Monday, December 28, 2009

'Wake of Death' is one of Van Damme's best

Wake of Death (2004)
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Simon Yam, Lisa King, and Valerie Tian
Director: Phillipe Martinez
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Ben (Van Damme) is a retired gangster who calls on old friends from both sides of the law to help him get bloody revenge against a psychopathic, mysogynistic Triad boss (Yam) who slit the throat of his innocent wife (King).

"Wake of Death" is one of Jean Claude Van Damme's best action films, almost as good as "Hard Target." Unfortunately, that's damning with faint praise. There is plenty of potential here, and there some nice character development bits, but, unfortunately too much time is spent on ruining cool action scenes by overusing slow motion--do we really need to see EVERY guy who gets shot in slow motion?--and the film had a casting director who seemed determined to make sure everyone in the movie looks like everyone else; I'm not exaggerating... virtually all the white gangsters and cops from New Orleans have beards, the same hair-color and bodytype, and alll the Asian gangsters likewise are indistingushable from one another. In a film as jam-packed with bitplayers as this one, that's a major problem.

There's also the issue that someone on the production thought that using virtually the entirity of the big-budget car chase with the exploding fuel truck twice in the film, once at the very start, and then as the film reaches the climactic encounter between Ben and the Bad Guys. The idea might have been okay if they had compressed the sequence at the beginning, and if someone had actually sat down and thought logically about what a truck driver would do if cars were weaving all around him and shooting at each other. (I'll give you a hint: He wouldn't do as the driver does in this movie.) I understand that the filmmakers wanted to get their money's worth out of that big scene--it must have consumed quite a bit of their shoe-string budget--but up front it sort sets the worng tone for what follows and at the back-end, it's annoying to have to sit through the exact same sequence all over again. ("But now it's in context and much more thrilling," I'm sure the filmmakers would tell me. Sorry guys, no, it's not.)

The most interesting part of the film is Van Damme's character and the nature of his family life. There's also the nice change of pace that the film doesn't fall back on the "youze can't ever leave da mob" cliche. Unfortunately, everything else is a muddled mess.

(Note: If you're a fan of Jean-Claude Van Damme and you missed "JCVD" last year, you really need to pick it up on DVD. It appears to have been dubbed into English, which is a shame, but it is an excellent film. It's not an action film, but it will make you appreciate his talent even more.)

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