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Rapid Fire

tn_rapidfireAlthough THE CROW is what most people remember Brandon Lee for, it was this 1992 urban martial arts picture, his next to last starring role, that made the most serious attempt to turn him into an action icon. It positions him to continue his father’s legacy but in the context of American action of the early ’90s. John Woo and Jackie Chan movies were catching on huge here at that time, and this movie took plenty of influence from the shootouts and choreographed fights that excited us from those.

But it starts out on a Bruce Lee note. The opening credits have Brandon Lee in a white tank top like his dad sometimes wore, doing martial arts in front of a black void. His character is raised in Hong Kong, and sometimes speaks Chinese, and is living in the shadow of a father everyone admires. In an interview included on the DVD Lee mentions that the movie was written specifically for him, which isn’t surprising.

mp_rapidfireLee’s character Jake Lo is introduced on a motorcycle, wearing a leather jacket, which means he’s an individualist and an American despite growing up in China. He was there when his father was run over by a tank in a pro-democracy demonstration. Now he’s an American college student and the Chinese political activists on campus try to drag him into their cause because of who his father was, but he’s not interested. You never really appreciate your father in the first half of your movie, do you?

Jake happens to witness a crime boss murdering somebody, and is witnessed witnessing it. So now a cop (Powers Boothe) wants him to be their star witness, some crooked cops and gangsters want him to be dead. The way the two leads meet is great. Lee gets stuck in a gigantic alley shootout, unloads multiple guns, dodges many different calibers of ammunition, jumps through garbage, does a bunch of somersaults. Suddenly Boothe drives up in a car and yells at him until he gets in. They’re being chased by another car so Boothe stops his, gets out and unloads a rifle into the enemy car. It catches on fire, then crashes, then flips and explodes, lands, burns some more, blows up some more. Boothe gets back in his car, peels out, and turns to Lee and says, “Hiya.”

The movie follows my theory of badass juxtaposition, because Jake is an artist. Okay, they don’t keep coming back to it to show his sensitive side, it’s not that big of a deal. But it allows him to flirt with the nude model from his class and also to make a sketch of the suspect for the police.

If you just know Lee from THE CROW you might not know how serious he was about action. This is a full-on martial arts movie, at least in the American sense of Seagal and Van Damme. Lee has lots of great moves flipping tables, doing somersaults, jumping over ledges, shooting, running away just before a bullet hits, ducking as he’s showered with debris from bullet hits, kicking doors into people’s faces, hitting people with freezer doors, kicking through walls, kicking out metal bars, stabbing a guy with a fork, breaking a stick in half to use as two clubs, knocking a column down with his shoulder so a balcony will collapse on a guy. In a tribute to shoeless John McClane he gets into trouble while not wearing a shirt, but in a testament to boy scout preparation he happens to be wearing the shirt tied around his waist so he can put it on later. (Remember in the ’90s how those dweebs would wear their flannel shirts tied around their waist? There was a guy on MTV who always did that and I thought Jesus, you can’t just put it down somewhere in the studio? What kind of security do they have in the MTV studio, a guy has to walk around clinging desperately to his shirt so nobody rips it off?) He drives a motorcycle the longest possible way through a glass cabinet. He does a move where a guy grabs one of his feet so he jumps up and kicks him in the head with the other foot, which I believe was one of his trademarks.

Best of all this is a more badass model of Brandon Lee. In THE CROW he’s the gothy weirdo ghost, in SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO he’s the straightlaced nerd, but in this one he’s the tough guy. I mean I already mentioned the motorcycle and it’s not a Kawasaki ninja or nothing. He gets to play brooding and cocky, and has a couple of badass lines. I like after witnessing the shooting, he’s being interrogated by the cops and not being very cooperative. One of the cops says “You know what I think? Maybe this is the guy that did it.”

Lee looks at him in disgust and says, “The guy that did it needed a gun.”

You get it? Because Brandon Lee is a lethal weapon. A rapid fire lethal weapon. He’s like a laser on a mission.

Another good one is at the end, he explains the fate of one of the bad guys by quipping, “He’s at one with his ancestors.” That could be a Seagal line come to think of it.

I remember this as being a pretty good movie when I saw it years ago, but to be honest there was exactly one thing I remembered about it: when the cops who are supposedly defending him try to kill him, he pulls out a drawer and tosses all the silverware into a crooked cop’s face. That is a great move that I recommend everybody remember just in case. The movie itself could never live up to the move, but it’s still pretty good.

It’s got some pretty standard action movie tropes. There’s a female cop who shows him her father’s file, teaches him what a great man his father was, and then they leongimmediately have sex. It’s got Al Leong in it too. He’s the first bad guy you see, he’s by the villain’s side the whole time and never fights Lee until the last ten minutes. And he puts up a hell of a fight, he almost seems like he could beat him. In some cultures it’s considered a sign of good luck if Al Leong’s character survives even halfway through a movie.

Director Dwight Little is the guy who did HALLOWEEN 4 and FREE WILLY 2. So I’m not gonna build a statue of him yet. But I do think he’s a pretty good action director. Of course I could (and did) write a whole chapter about his MARKED FOR DEATH, a great golden age Seagal picture that many of my fellow Seagalogists consider the big man’s best. If I had to find a common motif between the movies it would be the delight in destruction of rich people’s elegant crap. I believe it’s a Tiffany’s that gets torn to shreds in MARKED FOR DEATH, here it’s somebody’s mansion or something, but in both cases it’s enjoyable to watch. RAPID FIRE  also shares with MARKED FOR DEATH a performance by Basil Wallace (he played the villain Screwface in MARKED, a cop in this one) and a healthy respect for setting up and paying off. For example when Lee goes into a restaraunt as part of an undercover operation the first thing he does is glance around, checking out the layout of the place, where the stairs are, the balcony. And he uses all of these things when the shit goes down. There’s a shot of the bartender using a library-style wheeled ladder to get to his vast collection of alcohol, and later on this same ladder hits Lee in the face (possibly cinema history’s first ladder POV shot).

I’m gonna have to re-watch a couple other Lee movies but so far I’m thinking this is his best.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009 at 12:17 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

45 Responses to “Rapid Fire”

  1. This is no doubt Lee’s best from an action film point of view. Lee was an amazing athlete and he pulls some incredible moves in this one. I think this movie has some of the best fight scenes of the 90’s (in American cinema) and that bit where he slides under the table, kicks it up in the guy’s face, then sweeps his legs in time for him to hit the ground and the table lands on top of him is one of the slickest moves I’ve ever seen in a film. Period. The dialogue is frequently embarrassing, but you know what you’re signing on for when you watch a movie called Rapid Fire.

    As for Lee’s other work, I’d say that Legacy of Rage is a solid revenge movie, mostly a long build to a single, totally badass action scene. Laser Mission on the other hand is damn near the most hilariously inept thing I’ve ever seen. Vern, even if you don’t bother to review that piece of shit you ought to see it. It’s truly amazing what could pass for a motion picture in the late eighties.

    Nice work as always, sir.

  2. cool review,

    remember seeing this when it first came out and apart from that fact it seems to end half way through (after the shootout at the restaurant), i thought it was a pretty good low budget movie .

    It was missing the Lee handspring kick (from Showdown) to show just what a badass he was though, especially as it was to the Dolph (who seemed to just laugh it off at the time).

    Perhaps apart from Al there was no one in this movie who was worthy ?

  3. My favorite move is when he hits the guy with the freezer door. Don’t know why, but that little move has stuck with me for almost 20 years. It sparked my lifelong pursuit of prop-based martial arts. If you tell me there’s a scene in a movie where a guy hits a guy with something you shouldn’t be able to hit a guy with, I will watch it.

  4. I love that movie. Brandon could do some amazing moves.

  5. A bit that I find pretty funny is when the crooked cops trying to kill him in the safehouse shoot the honest cop, they try to cover for the sound it makes by adlibbing dialogue from the Adam West Batman series playing on the TV at the time
    “Holy Cow, Batman! He’s a cop killer!”
    Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t work.
    Al Leong’s also good. Someone should do a film starring him as a henchman, with the storyline being any standard action movie plot, but told from his character’s perspective. It also amuses me that on his imdb page, “Big Trouble In Little China” comes right after “Big Trouble”, making it look like a sequel where his “Chinese Labourer #2” character has had to resort to becoming a “Wing Kong Hatchet Man” to make ends meet.

  6. Wow, love for Rapid Fire, and just from the man, but in the comments. I like this movie but everyone always seems to shit on it (especially Bey Logan). The sex montage is cut with Al Leong killing a guy with ninja stars. How can anyone not like that?

  7. Well, unfortunately the sex scene was derided because the song playing over it is called “Can’t Find My Way”, and no, someone had to point that one out to me too because I was so totally into this movie I could give a fuck. By the way, does anyone else love the hair-metally song at the end as they drive off in the ambulance? It’s one of those classic feel-good fade-to-credit scenes that I haven’t seen in a long fucking time.

    Love the crooked cop escape, love the Batman-style dual villains, love Powers Boothe and shooting-the-bowling-pin. Lee pulls off being a badass and an underdog at the same time, which is no small feat (see: Seagal) The fight with Al Leong is great and has some nice long, unedited shots that more martial-arts movies need. I can’t find anything wrong about this movie, except maybe the final stick battle is a bit anticlimactic, but whatever. I’ll actually go as far to say that as an actual MOVIE (i.e. characters, plot, overall competence, etc…) this is better than any of Seagal or Van Damme’s output.

  8. Great review, Vern. I love Powers Booth in this. He’s so over-the-top. My favorite part is the shootout scene where the guy with the mounted machine gun (M-60 or something; I don’t know my guns) in the window is blowing everything to pieces. Good stuff.

  9. This is nice to see cos I love this movie. Saw it twice at the movies when I was a teenager.

    Couple of touches no one has mentioned: The awesome bit where Lee stabs the guy with the fork, but then looks horrified at what he’s just done. It’s really cool (and unusual) because it reminds you that the guy is bad ass, but not a hardened, cocky killer. And the palm,punch, elbow finisher to Nick “Not the face” Mancuso. Excellent.

    Also the Leong fight has always been a fave of mine. The technical strike/blocking choreography is unusually realistic (and well filmed/edited), and serves as a great counterpoint to the more gymnastic fence grabbing/climbing business.

    Man, Brandon was so cool – pretty much the biggest bummers ever that we lost him and his dad.

  10. I don’t know, I think this is a prettylame movie. The action scenes have no zip and everything is so standard and lifeless and flat. It’s the typical 90s cheap action movie except they had the good idea to steal entire fight scenes from Jackie Chan movies…although instead of Jackie directing you have Dwight Little so they’re kind of awkward. Seriously, half of the fights are taken directly from Police Story. I remember seeing Rapid Fire first and thinking “that choreography isn’t too bad.” Then I saw Jackie do it and realized that’s how it’s done for real.

  11. I just wanted to say good on ya for writing about Brandon Lee…people either forget how good he was or never knew to begin with…I look forward to reading your take on Legacy of Rage (Brandon Lee’s first starring role in anything)… a deadly flick that comes complete with a Bolo Yeung appearance…

  12. It’s indeed a sign of GOOD THINGS if Al Leong survives the first half of the movie : in Lethal Weapon he is INTRODUCED at the end of the movie ( and obviously killed a few seconds later ) and in Die Hard , man , I don’t remember when he gets killed ( maybe when McClane blows everything up with the C4 ?) , but I’m sure he’s still alive when the police are trying to enter the building , so , if it’s not the second half , it’s at least close. We , as an internet community , need to figure out an “Al Leong Characters Life Expectancy” Flowchart .

    Stu : Al Leong plays “The Right Hand” , the best henchmen of all time (like Swayze in Road House ……only , an henchmen). He has survived countless gunfights and knife wounds. Now older and troubled , he always thinks about his father ( blown up by Bruce Willis ….without shoes) , and his grandfather ( killed by a crazed Mel Gibson….also without shoes). Now he is in a Wesley Snipes DTV movie…..and HE KNOWS it will be…….”PRETTY FUCKING HARD TO SURVIVE”!!!

  13. Exchange “henchmen” with “henchman” in my post above , and this shit practically writes itself !!!

  14. Jones, you’re swimming against the tide here. I’m going with the majority… I think it’s a great tight little action movie with some pretty memorable villains, some charismatic heroes (and unusually there’s quite a bit of tension between the “good” characters, who aren’t all black and white), and some very nice action set-pieces that work well. My favorite of the latter has to be the electrocution-train combo at the very end (because they save the best until last). That one stuck with me.

    I’ll have to check out “Legacy of Rage”. Sounds interesting.

  15. Paul – Yup – gotta love the double-kill. Electrocuted, then hit by a train. Doesn’t Seagal give Screwface 2.0 a sweet bit over overkill at the end of Marked for Death(“Hope they weren’t triplets”)? Could be another director trope.

    Any other fave gratuitous finishing moves, team?

  16. I’ve always appreciated the part in Drop Zone where Gary Busey falls off a building and gets hit by a truck before he even touches the ground.

  17. CallMeKermit- how about he plays a loyal henchman, but early on in the film he fails to kill the hero, so his boss shoots him and replaces him with the younger, bigger, australianer Nathan Jones (who does kill the hero a couple of scenes later), but survives and vows revenge, using all the henchman experience he has to anticipate his enemy’s actions, along the way getting advice from his retired henchmen buddies played by Danny Trejo, Bolo Yueng, the guy who played Jaws in the Bond films, and Thunder, Rain and Lightning from Big Trouble. And because he’s going from a henchman to a badass, there’s room for character development as he has to learn how to hit someone he’s shooting at from more than 5 feet away, not drive his car off a cliff during high speed chases, to run away the second he hears a fuse hissing, a clock beeping down or sees a conspicuous box lying where he expected his target to be.

  18. As for fave gratuitous finishing moves, how about Michael Ironside getting his arms severed (which would probably be enough to kill him with shock/blood loss anyway) AND falling to his doom?

    Blade covering Deacon Frost with all those anti coagulant injectors, then pauses to make the “Ice Skate uphill” line, tosses the last injector into the air, and roundhouse kicks it into his head?

    Art Malik hung up on a missile which gets shot though a building into a helicopter in True Lies.

  19. Christian Brimo

    July 22nd, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    “The movie follows my theory of badass juxtaposition, because Jake is an artist.”

    i’ve been thinking about this theory and I’ve been wondering if you consider a badass caring alot about their appearance part of the juxtapostion. It shows up in alot of gangster and sci-fi and fantasy media. I dunno if its a contrast or if its a sort of Frank Sinatra ‘i’m so badass that even my hat has to be perfect’ thing

  20. Christian – Did you ever see Devil in a Blue Dress. Cheadle’s character Mouse is a scary little bastard and a dapper dresser. In the books Denzel’s character concludes that Mouse believes that a man that dresses that well just can’t be killed (or words to that effect). So maybe that is a part of it.

    These are all good choices re. finishing-moves-with-extreme-redundancy guys.

    Lithgow gets a good one in Ricochet – electrocution+High fall+landing on a spike = satisfying demise.

  21. This is hands-down the best (American) martial arts film made pre-Matrix (in my opinion)

    Sure that’s some pretty damned faint praise but it’s true and this is actually a fun little action film.

    A huge step up for Lee after “Showdown In Little Tokyo” (aka “One Of the Worst Action Films Ever Made”) and “Laser Mission” (aka “One Of the Most Unintentionally Hilarious Action Films Ever Made”). Thus with this (for his action) and “The Crow” (for his acting) knowing they came back-to-back makes it a bit more devastating that he died so young and, like his father, just a huge question mark as to what he would have delivered afterwards.

  22. Christian Brimo

    July 22nd, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    “Christian – Did you ever see Devil in a Blue Dress. Cheadle’s character Mouse is a scary little bastard and a dapper dresser. In the books Denzel’s character concludes that Mouse believes that a man that dresses that well just can’t be killed (or words to that effect). So maybe that is a part of it.”

    Never saw the movie, but I read the book and yeah it fits
    I think its a borderline case… I dunno if dressing well is a contrast to being a badass or part of being a badass.

  23. christian, i think part of the badass caring about their appearance thing is just that they look fucking cool. it’s rare that they’re all prettied-up, they generally just look like men who dress confidently. i’m no style expert, but i think that inherent in badassness is confidence, and if you’re dressing/grooming like a dumbass it doesn’t exactly exude confidence.

  24. Danny – agreed. I guess attitude and context are key. Vern did a comparison of Shaft and some preppy white boy (I think – forget which review it was in) both wearing identical turtleneck ensembles. One was badass, one… was not.

  25. God damn I love this movie. Thanks Vern and others, glad I’m not alone here. I too love that cheesy soft rock track at the end – ‘any time you need me I’ll beeeee theeeeerrre…’ You can feel the mullets. Tragic that we haven’t got more of these Brandon Lee movies to enjoy – the guy was a natural.

  26. Christian Brimo

    July 23rd, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    “i’m no style expert, but i think that inherent in badassness is confidence, and if you’re dressing/grooming like a dumbass it doesn’t exactly exude confidence.”

    You’ve got a point

  27. Haha, I’m one of Vern’s Seagalogists / Seagalologists (can never remember which is the genuine article and which is the inferior knock-off, sorry Vern!) who thinks Marked for Death is Seagal’s best films. Indeed, it’s one of my fave action films… it’s done really well, the soundtrack is nicely creepy, the acting is convincingly overdone, and Basil Wallace as Screwface is one of the best over-the-top villains since a little-known film called Die Hard came out and introduced us to Hans Gruber…

  28. I think Al Leong gets machine-gunned on the roof near the end, right before McClane’s fire-hose jump, which might prove someone’s theory correct.

  29. Leong’s toughness causes a lot of trouble for McClane, actually. He has to shoot the fucker like 12 times, which leaves him with only two bullets to face Hans and the American asshole who bet 50 bucks on the Lakers. Then again, if Leong had gone down with one shot or been killed earlier in the movie when ammo was plentiful, then the ending of Die Hard would have been much less badass, so I’d say this theory we’ve concocted holds a lot of water.

  30. Leong was also in I COME IN PEACE, which was a pretty good buddy cop actioneer…with the alien shit the cherry on top.

  31. weirdly enough, tonight’s Agents of SHIELD episode features Powers Boothe and was directed by Dwight Little.

  32. R.I.P. Powers Boothe

    Hope he gets to reunite with Brandon in the afterlife.

  33. Vern, I revisited Brandon Lee’s first two movies, Legacy of Rage and Laser Mission. Both are on Prime and I noticed you hadn’t reviewed either. I think they’d be worth your time. Both are weird in different ways but show Lee’s unimpeachable charisma. Legacy is directed by Ronny Yu.

    If you’re looking for streaming stuff I hope this recommendation meets your approval.

  34. Brandon Lee, such a shame. The guy got a chance to make one good movie and died making it. I could see he had charisma before The Crow but man he took things up three notches with that one, he was fantastic. He would have been huge.

  35. I will be visiting LEGACY OF RAGE in a series that I started long ago and will finish some day. But I’ve actually never seen LASER MISSION. Thanks for the tip!

  36. I can’t disagree that it’s a shame but I feel like you’re kind of insulting him by saying his third or fourth best movie is the only good thing he made. RAPID FIRE and SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO are classics of their type and LEGACY OF RAGE is good too.

  37. To me the difference is you had to qualify those movies as being classics “of their type” where The Crow is just an awesome movie of any type.

  38. And it’s not really an insult to the guy…I’m sure he was taking what he could get starting out. I doubt Showdown would have been on the top of his list of interesting projects.

  39. Rapid Fire is the kind of action star vehicle any actor would be lucky to have. It’s Lee’s Above the Law/Blood Sport and had even better set pieces thanks to choreography inspired by Jackie Chan.

    Showdown may be a standard buddy cop movie but Jesus Christ he has so much chemistry with Dolph. It’s so damn entertaining.

    The Crow was his blockbuster bid and surely would have led to more. Would’ve been his Under Siege/Universal Soldier if we’re following those career trajectories. Lee would’ve surely made it to the Mel Gibson strata where he could’ve done any genre. Probably could’ve seen him in a rom-com at some point.

  40. I guess what I’m getting at is that RAPID FIRE is a very good action movie and the best showcase of Lee’s talents. THE CROW is a visionary and influential exercise in design, that he is good in, but it’s empty and sadistic and stupid, and caused his death, so I don’t like it being treated as his only legacy.

  41. That’s fair enough, and I’m not really going to argue against anyone’s taste really. But I might add for discussion’s sake that empty, sadistic and stupid also describes many movies…including ones you champion. For instance, the works of Seagal. Take Out for Justice, where he harasses a bunch of people, and then, like many of his movies, in the end while the bad guy can’t barely lay a glove on him, Seagal relishes basically torturing him to death. All while being an authority figure. In fact this is one of the reasons I’ve never been a big cop action movie fan because in my opinion that kind of thing helped lead us to where we are right now. Glamorizing that kind of thing. I remember seeing one of the Lethal Weapon movies where they’re trying to get information out of someone and they basically abuse him and the people I was watching it with were laughing. Cause it was treated as a funny joke.

    And I wouldn’t say Crow is his only legacy, but I’ll maintain stuff like Rapid Fire or whatnot is fine, but generic and not that interesting which can be okay, but even the action isn’t great so I feel no need to praise it either. You do cause it’s your jam, and that’s perfectly valid.

  42. There is no way we get the cops we do now because of Steven Seagal movies. When are beat cops ever the hero while also beating people up?

    Not to mention violent movies and games aren’t to blame for school shootings but Out for Justice is to blame for shitty beat cops?

  43. Brandon Lee’s acting got better and better with every movie, from LASER MISSION (just starting out), to SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO (better but a little stiff), to RAPID FIRE (very good), to THE CROW (great). It’s a shame he didn’t get a chance to keep going.

  44. Brandon Lee had wanted John Woo to be the director of Rapid Fire but Woo turned it down. There is a cruel irony about Jean-Claude Van Damme being favoured over Brandon since the latter could speak better English and was a professionally trained actor. Imagine an alternate reality where Woo accepts Rapid Fire, and JCVD ends up working with Andrew Davis – the original choice for the director of Hard Target.

    There was already some strange common denominator stuff going on between Brandon and JCVD. The trajectories of their careers allow for multiple comparisons – they both starred alongside Dolph Lundgren in the nineties, and had worked with Hong Kong fight choreographer Meng Hoi near the beginning of their careers. They even fought Bolo Yeung on screen, and bearing it mind that it wasn’t exactly a rites of passage mandate for a martial arts actor to fight Bolo in a H.K. movie. Without going into a long list of names, look at the people who didn’t get to fight him. Brandon’s sister, Shannon, lived in New Orleans from 1987 to 1993. Hard Target was filmed in NOLA, and Shannon left NOLA following Brandon’s death. Considering that Brandon was killed in North Carolina, it’s eerie that early 1993 was when JCVD had to attend court in N.C. because of what happened on the set of Cyborg in 1988.

    When JCVD arrived in H.K. to make Bloodsport in 1986, Brandon had already left following the completion of Ronny Yu’s Legacy of Rage. Although JCVD had always been eager in bringing over H.K. directors to Hollywood, he never invited Ronny despite Legacy of Rage making him a prime candidate in comparison to the H.K. films that Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam had directed. Perhaps JCVD was sensitive about people comparing him to “Bruce Lee’s son” despite the fact that Bloodsport was a blatant attempt to cash in on Bruce’s Enter the Dragon.

  45. Also Van Damme fought a kid trained by Bruce Lee’s ghost in NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER.

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