VD's Big Come Back Leaves WAKE OF DEATH At Blockbusters Everywhere!
21 October, 2004
Hey folks, Harry here... I have to admit - this one is posted because... it gave me a great opportunity with a headline that just screamed to be written. However, what we have here with Tom is apparently the "AB KING" of Van Damme fans... which I wasn't really aware was still out there. I have to admit though, the review has raised a level of curiousity in me that I'm actually contemplating on looking at WAKE OF DEATH... it can't be as bad as KNOCK OFF, DOUBLE TEAM or... THE QUEST... can it? And I saw all of those on opening day... cuz... well, the Muscles from Brussels makes me giggle and snort. Now - read a very interesting look at the modern rise of VD at Video Stores...
Wake Of Death:
Hi There Harry and Co, I have review here for Wake Of Death.
I have to admit something here, I like Jean Claude Van Damme. He is known for making mostly bad movies but few can deny something entertaining about a guy doing flying spin kicks in glorious slow motion about ten times before knocking his opponent to the floor in a pool of blood. VD has milked his athletic prowess a lot but in recent years, starting back in 1998 with Legionnaire he has tried to do some more character driven pieces. Is it perhaps a sign that all his best performances are in straight to video movies, do we not want to see Van Damme try? Poor olí JC, he can try and try but a select few will see him giving it his all with his acting. Anyone who saw In Hell, must have been a little impressed with Van Dammeís acting, especially compared to his early days. Also Legionnaire showed the first signs of Van Damme developing as a thesp. When he has worked with Ringo Lam he has been given characters with more depth to portray, not masses of depth and generally clichťd parts weíve seen many times over, but parts VD hasnít done yet, that Lundgren, Seagal and those action guys never really did. Schwarzenegger tried, and his fans back-lashed by not going to watch the pap Collateral Damage, End Of Days and 6th Day. Arnolds best non-cyborg work remains his Ivan Reitman comedies, Twins, and Junior because they allowed him to emote while doing so OTT. Comedies allow for a bit of ham. It does seem though that in America at least, Van Dammeís days of appearing on posters in your local multiplex with coming soon written across it are long gone now, what a damn shame I have to say.
Wake Of Death is Van Dammeís best performance and I have to say that even considering his improvements in In Hell for example, this performance blew me away. Wake Of Death is a film full of promise, it could almost be VDís big comeback, if it wasnít already going straight to vid. This is likely because he has now found a strong market for his films. In Hell sold excellently in DVD rentals, outselling a lot of theatrically released films, and VDís biggest rival in his market, Steven Seagal. I believe that there must have been some thought of releasing this theatrically but they can make a quick killing on DVD I guess. At a moderate $20 million budget this film has enough bang for your buck so that side isnít a problem. Another thing that holds it back is a DTV common feature, in other words a synopsis a hell of a lot like a big studio film released in the year, for example for Arnolds apocalyptic millennium master piece End Of Days, we had itís low budget cousin, The Minion with Dolph Lundgren. Wake Of Death is the cheapo equivalent of Denzelís Man On Fire. A good old fashioned, violent revenge movie and a story revolved around a little girl. The plot is basically this: A boat of Chinese immigrants comes in to harbour and is seized. One of these is immigrants is a little girl and kind hearted Cynthia, married to club owner and gangsta Ben (Mr VD) who works for the INS begs her boss Hoggins to let her take the girl in for the night. The girl unfortunately is the daughter of leader played by Simon Yam (known to hardcore Woo fans from Bullet In The Head). Yam and his crew, including action movie extra extraordinaire Phillip Tan, are here for a big drug deal and also to get his daughter back. Unfortunately Hoggins is a dirty cop and is working hand in hand with Yam and since he knows where the guys daughter is, he tells Yam. Now you can guess the rest of the film, Archers wife is murdered, but the girl and also Archers son escape the villains so now Van Damme must protect the children, seek revenge and uncover the plot about the drug deal. Itís been done hundreds of times.
This doesnít make WOD a bad film, in fact itís a decent movie. I must point out that I saw an early version of this, the score wasnít fully done and they had used a lot of stock music, which actually worked pretty well in truth. Just a quick review of the non VD aspects of the movie before I get on to the main man. This film was initially meant to be directed by Ringo Lam but as it goes, he was fired, someone else was hired and fired and the producer Phillipe Martinez took over the reigns. Martinez is now stranger to the directors chair he did Citizen Verdict with Jerry Springer, a film that managed a limited release in the UK at least. Lamís ability could have been used here. Martinez has a good understanding of film, it is clear, he has a decent enough visual eye and is very much in the MTV vein of directing and editing a movie together. However every now and again the film suffers from the odd B-movie amateurish moment. In Martinezís favour though he does get a fantastic performance from Van Damme, were not talking golden statues or anything like that, this is not of De Niro standard but certainly Van Damme proves he has cinema worthy ability showing more chops here than a lot of these new wave action stars like Paul Walker. Ringo Lams experience and assured touch could have elevated this to another level. However since I saw an early unpolished version I canít fully judge on the editing and whether or not some of these weaker moments are chopped. Also the script while allowing for character depth also misses on a lot of it. It only begins to develop character relationships and does feel like maybe they didnít extend enough about Van Dammes relationship with his gangster family, his son, his wife before she died. We get the odd cheesy flashback of him and the missus every now and again. This is either the script of either it is the film having been cut down, but it does feel like 45 minutes are missing and another needless 15 minutes were put in instead. Also the action is mixed. There is plenty of it with some good car chases and plenty of shootouts and fights but while this is Van Dammeís best performance the action is not the best we have seen from JC. The fights are the main let down filmed in the generic Hollywood way of master shot and coverage and edited to death to liven it up. It wastes Van Dammeís fighting but once again this can be polished up for the final version. Also the end showdown between VD and Yam is such a letdown. I know it would have been one extra clichť to have them face off mano-a-mano but it just of dies out and goes limp kind of like your dick after taking home a beautiful woman and finding out she is really a man. In fact Yam is totally wasted and does little more than appear on occasion and look mean, he may as well be just any old DTV actor brought in to make up the numbers, but they waste a very good actor here.
Now back to JC. His performance is pretty much faultless. It is something a top actor can do in his sleep granted but this really does kick some action star arse. When his wife dies it is not the usual action movie clichť of the guy simply scowling and immediately picking up his gun. We see Van Damme grieve first, Jean Claude Van Damme cries. Yes you heard me right! He cries and he cries like a baby. The scene when VD finds his wife dead is great. He is late for a dinner dater with her and the kids at a Chinese restaurant where Burt Kwouk (Yes Burt Kwouk, Cato of Pink Panther fame) appears. On his way he drives past an oncoming car full of dodgy looking triads. When he gets in to find his wife lying dead he doesnít go run and chase the bad guys, he breaks down, he even forgets the kids, who managed to escape. Van Dammeís balance between the grieving husband and blood lusting revenge fuelled gangster is superb. The last half of the movie he takes on a cold and intimidating presence which let no one call wooden. It has conviction and inner power. Itís like Bruce Lee was, Charles Bronson in Once Upon A Time In The West. It conveys him pushing aside his pain for the time being to reek his vengeance, you can feel the conflict in his head as his pain nearly boils over and breaks him down again. There is an amazing subtlety to VDís work here and it is quite an accomplishment. If he doesnít walk away with a VideoPremiere Award then Iíll be amazed. To all those who scoff at Van Damme and laugh when you see the cover to his latest DTV epic at Blockbusters, just pick up Wake Of Death, rent it, watch it and appreciate that while the film isnít exceptional Van Damme is actually moving. I havenít been moved like this by Arnie. Van Damme gets one up on the Oak here, in fact dare I say it on a dramatic side he virtually elbows the big guy in the gut and says ďstay in politics old man, Iíll take your place at the multiplexď. The only thing that now marks up Arnold over JC in terms of performing is the comedy side. VD has never really got that. I want Van Damme to gwt offered a good role in a big film, how about a part in John Wooís proposed remake of The Red Circle, the classic French thriller and a European setting would be great. What about X3, VD said heíd love to be in it, they should get him in. I can seriously see Van Damme getting a supporting role in a bigger film, because he has shown he can take on better roles than he used to. He perhaps couldnít yet lead a big film but as a support to a top actor he could do a job. Van Damme in perhaps an ensemble piece like Oceans Eleven. I want Van Damme back in theatres and I base it purely on Wake Of Death. Harry, you guys have some connections. I reckon you should shift around some copies of this when it comes out. Try and get one to John Woo. I know Woo tried and failed to coax a performance form VD in Hard Target, but he could get one now.
Wake Of Death is out in time for Christmas and I urge people, even if just for curiosity, go see it. Van Damme deserves another shot at the big time.
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