Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Brandon Lee Blogathon: Rapid Fire (1992)

Jake Lo is a bright college kid with a tragic past. Having lost his father in a failed protest in China, he's become disillusioned with life. When some activists trick him into showing up at their benefit party Jake reluctantly accepts to speak to the audience, but before he can he witnesses crime lord Tony Serrano shoot a man. After escaping their clutches, Jake is taken by the police, who quickly realise the break they have here, and put Jake immediately into witness protection, against his will. No sooner than Jake's arrived at the safehouse, some corrupt officers try and kill him and pin a murder charge on his head. Now on the run from both Serrano's thugs and the police, Jake must team up with a rogue cop who does business his own way, and take the fight to Serrano...

Rapid Fire is a quintessentially 90s action film. It's got everything you'd expect, and more, with fights aplenty, babes, car chases, explosions, and kung fu! Sign me up!

The movie sets up its plot well, and it doesn't take too long for us to get what's going on, or for the plot to really kick into gear. The protagonist is a good one, with a very effective backstory! His reactions are believable as he's suddenly thrust into this dangerous free-for-all, he's pissed without being belligerent or annoying.

A man-on-the-run story by design, the pacing is fine, and never boring. The film moves briskly enough, and has got enough twists and turns to keep you happy.

The action is really good here! Some of it is grounded and believable, with close-quarters fights, and tense stand-offs. Then we get the crazier moments, with guys whipping out shotguns and shooting speeding cars so many times they flip over and explode twice! It strikes a good balance, never being too much, and always entertaining.

The romance here is all telegraphed from a mile away, and is handled so cheesily, but in an amusing way. You might groan at the cliches or laugh at the handling of them, but it's never bad, just very funny.

Something I really respect about Rapid Fire is how political it is! While otherwise a straight and conventional Hollywood action film, it also shines a spotlight right in the Tienanmen Square Massacre, and isn't afraid to criticise the brutally oppressive Chinese regime. More of that please, Hollywood! Free China!

The characters here are good. Jake Lo is a nice lead character, with a sympathetic backstory. He's pissed off a lot of the time here, but never whines, and isn't dour all the time either.    Detective Mace Ryan (what a name!) is a fun though insane addition, getting some really over-the-top moments. His character is quite well detailed, and we really come to understand him. He also can't bowl for shit!

Policewoman Karla is a likeable addition. Maybe a bit unnecessary, and despite being ordered by a wounded Mace in the climax to forget him and help Jake, she's nowhere to be seen (leading Jake to have to go back in and rescue the guy!), but she's nice, and not too bitchy, gettinhgsome funny moments here and there too.

The villains are pretty neat. Serrano may be a typical Italian mafioso head, but the character is fun and villainous enough to want to follow. He gets one really good moment when with a crooked associate, who's been sent in by the cops with a wire. The guy's trying to get out of there as fast as he can, while Serrano slowly plays with him before revealing he knows. Overall the film gets across well his character of trying to stay strong in the face of waning credibility and tough threats.

The other villain is Kinman Tau, a ruthless Chinese criminal mastermind, and the main antagonist of the film, as well as the one whose actions spur the film into...well, action. He's pretty good, and has his moments (namely the stickfighting scene at the beginning), but he disappears for so long that you feel surprised when you see him again. 'Oh yeah, that guy', you'll think. When he does return he's good, and a decent final baddie, though the lack of screentime does have an effect.

Where Rapid Fire disappoints is in a couple of areas. For a start, there are too many characters! Not all of them are major, but it still feels like too many people to remember. We've got the 'Free China' group at the start, including the pretty blonde, who vanish entirely after the first act. Then there's the myriad mobsters, Serrano himself, his crooked contacts, and Tau and his gang! With Jake and the cops too, it's a bit hard to follow who's who at times.

The other big issue is connected to this. The main villain of the film is Serrano. He's the one Jake witnesses killing someone, he organises the hit on him and makes his a wanted man from the cops too, and there's a long climactic fight to finally take him down!...An hour in. And he's successfully arrested! What happens next you ask? Tau is upgraded to the main villain, and the rest of the movie is devoted to stopping him. Not a terrible direction to the plot, and Tau has been a presence from the beginning, but the problem is so much weight was = on Serrano and his attachment to the plot, so to see him defeated earlier than expected and refocus the plot onto a new big bad is pretty disappointing and disorienting!

This also has a double effect. Not only do you go through this big action setpiece that feels like the climax but isn't, but the movie then keeps going with a whole new climax. Just when your brain thinks the movie's wrapping up it keeps going. The Serrano plot was built up so heavily as the main draw that once he's defeated, it feels like we're watching the last act of another movie altogether.It's a little exhausting having to watch both these setpieces back-to-back.

There are other issues with the film, such as the sheer amount of cops that get killed (]Jesus, Mace, you are so fired!]), and the = moments of the action setpiece with Serrano. It's silly that pretty much no other cops ever show up. Where it gets really ludicrous though is when the bad guys casually whip off a cloth and reveal a 50 cal. machine gun, and promptly mow down = with abandon! It's unbelievable and depressing! I thought these guys wanted to keep a low profile! They were gonna kill Jake to avoid notoriety, and here they are turning downtown L.A. into a warzone!

Ok, back to some positives. The action in Rapid Fire is exemplary! Fights are expertly choreographed, there's an equal amount of gunplay and fisticuffs, and Lee is more than able to show off his skills. He's a marvel to behold as he punches, kicks, and strikes his way through foes with abandon, with too many highlights to mention. Maybe my favourite is when the cornered Serrano begs "Not the face", and Brandon promptly hits him nowhere but the face! The posters to Rapid Fire declare Lee is unarmed and extremely dangerous, and this is one time where the advertising didn't lie!

The music here is neat. There are plenty of good action beats, softer moments, a fair amount of 90s saxophone, and the crowning highlight of the film-A pair of songs by rock band Hardline. They're cheesy and =, but really fun. The first, Can't Find My Way, is effective over the love scene, and I Will Be There is an amusing way to play the movie out, and it feels cathartic to hear such a track after [balls-to-the-wall] action for a whole movie. It also has a pleasant melancholy feel to it, knowing that this is Brandon Lee's final film before The Crow. I don't know if that makes sense, but it gives me a sense of sadness and happiness =.

The acting here is very good. Lee is an endearing and energetic lead, who can fight just as well as he can smile! Powers Boothe is lots of fun as crazy cop Mace, while Kate Hodge is a decent love interest. Nick Mancuso is good as the villain. He and his goons can sometimes be amusingly Italian, but are all fine, and never border on self-parody. Tzi Ma plays against type as the villain (many may know him as the kindly Consul Han from Rush Hour), and is neat! He looks intimidating enough despite his age and stature, and makes for a good final opponent.

Rapid Fire is a pretty flawed picture, but it's still a great time! It's got much to recommend, and you're sure to enjoy yourself here if you're an action aficionado.

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