Unarmed and extremely dangerous
Back of DVD:
In this explosive martial arts action adventure, college student Jake Lo (Brandon Lee) is pursued by smugglers, mobsters and crooked federal agents after he witnesses a murder by a Mafia King-pin. When the witness protection program fails, he has to protect himself with his only weapons - his hands. Determined to survive, he takes on Chicago's warring drug lords with the assistance of a renegade cop (Powers Booth) and his beautiful partner.
This was a tidy little gem I hadn't heard of. Like most my age, I am familiar with Brandon Lee because he is Bruce Lee's son and because he was The Crow. I also know that that he was tragically killed when filming that movie when a live round was accidentally inserted into a stunt pistol. Early this year I also discovered that he starred along side Dolph Lundgren in the buddy cop action-fest Showdown in Little Tokyo which I enjoyed him in very much. So I decided to check out what else the guy had done, which unfortunately due to his untimely death was not much. His second last movie was Rapid Fire.
We start in China as Italian-American mob boss Tony Serrano (Nick Mancuso) and his cronies (and Al Leong, but more on him later) arrive at a heroin port to meet with counterpart Kinman Tau (Tzi Ma) to discuss trade. More than that, Tony has a bug up his arse and says Tau owes him for all the support he has shown him in getting established as an underworld figure. Tau is unimpressed and fights three guys with a stick to prove his manliness, then sends Tony packing.
Back in America, Brandon Lee (playing Jake Lo) is quietly going about his day when he sees a student protest about the Tiananmen Square massacre going on ("Free China!"). This gives Lee flashbacks of his father being attacked by police on the June Fourth Incident and he tells the protest leader to get bent. Lee is a budding artist and goes to his art class where he draws a nude blonde, improvised with a dragon for some reason ("It's what I see when I look at her."). The model must like being associated with a dragon and asks him out. That's a good trick - draw ladies in the nuddy with a dragon and you'll get a date out of it.
When Lee arrives at an art gallery for his date he realises it's a con as the guy from the protest is there going on about freeing China again. The model convinces him to stay for a drink and he does. However at the same party is Chang, Tau's business partner, who briefly meets with Lee then goes upstairs to his office. Waiting inside however is Tony Serrano and his pals. This time Tony is trying his muscle on Chang. What a tool; he couldn't beat the boss so he goes after the second-in-command. Pretty weak. If the shit didn't hit the fan he would probably go after the cleaning lady, but when Chang refuses to hand over his drug deals, Tony blows him away through a glass window.
Unfortunately Lee was there at the time and saw the whole thing. Tony realises and takes a few shots at him but Lee unleashes his martial arts fury on everyone, breaking much glass in the process, then even trashing the place with his motorbike. Tony flees but Lee is arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, though is convinced (re: blackmailed) by FBI agent Frank Stewart to be a witness to the murder of Chang by Tony. Lee is put into protective custody in Chicago but that was just a setup by crooked FBI agents who kill his entourage and try to take out him as well. Lee pulls his martial-artsness again and channels a bit of Jackie Chan, using refrigerator doors as weapons etc.
Brandon Lee is pretty good at the various styles he puts on show, though I got the feeling during Rapid Fire that he had slowed it all down on purpose. I could be wrong, but I reckon he was actually much faster than what we got to see in this. It's not like the movie was slow, but the title "Rapid Fire" isn't that accurate. More accurate would be "Quickened Pace Fire", or "Faster than you but still not as fast as it could be Fire". It's all pretty enjoyable though, with cliched Italian-American crims, car chases and shootouts aplenty - and the obligatory awful sex scene with 80's power ballad soundtrack.
Though double-crossed by the FBI, Lee agrees to help the local Chicago police who have more of an interest in Tau than in Tony Serrano, but they'll take what they can get. He first meets the local detective by chance; Lee had gone to meet FBI agent Frank Stewart when Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe - great name) arrives on the scene. Frank's henchmen start shooting and Lee and Mace Ryan escape, shooting back and blowing shit up (queue explosions) and Lee gets a handle on twin pistols, guns akimbo style. Mace Ryan is one of those hard-arsed cops that when pissed at his poor bowling game shoots the pins (yes, he actually does this).
There's a bar/restaurant brawl that is pretty awesome actually with its display of machine gun carnage, but the real gold is the final sting where Lee dresses up as a Chinese labour worker by simply putting on a head bandanna and a pair of glasses and infiltrates Tau's operations in Chicago. Lee demonstrates his flawless Cantonese (he was expert by age eight, apparently) and knowledge of Chinese culture, but most importantly he has a fight with Al Leong! Leong is great; he turns up in all the best 80's/90's action fare as the henchman of some other Chinese guy. He doesn't utter a single line in Rapid Fire but gets a good exit by getting smacked around by Lee and stabbed in the stomach.
Overall this is a good piece of fun. There's nothing outstanding in Rapid Fire but it's definitely solid and well polished action, with just a bit of light comedy thrown in. It's a real shame that Brandon Lee departed this Earth so soon as I think he would have had a great career in action/martial arts movies.
I reviewed the R4 DVD from 20th Century Fox and all was well here. A nice sharp 16:9 enhanced widescreen presentation with a clean stereo soundtrack that makes this 1992 movie look and sound as good as it can. I read on another review that the R4 is slightly censored, having been based on the R2 UK master. Apparently it is missing a nun-chuck fight scene; I certainly don't recall seeing this so it must be true, but I didn't notice any clumsy edits either. Runtime 92 minutes.
eBay for a couple of bucks