Starring Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, Al Leong
Directed by Dwight H. Little
Fight Choreography by Jeff Imada and Brandon Lee
In between Showdown in Little Toyko and The Crow, Brandon Lee released his starring vehicle, a film that showcases a talent taken far too soon, and also pays a loving of tribute/homage to many things, from Jackie Chan to his father Bruce Lee.
The film opens with Italian mafia boss Tony Serrano arriving in some nameless country, Thailand, perhaps? Maybe it’s one of those ‘leave it to your imagination’ kind of things. If you think it’s China, great! Taiwan, better still! I hate it when a writer or director gets lazy like that. Nick Mancuso plays Serrano, and chews up every scene he’s in. Anyway, Serrano came to meet his old friend Tommy , an Asian drug lord who has been providing Serrrano the drugs he sells. Well, with the economy being as crappy as it is, a mafioso just can’t sell drugs like they used to, so he want Tommy to pay him back for favors done long ago by giving him a good percentage of the drug sales. While all this is going on we are witness a staff fighting scene that was done very well. Tommy isn’t too keen on Serrano’s way of asking for help, and proves his point by beating down the two staff fighters in front of him, just to let the audience know that yeah, he ain’t gonna get Seagaled (Seagaled is a term I invented for whenever Seagal would meet any bad guy at the end of his films, they would be clearly no match for him, and he would toss them around before breaking a bone painfully and then killing said bad guy with absolute ease. They posed no threat whatsoever), so after dropping a few Sicilian proverbs Serrano bids Tommy a very nice mob way of saying goodbye.
We then move to a college campus in California where Paul Yang conducts a demonstration for Chinese rights after the Tiananmen Square incident. He is played by Dustin Nguyen (he who was one of Johnny Depp’s partners in 21 Jumpstreet, and has since become a new voice in martial arts films, having just directed and co-starred in the hit Vietnamese martial arts hit The Rebel.) Jake Lo (Lee) shows up, and due to things that happened during Tiananmen Square, he wants nothing to do with the demonstration and turns down Paul when invited to a fundraiser. So Paul gets Jake there using the tried and true method-a beautiful woman. They arrive at the fundraiser, which is at an art museum run by one of Tommy’s guys, so of course Serrano happens to be waiting in his office already, like some sort of Italian Ninjitsu. Immediately afterward in a move decidedly NOT ninjitsu Serrano shotguns the art curator out of the office window, the first of many, many stupid things Serrano does in this film, making one wonder how the hell his dumb ass became a mob boss in the first place. You know his ass lucked into it. So of course, folks have to start shooting shit up Yakuza style. They aren’t in this film, but I’m sure they appreciated the hundreds of wayward bullets and innocent bystanders killed in the cross fire. Unfortunately for Serrano Jake sees him kill the curator, and in his attempted escape Brandon gets to show off some great moves, and hops onto a motorcycle, and in a tribute (or ripoff depending on how you feel) to Jackie Chan’s Police Story Jake jumps on a motorcycle and since Serrano is in the streets shooting like a 60’s Batman villain, rides back into the museum and hits a guy, sending him through a bunch of glass. Jake soon gets arrested after fall off of said bike.
Soon Jake gets interrogated by that Black dude that played the Jamaican Screwface in Seagal’s Marked for Death. The FBI blackmail Jake into flying to Chicago to testify against Serrano before a Grand Jury. Jake goes along with it because he has no choice, and is scared of Screwface.
We then meet-and I kid you not- a Chicago cop named Mace Ryan, played by Powers Boothe, one of the manliest men ever, and this film knows it. Hell, look at his character’s name! He’s so macho his police squad has their headquarters in a functioning bowling alley. Does that make any sense? Hell no, but shit that’s manly. Screw Bruce Willis and Eastwood, they never had that. Powers. Boothe. He and his cohorts decide to follow Jake, which is a good thing, as the safe house he’s taken to isn’t very safe, as the FBI agents assigned to him work for Serrano, and once again, how does this moron get these guys? I wouldn’t trust his ass to count cola in a six pack. Jake pwns the feds pretty good in a decent fight scene, before he gets away. (Note to self: the angrier Brandon gets on screen, the more he looks like his Dad.)
Jake calls the head of the agents, and yes, this douche works for Serrano too. Jake goes to meet him in a dark alley, and so does Mace, since he and his men had the agent’s phone tapped. The Fed almost gets Jake to come with him when Mace appears and tells him to get into the car, and a bunch of Serrano’s men arrive and start shooting, but dammit they shot at the wrong dude. At this moment Mace goes all Tombstone on them, and his sheer level of manliness alone (he has a +10 charisma for this, D&D fans) keeps the bullets from hitting him as he stands straight up and returns fire.
After saving Jake and leaving lots of property damage and the burning bodies of about 3 mafioso’s in a flaming car in the middle of the street, Mace has Jake agree to help him take Tommy Tau down, because even he knows Serrano is a doofus.
Soon Jake and the Fed they blackmail in a reversal go to see Serrano at his restaurant/base of operations, with Mace and his team waiting outside ready to shoot shit up. Soon Serrano, idiot though he is, figures out the Fed is wearing a wire, and blows him away, and Mace goes ‘oh well’ and orders his men to shoot at-well everything. Wanting to match manliness with insanity Serrano orders the same thing to his guys, and Jake dives off down to the first floor and we get a terrific one against-a-dozen-dudes-who-don’t-know-anything fight. Brandon does a great job selling the physicality of his movement, and there were parts of it where he seemed so natural, like Papa Lee. Amid all the gunfire the fighting is well done, and before long they capture Serrano.
Soon after we are treated to the thankful death of Serrano as Tommy has him killed by his lead henchman played by the great Al Leong intercut with Jake getting to have sex with the only female cop in Mace’s squad, Whithers. After Mace does the manly thing and shoots the 1 pin his bowling ball can’t touch Jake shows up and agrees to go undercover to the factory Tommy owns to find out where he keep his drugs at. It is here that Brandon wears a costume not unlike what Bruce wore for his disguise in Fists of Fury and sneaks in, not knowing that Mace and the Whithers get captured by Tommy outside, and it’s up to Jake to save them in a great series of final fights, and yes, they reference Police Story again when Jake fights with a clothing rack, fending off the bad guys the same way Jackie did.
We are then treated to the best fight in the film, Brandon Lee vs Al Leong, and the two have a memorable if short fight, and as he always does, Al dies incredibly well. Jake then chases down Tommy to a subway station, and the two fight, and Tommy gets what he deserves in true 80’s fashion, which means he had to die multiple deaths, by being electrocuted and then run over by a train. Jake kills the bad guy and gets the girl, and Mace lives after being shot like 10 times. He’s the man. Really.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)
CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) Jeff Imada does a pretty good job staging the fights, and the execution is very well done. A little American 80’s style with a bit more HK influence than most. The fight between Brandon and Al was great.
STUNTS: (8) Good job from all of the stuntmen involved. They all sold it well, and Al was the cream of the crop as always.
DIRECTION: (7) Dwight did a good job of keeping the camera at good angles to follow the fighting. The dialogue was well done and the story was actually a bit different than most.
STAR POWER: (8) Brandon Lee. Powers Boothe. Toss in a good heap of Al Leong, and that’s all you need to see. Lee had the makings of a great star, but alas that wasn’t meant to be.
FINAL GRADE: (8) A great first film for Brandon, showcasing his skills. This is really his only mainstream pure martial arts film in which he was the star, and that alone makes this film special, if a bit sad.