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A review of WAKE OF DEATH

#2
Thanks Gunslinger.

"One More Man on Fire"

October 9, 2004



"Wake of Death", the latest Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick, stars the Muscles from Brussels as a gangster out for revenge against fellow gangster Simon Yam. The film plays out as you might expect, with French gangster Ben Archer (Van Damme) deciding after two decades in the underworld to go straight and spend more time with his family. Meanwhile, Ben's wife Cynthia (Lisa King), an INS agent, has picked up young Kim (Valerie Tian) off a boat ferrying Chinese illegals to the States. It's a bad mistake, because Kim's dad is one Sun Quan (Yam), a homicidal maniac with obsessive paternal instincts who has just made a trip of L.A. to find his missing daughter.








After discovering that the Archers are harboring Kim, Quan murders Cynthia and her foster parents, and later that night tries to knock Ben off as well. What's a retiring gangster with a chip on his shoulder to do? Why, he goes on the warpath, of course. In short order Ben is putting on a ski mask and raiding brothels with help from a guy named Tony (Tony Schiena), who I think is a gangster too, but then later on Ben mentions something about them being brothers, so you figure it out.

It comes as no surprise that you've read this synopsis before. You've already seen "Wake of Death" when it was called "The Punisher" and "Man on Fire". And those are just two big-budget Hollywood films treading the same territory. Can you imagine how many direct-to-video copycats (aside from "Wake of Death") there were? In any case, watching "Wake of Death" one gets the feeling that this is a 2-hour movie, except someone got scissor happy and cut out 40 minutes of it. The result is a movie that doesn't quite make sense, with tons of character history lost somewhere in the editing room floor.

Of particular note are the Max and Tony characters, both of who gets very personally involved in Ben's quest for blood vengeance. It's all fine and well, but the audience has been given little reason why they're so personally invested in the Ben's killing spree, up to the point where they are right beside him when he's shooting up a brothel and then later when he's interrogating a victim for information. We are told they were gangsters from Marseille, but being told and being shown the unbroken brotherly bond these guys are supposed to share isn't the same thing.

Still, "Wake of Death" has what it takes to be a decent revenge film. Making Ben a gangster was a good touch, since at this point seeing another angry cop (or ex-cop) go on the rampage is probably a bit much. It's too bad that much of the film feels disjointed, and you can never shake the feeling that there was a ton of exposition you weren't privy to, but if you had been it might have made the film more coherent. As such, "Wake of Death" is probably one of the few movies that I wished was longer, because the film certainly has the makings of a good gritty revenge thriller, if the scene with the drill bit and the bloodletting at the Chinese brothel are any indication.

In many ways "Wake of Death" threatens to defy its would-be reputation as yet another Van Damme straight-to-video actioner, but for whatever reason the film's more challenging aspects are always roped in before they can be completely unleashed. In a film where Van Damme's Ben is a gangster who relies on his guns, why have so many of those stylistic fights with high kicks and punches? In a movie like this, characters should simply gun each other down. Men on the bloody trail of vengeance don't take time out to exchange kicks to the face. Ask Denzel Washington if you don't believe me.

As the chief villain, the charismatic Simon Yam has so little to do that it's criminal. Appearing only when the plot requires his character to be onscreen (which is quite few, I'm sorry to say), Yam is obscenely absent for much of the second half. Director Philippe Martinez seems to come from the MTV school of directing, and seesaws between making a low-budget version of "Man on Fire" and an irritating film with an obnoxious soundtrack that goes overboard on the violins for the sad scenes and the loud techno for the action scenes. It's all a little much, to say the least.

In better directorial hands, "Wake of Death" could have most certainly been one of Van Damme's better movies. If "In Hell" proved anything, it's that Van Damme can handle good material if he's given them. The script, though mostly erratic, has the inklings of a good movie, but much of the film's potential is ruined by overly pretentious directing (especially in the beginning) and mostly incomprehensible editing during the action scenes. Coupled that with too little screentime for the fantastic Simon Yam and an overly obnoxious soundtrack that makes you want to punch the director in the face, and "Wake of Death" is the film that could have been.

FYI: Rumor had it that Ringo Lam, the Hong Kong director who nearly led Van Damme to the promise land with "In Hell", was set to direct "Wake of Death", but left at the last minute over "creative differences". Too bad, because I'm sure Lam would have done a better job than Mr. Martinez, who can't seem to decide if he wants to do an artsy-fartsy action film or a mindless Van Damme kick'em-in-the-face movie. He seems to have chosen the halfway point, if you were wondering.

Movie Grade: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Hmm well the movie won't be released till December on DVD but it looks really good. I can't wait to see it.
 
#3
A very good review on this new film

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 ol’ 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 Damme’s 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 clichéd parts we’ve seen many times over, but parts VD hasn’t 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 Damme’s 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 Damme’s 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 VD’s big comeback, if it wasn’t 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 VD’s 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 isn’t 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 it’s low budget cousin, The Minion with Dolph Lundgren. Wake Of Death is the cheapo equivalent of Denzel’s 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. It’s been done hundreds of times.

This doesn’t make WOD a bad film, in fact it’s a decent movie. I must point out that I saw an early version of this, the score wasn’t 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. Lam’s 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 Martinez’s 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 can’t 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 didn’t 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 Damme’s 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 Damme’s 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 cliché 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 cliché 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 doesn’t go run and chase the bad guys, he breaks down, he even forgets the kids, who managed to escape. Van Damme’s 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. It’s 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 VD’s work here and it is quite an accomplishment. If he doesn’t walk away with a VideoPremiere Award then I’ll 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 isn’t exceptional Van Damme is actually moving. I haven’t 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 “stay in politics old man, I’ll take your place at the multiplex“. 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 Woo’s proposed remake of The Red Circle, the classic French thriller and a European setting would be great. What about X3, VD said he’d 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 couldn’t 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.

Tom Jolliffe.
 
#4
Reservoir Dog said:
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 ol’ 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 Damme’s 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 clichéd parts we’ve seen many times over, but parts VD hasn’t 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 Damme’s 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 Damme’s 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 VD’s big comeback, if it wasn’t 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 VD’s 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 isn’t 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 it’s low budget cousin, The Minion with Dolph Lundgren. Wake Of Death is the cheapo equivalent of Denzel’s 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. It’s been done hundreds of times.

This doesn’t make WOD a bad film, in fact it’s a decent movie. I must point out that I saw an early version of this, the score wasn’t 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. Lam’s 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 Martinez’s 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 can’t 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 didn’t 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 Damme’s 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 Damme’s 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 cliché 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 cliché 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 doesn’t go run and chase the bad guys, he breaks down, he even forgets the kids, who managed to escape. Van Damme’s 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. It’s 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 VD’s work here and it is quite an accomplishment. If he doesn’t walk away with a VideoPremiere Award then I’ll 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 isn’t exceptional Van Damme is actually moving. I haven’t 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 “stay in politics old man, I’ll take your place at the multiplex“. 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 Woo’s proposed remake of The Red Circle, the classic French thriller and a European setting would be great. What about X3, VD said he’d 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 couldn’t 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.

Tom Jolliffe.

Fantastic article thanks! I can't wait to see Wake Of Death, Van Damme will make a big comeback in 2005 for KUMITE!
 

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#7
justice808 said:
Hi Craig,how can you watch it tonight?Didn't think it was out yet?Or did you get it free from the net?;)
Yeah it looks like i got a bootleg copy. :eek: :( It was still good quality though.

The movie was certainly good, i enjoyed it much more than the likes of Derailed and the second Universal Soldier. It ranks alongside Maximum Risk and Knock Off which i enjoyed. There is not much action compared with his earlier movies, but i suppose that is to be expected. The plot was pretty much a normal revenge movie, so i won't bore you with the details. :)

There were not too many fight sequences, but the ones there were, were well done although the fight with the big guy upstairs in the pub you could see they weren't hitting each other.

I found the torture sequence quite disturbing. :( The car chases were not very good either, but the motorbike one was much better.

Overall a pretty enjoyable movie that is certainly much better than the likes of Out For A Kill and The Foreigner. :(