [that cover both] understand those nuances. And the struggle to break into the film business is another thing as well.”
Aimee grew up with a passion for the arts, honing her craft in a few productions and student films. After graduating from university, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. Despite facing the challenges that come with breaking into the entertainment industry, Aimee has already made a name for herself in the UK after writing her own screenplays, and adapting and directing a feature film titled 12, which is a modern adaptation of Shakespear’s Twelfth Night.
Aimee admits that directing her feature film was harder than starring in it, adding: “The schedule was very tight, and a lot of it was done at night. We were all tired, and we were all close to finals. That, in itself, was stressful. But when I look back on it, I always think about all the things I could have done better, I am quite hard on myself.”
When asked how she felt after making John Wick: Chapter 4, and her thoughts on her performance in hindsight, she reflects: “You know, I dissociate really easily, I don’t know why but that helped in some ways. I think as an actor you have to get over watching yourself. Not even for big projects you know, even when you watch self-tapes back you have to be able to be critical.
“In a lot of ways it is not about you right, when you are talking about the whole process. When I was watching the film, and I watched it four times as we had many events, every time I’ve been spending time on looking at every shot, lighting, how grading changes every time, therefore, when I watched my parts I was like ‘why did the director use these shots of me,’ but in that sense is not about me, it is about the overall vision and how do I service that overall picture.”
“Mia is a very important drive for Cain’s story, so how I am depicted is fundamental to the audience’s understanding of where his emotional drive comes from,” she adds.
Although Aimee has an impressive education, she decided that acting was what she wanted to do. The question arises, how did she manage to convince her parents to let her become an actress? Well the answer, it seems, is simple: “I have loved films since I was very young, and The Lord of the Rings was really influential for me in terms of just making me fall in love with films. Since Peter Jackson made these movies the scope of fantasy films has never been higher.”
Aimee adds that she enjoys acting because “it means that I am a part of that film-making process. And I want to say that [my love for acting] was born out of that.”
“My mum has always been of the mindset of ‘let her do what she wants to do.’ You know, every parent wants their children to have a stable future,” she goes on. “My dad, on the other hand, was more reticent; he wasn’t worried about me being unhappy, but he was more worried about the fact that I was going to get a job in acting. I think what convinced them was the fact that I received my degree. And for my dad it was important to have that.”
Despite their concerns over her going into acting, Aimee says her appearance in the newest John Wick brought them great comfort: “My mum was really happy that I got booked for something. And, as I said before, it wasn’t clear at the beginning what the project was, but the fact that they were willing to fly me over to Paris meant that it was a good project. She understood that as well as my dad. I think everyone was excited that I was booked for a good film.”
Aimee also admits that she overthinks a lot, therefore, whenever she prepares to audition or lands a role she tends to break down her character into pieces. Perhaps with that in mind, she makes all her characters believable and engaging at the same time.
“This will sound terribly methodical, or like I am shifting the responsibility, and I don’t know whether it’s because of my outlook, but, for me, when I am watching something, everything ought to be seamless. I always look at the bigger picture, not only actors,” Aimee confesses.
Although Mia’s character is given a limited amount of screen time, it was a significant role that fans may hope will be further developed in John Wick: Chapter 5 in the future, if the franchise continues. In the meantime, Aimee plans to continue working on her writing and she revealed that she just pitched two scripts that she hopes will be picked by an LA studio. While there are no concrete plans when it comes to new acting projects, the actress keeps herself busy. But, with John Wick under her belt, Aimee proves she is a rising star who is sure to make her mark on the entertainment industry. With her talent, drive, and commitment to breaking barriers, she is a force to be reckoned with, and an inspiration to aspiring actors everywhere.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, and art, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop / K-music, and Asian music in general, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.