Sunday, July 16, 2017
JCVD-A-THON: Wake of Death (2004)
Wake of Death” suggests the star still had some sort of commercial following in Hong Kong. The film co-stars Simon Yam, who is fairly obscure on this coast but a genuine movie star in Asia. Yam has been nominated ten times for the Hong Kong equivalent to the Oscars and headlined films like the “Young and Dangerous” series. So he was a pretty big get for the latest in Van Damme's long line of straight-to-video action flicks. Does this suggest that “Wake of Death” is better than your average DTV action movie? Well, sort of.
Ben Archer's official job title is bouncer. His unofficial job title is mob enforcer. However, he's sick of the criminal life and wants to devote himself to his wife, Cynthia, and their young son, Nicholas. Said wife is a social worker who, because of her Chinese background, is focused on the slave trade coming out of Asia. Stowing away among the latest batch of immigrants is a young girl named Kim, who Cynthia adopts. Kim hopes to escape her father, a brutal Triad gangster named Sun Quan. Quan is on her trail, however. He comes to America, murders Cynthia, and kidnaps Nicholas. Ben is forced to revisit his darker life to get revenge and rescue his son.
Philippe Martinez – who has few other credits of note, except for that movie where Val Kilmer tries to kill girls in bikinis in a sauna or whatever – directed “Wake of Death.” The project, however, was intended for Ringo Lam. Combined with Yam's presence and the darker tone, it suggests that “Wake of Death” was meant to be a gritty crime picture. That goal conflicts with the film's need to be a big action movie. The action sequences are impressive. A machete-wielding hitman bursts into Van Damme's house before getting spin-kicked through a glass door. A motorcycle chase through a mall features plenty of ramping and leaping through the air. A solid car chase concludes with a tanker truck going up in a massive explosion. All these stunts are done with practical effects, which is refreshing, especially after the wonky CGI in “Derailed” and “The Order.” However, moments like this feel a little out of place in a dark film about grieving for your loved ones.
There's a few things about “Wake of Death” that makes it sort of interesting. Van Damme getting to cry so much is something different. Attempting to smuggle serious emotions into a standard crime story is ambitious. Yam is a solid villain, the action is cool, and the concept has merit. Ultimately, “Wake of Death” is a little too grim for its own good. There's something juvenile about the focus on the gloomy atmosphere, the explicit violence, and the nihilistic viewpoint. [6/10]
[THE VAN DAMMAGE: 3 outta 5]
 An Entire Fight, Sans Shirt
[X] Close-Up Screaming
[X] Jump-Kicks A Guy, Through Something
[X] Performs Either a Split or a Spinning Roundhouse Kick