Wake of Death

Dir: Philippe Martinez
Star: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Simon Yam, Valerie Tian, Danny Keogh

After the delights of JCVD, we decided we needed to try an old-school Van Damme flick, just to see if we had misunderstood or under-rated the man. Not going by this one, no. The most entertainment we had was trying to work out what the title meant: I mean, how can you hold a wake without death? We finally realized that what was meant was that, wherever JCVD's character, former Marseilles bar-owner Ben Archer, goes, there inevitably follows behind him a... Wake of Death. I'm not convinced. This just makes me picture the Grim Reaper water-skiing; didn't Gary Larson do a cartoon about that? It'd certainly be more interesting than this revenge flick, which has Ben after the Triad gang who killed his wife and kidnapped their son, after she takes in a little girl who turns out to be the daughter of the gang boss Sun Quan (Yam). If you can't see where this one is going, you must be asleep. Which is a serious threat for most of the running-time.

Originally, this was supposed to be directed by Ringo Lam, but he left the production after a few weeks, and replacement Martinez doesn't have any significant background in action cinema, which may explain why so much of what results is so tedious. It's certainly more downbeat and realistic [or pseudo-realistic: the sequence with the motorbikes in the shopping mall is as ridiculous as anything you'll see anywhere] than the average Van Damme film, but I'm not sure this is necessarily a good thing. You can kinda see the progression Van Damme is aiming for, as his character gets to emote his way through tragedy, and he deserves credit for wanting to stretch. However, he's just not up to it, and when you over-stretch as an actor and come up short, the results are inevitably less successful. JCVD wisely recognized its lead's limitations, operated within them and was much more effective as a result.

[February 2009]

Claude your eyes out
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