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  Wake of Death Van Dammed If You Do
Year: 2004
Director: Philippe Martinez
Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Simon Yam, Philip Tan, Valerie Tian, Tony Schiena, Claude Hernandez, Lisa King, Anthony Fridjhon, Danny Keogh, Pierre Marais, Warrick Grier, Tom Wu, Jacqueline Chan, Burt Kwouk, Joon Chong, Andre Jacobs, Bo Petersen
Genre: Drama, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ben Archer (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is a bouncer, an extremely well-paid one thanks to his skills in the job, who is driving in a car chase between two vehicles, one containing a kidnapped fourteen-year-old girl called Kim (Valerie Tian) and the other a petrol tanker that are trying to crush him between them. He manages to get ahead with some well-placed bullets - he is firing a gun as he drives - and the car with the girl in it halts in the street, whereupon Ben implores Kim to climb out and into the back seat of his wheels, but all the time the tanker is out of control and speeding towards them both, about to crash into them. So we must go back to find out how they got into this perilous situation, mustn't we?

So that's already a pair of overused action flick cliches in the first couple of minutes: the kidnapped female, as women and girls are there to be kidnapped in these things, and the movie that starts in media res with their strongest sequence, then just as it builds to a climax, the screen goes black and we have to circle back to an earlier point so we can discover how this all came to be, then catch up with the stage we entered at. Maybe they were not such a cliché in 2004, but maybe they were, and they sure are now, but you don't watch a Van Damme movie to rock your world to its foundations, you watch them because they're offering a selection of familiar, not too jarring fighting bits and perhaps the odd explosion and car chase, sticking with the comfortable.

Of course, you can kid yourself you're witnessing something groundbreaking as many fans did when they watched this back in '04, convincing yourself Van Damme was serving up his greatest performance that proved he could really act, but he had already proved that in his nineties efforts. He wasn't a brilliant actor by any means, but he was savvy enough to know what he could do well within his limitations and was at least more engaging than some of his contemporaries - Steven Seagal, we mean you. The trouble with this was he was trying to give a proper performance of dramatic heft, and that was not his forte, a pity when he apparently became obsessed with proving himself within those parameters in the latter half of his career when he was not as agile as he once was, and it did lead to a lot of grinding over-emoting on his part.

So it was with Wake of Death, a film that promisingly had seen him reunite with Ringo Lam after the fairly well-regarded In Hell, that was until Lam unceremoniously left the project and some confusion about who was taking over ensued until producer Philippe Martinez stepped in. He was not so great with the drama, which was uninspiring - triad Simon Lam has to get escaped daughter Kim back after he shoots his naked wife when she says she's leaving him, that old chestnut - but the action was considerably more enjoyable, operating well on a budget that cannot have been huge. Filmed in South Africa, this plodded somewhat when Van Damme was not booting heads, and a sign of his slowing down was that not only did he fire guns more than he landed punches, but a karate champion (Tony Schiena) had been drafted in to bolster the action as his sidekick, but for the undemanding, or even the happy with the action viewers, this was serviceable enough if not able to bear the weight of its initial adulation. Plus, grievous misuse of Burt Kwouk did it no favours. Music by Guy Farley.

[Kaleidoscope Entertainment presents Wake of Death on Special Edition Blu-ray, DVD and Digital 5 April 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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