Revenge is all he has left.
Back of DVD:
As a mob enforcer, Ben Archer (action superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme: back to his hard hitting best!) worked for criminals. Now, as a cop, he works to put them behind bars. But his personal and professional lives collide the day his wife takes in the runaway daughter of a Triad gang boss... and is brutally murdered for her interference.
Hell-bent on revenge, Archer joins forces with his old underworld friends... and wages an all-out war against the Triads that will leave a wake of death unlike any city has ever seen before.
First of all, if you are reading these reviews sequentially, apologies for the delay in getting this review up. It's just been one of those weeks, but I'm back now to continue this unintentional expose of B-action superstars that I started with Steven Seagal's "A Dangerous Man" and followed by Dolph Lundgren's "The Shooter". Who knows where this will go, but it seems like a good theme to run with.
The movie starts with a flashback of a car chase shootout that seems to end badly as it cuts to Jean-Claude Van Damme sitting in a morgue between two corpses with a mournful and defeated expression on his face. This cuts to JCVD, who seems to work at a club, saying to colleagues that he has had enough and wants out. Something is not right in the land of Van Damme; but to which order events are taking place in we are not sure of yet (all very Pulp Fiction). This intro scene would feel more at home in his excellent self-titled movie made a few years later.
A boat load of illegal Chinese immigrants arrives at the city docks and are processed by INS. One of the INS workers at the scene (Van Damme's wife Cynthia, played by Lisa King) feels sympathy for a teenage girl that was on the boat and takes her home for the night instead of leaving her at a processing centre. Van Damme has a son of his own and tries to bond with the girl over ice cream. Also, I have to mention early on that the only actors in this movie that I couldn't stand were JCVD's wife and son; his wife in particular has a whiny, permanently whispering voice that annoyed the hell out of me. Perhaps that is why she has only done two other things besides this movie, according to IMDB anyway, including a DTV sequel for Home Alone.
Meanwhile, a Chinese business man with nice shoes disembarks from a private jet and enters a waiting black limousine (i.e. he's evil). He is Sun Quan (Simon Yan, a veteran of Chinese cinema) a triad crime lord who is actually smuggling drugs in the boat along with the people. When he meets with a crooked INS cop from the docks we even learn that some of the people smuggled died due to heroin packages they had swallowed bursting in their stomachs. Harsh. What we also learn is that the girl being accommodated by Van Damme's wife is Quan's daughter. Oh no.
Cynthia is at home having lunch with her parents, family and her temporarily adopted immigrant daughter (but no JCVD) when an armed gang of triads smash in and kill everybody in the room, including Cynthia. Quan's daughter escapes but JCVD's son is kidnapped. When Van Damme arrives home to his dead wife he understandably loses it and begins to methodically piece together how to get his son back and avenge his wife, while protecting Quan's daughter. Then out of absolutely nowhere during a tear-jerking scene a freaking ninja attacks him with a sword, and just to remind you that this is a Van Damme movie he is kick-boxed out of a window.
This is a very different type of movie for Van Damme. If I hadn't seen "JCVD" previously I would be more surprised than I am, but still the acting qualities he shows in this are far and above any of his 90's work. I don't think he even smiles once in Wake of Death, but I guess there isn't much to smile about. There is a lot of tender piano music and quiet scenes throughout but they aid the story well, unlike the usual cliche tender piano music played in action movies when something bad happens. Van Damme has become a much better emotional actor in his later years work.
Van Damme gathers his club associates as a small vigilante posse and takes down the first pawn in his game of revenge, Andy Wang (Tom Wu). They go to his brothel/hotel wearing balaclavas and very swiftly take out all his henchmen guards, leaving JCVD with the cool job of blowing Wang away with a shotgun to the head: "This is for my wife!". This is more like a Dolph Lundgren movie at this moment, but the characterisation of Van Damme's club associates is something from a Tarantino movie. One has a strong accent, one is in a wheel chair, they play cards and make espressos. Then together as a family of sorts, brutally torture a guy with a god damnned POWER DRILL. There is serious glee on their faces as they plunge the drill into the guys arms and legs - one of the most painful (literally) scenes to watch in any Van Damme movie I know, but a hugely effective information gathering technique.
I really enjoyed Wake of Death. When summarised on the back of a DVD cover the plot looks very similar to any other DTV action movie. But JCVD's honed acting skills and the interesting characters added into the mix, along with the eclectic soundtrack and cool cinematography, make it stand out from the crowd. It's not all high tea and crumpet cinema though - there is a sweet motorbike chase through a mall, a car chase with exploding tanker truck and a by-the-numbers shootout ending on a boat (it reminded me a bit of the ending from Back in Action actually) with twin Desert Eagles and a guy falling off the ships mast, all before finally killing Quan and getting his son back. Hooray!
Next up: perhaps a lesser-appreciated Schwarzenegger movie.
An excellent presentation overall on this R4 disc. I bought this in a 3-pack with Legionnaire and In Hell on separate discs on one of those compilations that Sony has been putting in recent years here in Australia (you can get other JCVD 3-packs, Steven Seagal packs, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, and others - they are great value). The picture and audio were both crisp and clean, with a nice 16:9 video and a dynamic surround soundtrack.
eBay for $4.25 for the three aforementioned movies.