Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: Rapid Fire

20th Century Fox
95 Minutes, Rated R
Almost every action movie fan is aware of the fact that Brandon Lee died on the set of THE CROW. A tragedy that is widely discussed to this day. Another tragedy: No one actually talks about Lee’s work. Most notably, no one talks about RAPID FIRE. Bruce Lee was a phenomenon. His work transcended race and culture. His son could have never filled his tiny kung-fu slippers. RAPID FIRE was as close as Brandon got in his short life

Rapid Fire is a formulaic action piece. Viewing the movie definitely puts you in a specific place and time in film history. It was a time when Stallone and Schwarzenegger were collecting checks for sub-par classics such as STOP OF MY MOM WILL SHOOT and LAST ACTION HERO. Not to downplay the efforts of those that worked hard on those movies, but the best had already been seen by those two action giants. Brandon Lee could have been then next one. RAPID FIRE is a good action flick and shows the promise Brandon Lee had as an action star.

RAPID FIRE follows the story of student, Jake Lo (Bra. Lee). A young man haunted by his past. His father was killed during the Tienanmen square protests and he was there to witness his demise. Lo has a very nihilistic view of the world. When asked to speak at a student protest / meeting about Chinese democracy efforts Lo refuses. He is then asked on a date by a nude model. She lures him to the meeting. This meeting erupts into violence when Antonio Serrano (Nick Mancuso), a chicago Cosa Nostra drug lord, kills heroin specialist Chang (Michael Paul Chan) to move in to Tommy Tau’s (Tzi Ma) drug territory.

Stop right there. This movie has already become a 1990’s action movie stereotype. It’s taking Tienanmen square, nihilism, political apathy, the italian mafia, the chinese mafia, and heroin trafficking. Is this movie trying to do too much? What’s next? Corny renegade cops? . . . . Oh you bet.

Jake witnesses Serrano waste Chang with a twelve gauge. Chang goes flying from an interior second story window. This is a recurring trend of this movie. When people get kicked really hard or shot, most of the time they go flying through an object or out of a window. I am not complaining. I think it’s totally sweet.

Jake becomes the FBI’s star witness for putting Serrano in prison. He is flown to Chicago to discuss the case and take the stand. Lo is placed in protective custody in Chicago. His FBI protection however, is in Serrano’s pocket. Lo kung-fus the crap out of them (with a barbeque fork to the gut, refrigerator door, and a kick out the window) and escapes. He ends up with Lt. Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe) and April O’Neal A.K.A. Karla Withers (Kate Hodge), those renegade cops I was talking about. Their home base is a bowling alley. Renegade.

This rag tag team sets up a raid on Serrano’s restaurant (italian stereotype) and then brings him down. I’m leaving out a lot of the double crossing and police procedural stuff that goes on here because it’s boring and it hardly matters. What matters is that this action scene is great. tons of Uzi fights, kung-fu, Snipers, S.W.A.T. teams, high caliber mounted machine guns firing from from restaurant windows, lofts being collapsed onto henchmen. . . it’s fantastic. Pure carnage.

At the end of this scene, it seems Serrano and Lo are the only survivors in the building. Lo brings Serrano to police custody (after smashing his face). The story should end there. Tommy Tau is still out there, but at this point in the movie he feels like a minor villain. But of course, Karla and Mace wanted Tau more than Serrano. Karla convinces Lo to come see his father’s CIA file at her apartment. Lo realizes that his father died for a cause he was passionate about. They fornicate. Then the most out of place Roxette-ish style rock music starts playing and a montage of sex, surveillence, and Tommy Tau unravels before our eyes. This montage ends with Tau’s henchman Minh (AL LEONG!) dressed as a cop, throwing a ninja star at Serrano. Wouldn’t it be hard to hit a guy in a prison cell with a throwing star? I guess if anyone is capable of such a feat, it is Al Leong.

After getting some action, Lo decides eradicating Tau is a cause he can fight for. They pull an independent three person raid on Tau’s industrial drug laundry (Of course the front is a laundromat, Tau is chinese) where he infuses heroin into bedding. Karla and Mace are kidnapped. Jake is left to save them. Of course he does.

The final fight between Lo and Tau is strange. When the main villain has to ask, “Who are you” to the hero of the movie before they fight, plot-wise something isn’t right. From the message about the cost of war and protest to not knowing who you’re fighting against is very confusing.

Tau’s demise includes severe electrocution and being hit by the “L”. Pretty much the most awesome thing in the annals of film history. Plot deficiencies aside, the writers of the movie are brilliant for this alone.

Tau’s demise was great, but this movie should have ended with Serrano. When you spend over an hour of the movie building and focusing on how bad a guy is, having him murdered by Al Leong in a prison cell with 30 minutes left kills all momentum the plot had. Tau doesn’t even seem like such a bad dude. Why not have Serrano get broken out of prison, show him taking out Tau, then having him fight Lo at the end?

As you can tell, the plot is not why I love this movie. RAPID FIRE delivers superior action scenes. Every action scene has impact. This is one of the few films that can use the phrase, “high octane action.”

Director Dwight H. Little has done a lot in his career. He directed the terrible full motion Sega CD game GROUND ZERO TEXAS after working on RAPID FIRE. He directed FREE WILLY 2, then pretty much became a TV director for shows such THE PRACTICE, 24, and BONES.

It’s a shame really. Little had to have been a talented guy to pull this movie off. RAPID FIRE certainly has shades of John Woo and Yuen Woo Ping mixed with american action sensibilities. Lee was a perfect vehicle to bring the eastern and western action styles together. Lee was a talented martial artist as well as a decent actor. His performance as Jake Lo isn’t phenomenal, but it’s serviceable. Lee didn’t quite have the charm of his father, at least not here. However his performance was much better than anything Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal ever turned in.

In terms of action, this movie works very well. So much so, that the confusing, awkward plot and characters don’t matter in the end. The action is vicious, fast, and crazy. While it isn’t in the upper echelon of action films, it certainly delivers the goods. RAPID FIRE was Lee’s last full movie. RAPID FIRE shows his potential as an action star was great. He certainly could have been the next big thing.

Brandon Lee on Leno promoting Rapid Fire. Jay Leno is either really stupid, or kind of a racist.


This movie is packed with several recognizable bit players. The most important of those being Al Leong. Leong is a legend to action movie fans. I can list all the movies he was in, but it would be easier just giving you a link to his IMDB profile. The man is a legend.

Another henchman legend that appears in RAPID FIRE is Tony Longo. Most people will know him as “that one big greasy guy.” Again, I’ll let his resume speak for itself.

It doesn’t stop there. There are more.


The Laser disc jacket appears to use the promo poster photo. It features Brandon Lee with a car exploding behind him. The title is like this: RAPID FIRE

The back of the jacket has a story summary and a brief note on some of the action choreography of the movie. Apparently the “L” train was still running during the final fight. Sounds dangerous. . . Good thing nobody got hurt. . .


“Unarmed and Extremely Dangerous”

Hmm. What fantastic marketing. Generic taglines and poster shots don’t sell tickets and tapes. Not to mention, the tagline is simply inaccurate. During the course of the movie, Lee brandishes all sorts of weaponry. From sticks to shotguns.


All Star Video favorite David A. Prior also directed a movie called RAPID FIRE. The box has a dude that looks like Alice Cooper with a bird beak for a nose.

Brandon Lee wanted John Woo to direct this film. 20th Century Fox didn’t want Woo to do it because they thought Woo could only make gunplay movies. Stupid.


I’d recommend an Americanized Chinese dish such as Sesame Chicken. With that, I would pair Chicago Style Hotdogs.

Beverage wise, I’d recommend a cocktail of Diet Coke, Arizona Green Tea, and Tequila.

Maybe make it a picnic style affair and lay out your spread on heroin infused bed sheets.


- Matt McSlam

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