Chicago gang boss Tony Serrano (Nick Mancuso) arrives in the Far East to close a deal with another gang boss, Kinman Tau (Tzi Ma), who has promised to supply the area under his remit with millions of dollars of heroin. However, while Tau is happy to put on some martial arts entertainment for his guest, he draws the line at allowing him to take over his operation entirely, which leads to a breakdown in negotiations. Not so good, but what does this have to do with Chinese-American art student Jake Lo (Brandon Lee)? He is hard at work on his course, but a fellow student keeps trying to persuade him to join his Anti-Communist Government crusade, and Jake is just not interested - he had enough of that at Tiananmen Square...
That's right, they used the massacre of protestors by the Chinese authorities in 1989 as a plot point here, in the first major role for the son of Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee, who obviously had a connection to that part of the world. A fairly exploitative move by the American producers, especially when there was a flashback where we saw our hero watch in horror as his father was squashed by a rampaging tank (!), but after that note of over the top bad taste, Rapid Fire settled into an action flick groove that meant it was little we had not seen before, not for connoisseurs of the form at least. Still, for addicts there were compensations, as often was the case with the shoot 'em ups and beat 'em ups of this era.
For much of Hollywood, the action efforts of the eighties were continuing unabated into the nineties with very little change in the style, but there were things altering, it's just that there was not an overwhelming majority cottoning on. Therefore Rapid Fire was an item that could have been manufactured at any time over the previous decade, with only the presence of a bright young hopeful in the leading role to generate an optimism for the genre's future. Lee was that man, and if you don't know what happened to his promising career then you've never heard of his next work, The Crow, which would be his last, and a genuine attempt to do something different with the clichés by adding a fresh twist to some tried and tested plotting.
This, on the other hand, was a necessary stepping stone to prove that Lee had what it took to be a new face for the future, building on his old man's legacy to carry on that tradition, just as Eastern martial arts was beginning to make headway in the movies of the West. He was certainly athletic enough (director Dwight H. Little wasted no time in getting his star to strip off his shirt at every possible opportunity) and had the moves, as witnessed in one of the defining acts of an action star of this time, a battle with Al Leong. This was the penultimate combat sequence, and a definite highlight as the two of them go at it hammer and tongs, a scene worthy of inclusion in a Hong Kong kung fu effort with hardly any changes necessary; if anything, it was more impressive than Lee taking on Tzi Ma for the climax.
It wasn't all Lee's show, however, for an actor who might have been cast as a bad guy more often with this sort of material was Jake's ally here. Powers Boothe played a non-crooked cop who persuades him to contribute to taking down Serrano after Jake witnesses him shooting a business rival. With Serrano hot on his heels, and bent lawmen dogging his escape route, he needs a man of integrity like Boothe's memorably-named Mace Ryan to save the day, as the student has previously been established as being reluctant to leap into action, against the Chinese troops a few years before or against the hoods who are now trying to kill him. Obviously pacifism is offered very short shrift in a story like this, and so it was Lee soon set about doling out the boots to the head and even picking up guns to have bullets aimed in a likewise direction, much as you would expect. Nevertheless, for an action entry of this vintage there was always going to be a memorable bit or two, and here if Leong vs Lee didn't float your boat, how about Boothe winning at bowling by using his gun? Music by Christopher Young, including a couple of rawk power ballads - one for the love scene.