"I'll just get my gear."

Knock Off

In the second of Hong Kong director Tsui Hark’s surrealist double feature with collaborator Jean-Claude Van Damme (the first was DOUBLE TEAM), the eel really hits the ass. You probaly haven’t heard that saying before, because I just made it up, but it means “shit gets real weird” and it comes from the scene where Van Damme is pulling Rob Schneider in a rickshaw and Schneider starts whipping him with an eel while yelling “Move that beautiful ass!” That’s something most of us will only see in a handful of movies and TV shows within our lifetimes.

This time Van Damme plays the head of a Hong Kong fashion exports corporation who gets mixed up in a CIA/Russian mafia/Triad/terrorist plot because he sells inferior knockoff jeans that have a lower quality denim as well as high powered miniature explosives in the buttons. One of the very first exploding jeans movies. If that doesn’t tell you this is one of the weirder Van Damme pictures how about these tidbits: Rob Schneider plays his partner, there is a shot from the POV of Van Damme’s foot going into a shoe, it takes place in a world where fire is green. Or at least the fire that comes from these bombs. That’s some remarkable technology there – not only is it small, it changes the color of fire. I wonder what color air is in this world?

Knock OffI was pretty excited last year when I read about the bootlegger mall in China where they were gonna have an “Adidos” store. The real Adidas store in Seattle went out of business, it would be nice if we could get an Adidos in there. I thought maybe it would be cool to have an Adidos track suit. I should start doing some sport so I could be sponsored by Adidos. Maybe I will start the Adidos Parkour Squad.

KNOCK OFF doesn’t have Adidos, but Van Damme does wear some “Pumma” running shoes that break apart in closeup during the rickshaw race. His friend Eddie, who sort of gets him into this mess, is targeted for assassination, but they first kill a knock off Eddie – a double he used to cheat in the rickshaw race. Van Damme is a knock off, pretending to be a respectable business man when really he’s “the knock off king of Hong Kong.” Schneider is a knock off because he’s actually an undercover CIA officer (weird – out of the two I would’ve figured the muscular kickboxer was the CIA guy). Lela Rochon is also a CIA officer knock off of an executive for the V-Six Jeans Corporation. Paul Sorvino (yes, Paul Sorvino is in this movie) is also not who he appears to be. Even the movie itself is a knock off of a Hollywood movie, because it’s got this cast and a script by DIE HARD’s Steven E. De Souza, but it’s all weird and shot Hong Kong style – dreary grey skies, faded film and a good chunk of it clearly shot without sound and dubbed in later.

The movie also takes place during Hong Kong’s switchover from British colonial rule, so I’m tempted to think it’s saying that old Hong Kong was a knock off of real China, or the Hong Kong film industry under Chinese rule was gonna be a knock off of the film industry that Tsui and so many great movies had come out of. But really whatever it does or does not symbolize it’s a historical reminder of why the hell Tsui would be making a movie like this. All the big Hong Kong directors were terrified about what would happen to their industry and careers under a new government, so they were taking Hollywood/Van Damme jobs to prepare themselves in case it got real bad there and they had to leave. It was like setting up a hideout.

I can’t find it now but I could swear Moriarty wrote something one time about Steven E. De Souza and how he supposedly wrote KNOCK OFF because he was so sick of producers trying to hire him to write DIE HARD knock offs that he wanted to write a script that would just destroy that type of movie forever. I’m not sure how that works exactly, did he picture the bigwigs saying, “You know what, we got this idea about ‘Die Hard in a bookmobile,’ but De Souza already did ‘Die Hard in your jeans,’ so let’s just move on to something else”? I don’t know man, I’m not sure that was such an airtight plan, and I don’t think it worked. If he really wanted to kill the DIE HARD style of action movie he shoulda just wrote THE MATRIX.

The action is pretty good, lots of fighting, the nice rickshaw chase, and some cool slipping-around-on-wet-floors fights before THE TRANSPORTER. Rochon even seems to do a few of her own stunts. I’m sorry to report that Sorvino doesn’t do any kung fu, but he does have a pretty funny (SPOILER) death – he seems to get blown up, but in the epilogue we learn that he’s alive, and then Van Damme and Schneider blow him up on accident without even realizing it. Maybe that’s how De Souza meant to kill DIE HARD. Hans Grueber fell 34 stories in slow motion looking McClane in the face, Sorvino dies on his own without his killer even being nearby.

If you’re looking for a great example of Hong Kong cinema, or just a really well made action movie, then KNOCK OFF is the one for you. To not choose. But if you want the downright weirdest ones made in the ’90s it’s pretty much this and DOUBLE TEAM.

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 21st, 2009 at 8:52 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

25 Responses to “Knock Off”

  1. Yeah I must say I sorta enjoyed this one in a mindless cartoon sort of way. Van Damme seems to usually do some good with these Hong Kong guys, and better than those uninspired bland actioneers like DOUBLE IMPACT.

    What keeps it back from being really good was that “comic relief” Schneider…just isn’t funny. Only time might be when he whacks Van Damme in the ass with that eel. Not funny, but funny because you don’t get to see van Damme’s bum tapped by seafood everyday.

    My full review: http://filmcinemamovie.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=1990s&action=display&thread=2943

  2. I prefer this one to DOUBLE TEAM. That one feels like a Jean-Claude movie that just happens to be directed by Tsui Hark, while this one feels like a Tsui Hark movie that that just happens to star Jean-Claude. Then again DT had a fight in the Colosseum between JCVD, Dennis Rodman, Mickey Rourke, a tiger, and a bunch of exploding Coke machines so maybe my findings are inconclusive.

  3. I need to see DOUBLE TEAM just to compare the differences.

    And see the end result of Mickey Rourke pissing his career away in the first place.

  4. I just learned one more weird thing about this movie: apparently the score was written by Ron & Russel Meal a.k.a. the avantgarde synthie pop duo SPARKS. Who are great btw, if you are into that kind of music (imagine MGMT with less forced weirdness), but they are the last people who I would associate with the production of an action movie score. (Although they seem to be friends of Tsui Hark. On their 1994 album GRATUITOUS SAX & SENSELESS VIOLINS they not just named one of their songs after him, he was even singing in it!
    Why am I telling you this? I got no idea. It’s Saturday night and I’m bored as fuck.

  5. And here is the link to the Knock Off closing theme. Simply amazing. Listen, then consider the message of the text sung by The Sparks.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy_rFTwXizM#t=1m35s

    Lyrics:

    I confess that this is really not my song
    I bought it in Hong Kong
    It’s a knock off

    I confess that this is really not my voice
    Although I had a choice
    It’s a knock off

    So close to real
    The look, the feel
    So close, and yet
    The paint’s still wet

    You keep thinking that you’re really holding hands
    Sorry, that’s no hand
    It’s a knock off

    Just my luck that I would look into your eyes
    Then I realized
    They were knock offs

    So close to real
    The look, the feel
    So close and yet
    The paint’s still wet

    I can guess that though you really wear it well
    What you’re wearing well
    It’s a knock off

    And the Renoir you see hanging on the wall
    Bought it at the mall
    It’s a knock off

    So close to real
    The look, the feel
    So close and yet
    The paint’s still wet

  6. You gotta love Sparks. One of the great, criminally underrated duos in music history.

  7. This is one of my favourite Van Damme films.

  8. For those who care, I’m finally doing my first Covid movie theatre visit on Sunday, to a screening of THE SPARKS BROTHERS, which had the most “we don’t give a shit” release over here, that I have ever seen. It’s like there is only one copy in Germany, that is handed over from theatre to theatre under the condition that they only screen it once and preferably at the worst possible day- (or night-) time, so being able to see it in near-ish big city in a really small arthouse theatre on a Sunday afternoon, is quite the event for me.

  9. Good for you, CJ! Do we hope that the showing is rammed with people to teach those distributors a lesson, or are you still kinda hoping to get some social distance? According to Wikipedia, Sparks haven’t had a hit single in Germany since the early ’70s, so I guess they’re counting on people lured in by that star-studded trailer and Edgar Wright completists. And Sparks fans who didn’t die yet.

    I can’t think it was shown anywhere near me here in the UK, and This Ain’t Big Enough etc. was a hit again here in the late ’90s. Indeed right now it feels like I’d be lucky to be able to see anything that isn’t NO TIME TO DIE.

  10. We all care. And we wish good luck!

  11. We all care. And we wish you a good time!

  12. CJ, let us know how it is! I haven’t seen it yet for whatever sorta reasons and am kinda weirdly disinterested in the very idea of a Sparks documentary TBH, but I am very interested in your opinion.

    I saw them twice on the Two Hands, One Mouth tour and they were great. At the second show they played “Those Mysteries” and Russell was very, very sincere about the passing of Lou Reed the day prior. Also, did you ever read that weird Sparks biography that is set entirely in Comic Sans?

    My favorite Sparks song is “The Decline and Fall of Me”. What’s yours?

    Did you ever see the Mike Leigh movie TOPSY-TURVY? That is the best movie ever made about Sparks.

    I dunno if you’re a Chris Sievey/Frank Sidebottom fan (you seem like you either would or could be) but my life’s greatest Sparks moment was talking to Chris about the Maels, he was so genuinely happy to talk about them. It was a really nice moment that continues to be a really nice thought.

    I have not seen a movie in the theater since June of 2019. Have a good time on Sunday!

  13. Thanks y’all. I hope the theatre will be empty (and I guess it will be).

    Also Wikipedia is wrong. WHEN DO I GET TO SING MY WAY was a massive hit in Germany in 94 (it was even the most played song on German radios that year) and their 2020 album A STEADY DRIP DRIP DRIP was their most successful ever over here. But the only advertising I saw, was an Instagram ad. Not sure if the trailer was shown before any major releases, but something tell me it wasn’t.

  14. No I didn’t drink last night. My entries seemed to disappear when I hit enter, and now several of them suddenly show up. Sorry about that.

  15. A.L.F., sadly I never saw them live, but I’m not much of a concert goer, to be honest. Although I still hate that I missed out that one time they played every single one of their songs over the course of one week, with one concert per evening. (Oddly enough it happened in the same city I’m going to watch the movie.) Or back in I think 2017, when suddenly Sparks, Yello, Electric Six and The Chemical Brothers were playing nearby within a short amount of time, but I didn’t have money for any of them.

    Never heard of that biography, but I guess as the documentary will proof, there are always new stories about them to learn. (Like the one in the booklet for the anniversary re-release of GRATUITIOUS SAX, in which they tell the story of that anime adaptation that they were planning with Tim Burton in the late 80s and casually mention that they met him while shooting BEETLEJUICE, which might mean that they were actually on set at one point!)

    Favourite song is a tough question. There are so many. As a German 90s kid, WHEN DO I GET TO SING MY WAY was of course my introduction and it’s a damn good song. From the same album I also love NOW THAT I OWN THE BBC. DICK AROUND is maybe the closest thing the world ever got to a new BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. I don’t know, maybe SOMETHING FOR THE GIRL WITH EVERYTHING. I might give a different answer next time someone asks me this question.

    I heard of TOPSY TURVY, wasn’t interested in checking it out before, but now I am, thanks.

  16. My apologies to you, Sparks, Wikipedia and Germany, CJ. I see When Do I Get to Sing My Way there now. So either someone updated the Wikipedia discography overnight or, more likely, I missed it in my lazy and cursory reading of the tables. This would be less of a worry, if reading complex tables wasn’t, at least theoretically, part of my professional skill set.

    And since A.L.F. mentioned Lou Reed, I should say that Tsui Hark, the song, just edges out Reed’s Doin’ the Things That We Want To to get into my top three songs about film directors. One and two are, of course, Sam’s Song, by Kris Kristofferson, and E=mc² by Big Audio Dynamite.

    Enjoy the movie!

  17. “The Sparks Bros” is odd in that it’s a documentary about a duo that really don’t like discussing their personal life at all, and one has gone as far as to make up a cartoon persona for himself so he can avoid doing so.

    So what’s left is an album by album recap with people like Flea going “This album’s fucking awesome” for over two hours.

    Yeah, I can’t say I recommend “The Sparks Bros”…

  18. No I didn’t drink last night. My entries seemed to disappear when I hit enter, and now several of them suddenly show up. Sorry about that.

    Suddenly, my comment is awaiting moderation. Sit tight!

    Maybe that has something to do with it

  19. “The Sparks Bros” is odd in that it’s a documentary about a duo that really don’t like discussing their personal life at all, and one has gone as far as to make up a cartoon persona for himself so he can avoid doing so.

    So what’s left is an album by album recap with people like Flea going “This album’s fucking awesome” for over two hours.

    Yeah, I can’t say I recommend “The Sparks Bros”…

    My entries seemed to disappear when I hit enter, and now several of them suddenly show up. Sorry about that.

    Suddenly, my comments are up for moderation (and if you double-post, one seems to replace the other?)

    Maybe that has something to do with it?

  20. Hi CJ, it’s always nice to talk to you on here. I wish I could have been able to see some of those “every album, every song” shows too. It’s weird to think about how long ago those were.

    I actually first learned of Sparks because of my childhood obsession with Tim Burton, though I hadn’t known until this morning that talks for Mai had started so early. It’s weird how that guy had the world handed to him from basically day one. Although I’m a fan of their songs about the subject, I wish Sparks weren’t so enthralled with the movies sometimes, as – like Vern – I think their records are better (by virtue of individual viewpoint, the real auteur shit) than basically all movies. I do genuinely find it strange that interpersonal romance is considered a laughable topic in so many of their songs but that something as ultimately bad and phony as The Movies resonate so greatly in their work – but hey, whatever works for Ron, I guess. My genuine apologies for the redundancy of how often I say I hate movies on here, I know it is annoying.

    Sparks were one of my most major obsessions for a very long time and I spent quite a great deal of wasted energy trying to “be” Russell, in my own incompetent “When Do I Get To Sing Achoo?” fashion. (The intensity of “Achoo” resonates in an even darker way for there being a still-occurring worldwide plague.) I know what you’re saying about favorite songs changing, and in retrospect and after listening to it for the first time in a while, “The Decline and Fall of Me” is actually the one I think about the most often while maybe not being my all-time self-indisputable favorite. “Slowboat” and “Waterproof” are for sure up there, probably my actual faves. Interestingly, they are almost painfully-sincere songs from a writer considered to be “removed”, all the more amazing for the three-and-a-half decades between their composition. “Waterproof” in particular is just about the most emotional song ever written about being unemotional. “Bon Voyage” is a good one, too. I tend to like “the ballads”, not just with Sparks but in general.

    One time some guy I used to be friends with made a big joke about “Funny Face” in regards to my severely broken nose, that fucking sucked. People love running their rotten mouths, may the universe help whatever is going on in their lousy brains and miserable souls. Good song, though.

    There is a wonderful video on YouTube of The Great Jim O’Rourke singing along to either the Sparks recording or his 1999 cover of “Thanks But No Thanks” (another one of my favorites) in Sweden circa 2000. The “high-octane” level of performance he gives has to be seen to be believed and I’d greatly recommend it to yourself. (Why he wasted so much time with boring-ass Sonic Youth I will never understand. I hope he’s happy in Japan and everything but I truly wish he would move to L.A. and join Sparks for a while, that would be so amazing. Can you imagine a world where he worked with them instead of Wilco?)

    jim o‘rourke - thanks but no thanks (sparks cover)

    clip from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_yuTYi4xpM

    I don’t listen to Sparks nearly ever these days, but that’s an “it’s not the Maels, it’s me”.

    If this has significance, CJ, I am genuinely delighted and moved by the idea of you being happy about getting to see the Sparks movie theatrically in a way of human appreciation far greater than anything any working artist could offer. Have the best time, we will be there in spirit.

    It was also moving to hear you’re interested in watching TOPSY-TURVY, I can never get anybody to watch that one. Gilbert and Sullivan are the bomb dot com.

    I’d really, really recommend giving BEING FRANK: THE CHRIS SIEVEY STORY some of your time, particularly if you are going TOPSY-TURVY in the near future too! The Freshies (and Chris Sievey solo) are basically the closest thing there was to a British Sparks, which is even cooler because it was all one dude with a lot less support. I also think you’d be able to appreciate the greatness of the Sidebottom character; his comics, animation and recordings. I’m sad to say I didn’t appreciate Frank enough while Chris was alive – and that’s with myself as someone he knew of being one of his biggest American fans. (I can see our Viz-zy friend Pacman being pro-Sievey, as well.)

    Also the time Sparks were on the Steve Jones radio show was awesome and Jonesey seemed super happy about it, it is a classic gigglefest from The Lonely Boy himself. There is also a hilarious episode where he sincerely yells “YA DON’T LISTEN!” at Micky Dolenz all pissed off, A+ radio.

    Movies I would rather they make than THE SEDUCTION OF INGMAR BERGMAN or MAI, THE PSYCHIC GIRL: LADY ROBOTIKA: THE MOTION PICTURE.

    Borg9 – I dunno if we’ve ever interacted on here but of course I am familiar with your posts. I LOVE 80s Lou Reed and am always moved by how many songs he wrote during that era about appreciating other people. Now THAT’S punk! I gotta say, though, Andy Warhol is technically a director so I’ve got to give it up for the totality of “Songs for Drella” in terms of rock songs about a filmmaker. “City Lights” from The Bells is another in that genre.

    I also had not known what E=MC2 was about until today, speaking of Jim O’Rourke! I used to know a guy who was obsessed with the Clash and B.A.D. in high school and his dad worked for some “storage, content management and virtualization” company called EMC2 (and also this guy was kind of hilariously psyched on his dad for a supposedly-moody teen), so it was always kind of funny in a way I can’t properly explain when he’d blast B.A.D. tapes in his car or B.A.D. CDs at work. Like, there was this unspoken “AW YEAH, MY DAD’S JOB!” quality to it, while he was happily drumming along on the steering wheel or tapping on the fuckin’ counter or air-drumming or some shit. I am laughing just thinking about it. (This is also the guy who claimed he looks like Ryans Phillipe and Gosling who I had countered looked like Clint Howard.)

    You know what my favorite Mick Jones thing is, Kool-Aid. Also, the time Beavis and Butt-head were watching the “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” video and asked “Is this Seinfeld?”, that still makes me laugh.

    Vern – thank you for dealing with the drudgery of deleting spam posts so that we may all converse. You really do a lot for your audience and it is greatly appreciated.

    I feel very much in the way Lou Reed felt about “The Movies” in regards to weirdos being themselves online and IRL.


    Only art to see me through
    Only heart to see me through

    and

    I wrote this song ’cause I’d like to shake your hand
    In a way you guys are the best friends I ever had

    THANKS EVERYBODY HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!!!!!! TRICK OR TREAT MOTHERFUCKER!!!!!!!!!!

  21. A.L.F.- I was a dreadful homegrown comedy nerd in my early teens, and intermittently ever since, who would know about some show that only aired on local stations for a week in 1991, but somehow I missed out of Sievey totally until his passing. I have been meaning to catch up, I will have to give that documentary a shot sometime.

    While I am perfectly happy with the association and they have undeniable moments of genius (Roger Mellie etc), I’ve never particularly been a VIZ aficionado, I suspect because I have slight puritanical streak when it comes to the cartoon arts. More of a sincere BEANO kind of guy. My last boss was a very clean cut, straight edge kind of guy who would intermittently allude to his wild, VIZ-reading youth. At least once I considered buying him the latest VIZ annual for Christmas, but I suspected he wouldn’t relish having to sneak it into a house with his three young daughters, so I bought him the EWOKS movie double-pack instead.

    Favourite Sparks song. I’d probably have to go with one of their Moroder singles like “Beat the Clock”, “Tryouts for the Human Race” or “Number 1 song in Heaven”. Of course we have to mention their genuinely good ode to Minnie Mouse from MICKEY MOUSE SPLASHDANCE which, yes, also features “You Can Always Be Number One (Sport Goofy Anthem)” by Lora Mumford.

  22. So THE SPARKS BROTHERS. Sadly no mention of Tsui Hark in any form, but a lot of fun. jojo’s criticism isn’t completely unjiustified, especially since only very few of the talking heads (specifically those who actually worked with them and are not just fans) have anything important to add, but the whole concept of the documentary is: “Have you heard this band? No? Here is what they did, how and why.”, so I’m totally okay with the movie being more of a musical retrospective, than an in depth look at the people behind it. Especially since the Maels seem to be pretty boring off stage, so I can imagine there wasn’t much to tell about them.

    About THE THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE
    What caught me a bit off guard was the realization that I now have to watch a movie, that I can’t pause. Or that I can’t adjust the light in the room to look at my watch. There were more people than expected (Still only 10 or 12 + me), some were real hardcore fans (one even sang along with some of the songs on screen.) and in general it was a cool audience who was really into it. The theatre was cool. Built into the train station (I can imagine back in the days it was a classic “Bahnhofskino”, a movie theatre that used to entertain travelers during layovers and showed, depending on the era, either nonstop newsreels or G****house smut), much bigger and comfy than expected. I would go there more often, if I would live closer. Not sure if I am ready to go to a blockbuster and sit in a packed theatre yet, but it was a fun afternoon.

  23. CJ: I’m not the biggest Sparks fan but the KNOCK OFF theme is a certified rager. I made this track in your honor.

    Sick With The Art

    Shout out to CJ Holden and the Sparks Brothers.

  24. Ha, awesome! Love it! Thanks, man!

  25. Glad you liked it. I used all Wu Tang vocals (five tracks total) because sampling the theme song to a vintage kung fu movie is very on-brand for them.

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