By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Maybe you are a fan of the “John Wick” movies the same way people are fans of “Star Trek.” You want to know every detail about the world of Wick. “The Continental,” a three-part series starting Sept. 22 on Peacock, is counting on this for a good turnout.
There will be some disappointment on both sides.
“The Continental” goes back in time to tell the story of young Winston Scott (Colin Woodell) and other key characters in the story. It explains how Winston earned his position at the head of the iconic hotel (in the U.S.). This allows the creators to show us a really grimy New York City, and also to use flashbacks to key periods of U.S. history, such as the Vietnam War.
Winston’s brother, Frankie (Ben Robson), works for The Continental and its then head, Cormac. (Cormac is played very aggressively by Mel Gibson, which did not seem like a good career move, based on his jerkish reputation in real life, but what do I know? Maybe everyone in Hollywood will love Gibson again now whenever they need a psychopathic murderous boss, apocalyptic madman, or suicidal policeman.) While this choice was weird, Gibson provides the sole humorous moment in the series, towards the end. No more about that, but it involves miming to the security camera.
Frankie gets in trouble with the hotel, which leads Cormac to kidnap/call on Winston for help. Winston is in London, conning people into investing in what is actually a brilliant idea about parking lots for high-rises (we could use more of those). He could care less about The Continental. Too bad for him. As we know from the films, it doesn’t matter if you’d like to stay out. So the best way to get out from under is to get on top. Winston goes about doing just this, with a pieced together team of assassins who all have some kind of chip on their shoulder.
Yen, played by Nhung Kate, met Frankie in Vietnam. She was not on the “correct” side, as U.S. interests would tell it. In this, “The Continental” is darn ballsy (her exact affiliation is not clear except a slur about “that Khmer Rouge bitch,” which I took to be racist and therefore ignorant). The series gets her out of that non-pc position pretty quickly, though, by having her hook up with a U.S. soldier instead of killing him, so maybe it’s not that ballsy. Nevertheless, Yen’s story remains the most engaging in the series, until the end when the whole thing turns into a gratuitous overly stylized bloodbath. Nhung is a race car driver and MMA fighter in real life, in addition to being an actress, and was selected for her ability to be convincing in the role, which she is.
There were other instances where “The Continental” tries to be enlightened in spite of being a free-for-all of blood, boobs, and beats. There are strong Black characters in the form of siblings Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour) and Lou (Jessica Allain), who run a martial arts school. They are masters without ever practicing and definitely without teaching anyone. The school is a front for illicit activities, and features in a turf war with an Asian gangster who wants control of their neighborhood. Yawn. Miles and Lou are literally strong, like, they have lots of muscles and can kill people, but not very sympathetic overall. Even when Miles has a heart-to-heart with Yen about Frankie, it doesn’t endear me to him anywhere near as much as it does to Yen.
There is an effort to be anti-sexist, much touted by the creators of the series.
“There are no damsels in distress in the John Wick world,” said Basil Iwanyk, an executive producer from Thunder Road Pictures, in notes to press. Lou, especially, makes occasional feminist remarks—but this was completely shattered by constant use of sex, female nudity, and female sexual moaning—to titillate a male audience. This is hypocritical or just dense. Sure, the nudity will appeal to a large contingent of the viewing public. Good job playing to that low denominator. I’m sure you have some kind of rationale about how strong women love to show off their bodies. And the men?
Let’s talk about the soundtrack, of which the creators are also SO PROUD.
“Kirk [Ward, producer and writer,] and I had the time of our lives creating this impressionistic spin on New York in the 70s,” said Albert Hughes, director and executive producer, in a published note. Personalized mixtape, more like, of cliché’ songs from every 60s or 70s movie, especially Vietnam War movies. Worse is the music helps glorify the gore in the series. Each song is timed to follow an especially f’ing crazy instance of violence and introduces a “drop the mic” feel, so we all just walk away, vibing on the music, violence canceled out. The thing about John Wick, the man, is he didn’t want to be violent (anymore). Every second of the films, Wick stretches himself to the limit doing things he doesn’t want to do. The films are gritty. This series is just gross.
“The Continental” creators make no secret that they intended the show to be different from “John Wick” and to be highly atmospheric (let’s say).
“I wanted to honor the spirit of escapism and excitement from the film series while introducing new fans to a hyper-stylized world they’ve never seen before,” said Hughes in the same note. This is not “Pulp Fiction,” though, which was actually original. The makers of “The Continental” are banking on us being as much into the hotel and its lore as we are into Keanu. I don’t think we are. Maybe we should care about Winston, or would if it was told right, but it turns out we don’t, for now, unless he’s part of Keanu’s team. We already know all we want to know. We’re fine.
Give us Keanu.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.