Wake of Death (2004) Review

"Wake of Death" Japanese DVD Cover

“Wake of Death” Japanese DVD Cover

Director: Philippe Martinez
Producer: Philippe Martinez
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Simon Yam, Valerie Tan, Philip Tan, Tony Schiena, Claude Hernandez
Running Time: 91 min.

By Mighty Peking Man

Archer (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is an ex-mobster who has discovered that his wife has been brutally murdered by a psychotic triad leader named Sun Quan (played by Hong Kong star Simon Yam). With the help of his old school gangster connections, Archer sets out for Sun Quan and kills anybody that stops him from getting revenge.

A year ago was the first time I heard about Wake of Death. At that time, it was still being directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Ringo Lam (City on Fire). I’m not sure what happened, but Philippe Martinez, a filmmaker who knows how to make a low budget movie look extravagant, took Lam’s place. Of course, you can still tell it’s low budget, but the tight effort behind the film’s production is quite evident (if you watch the extras on the DVD, you’ll realize just how ambitious Martinez is about the project).

Wake of Death’s strongest point is how it portrays emotion to the audience. When Van Damme’s character is grieving over his murdered wife, you can feel it. Using mood techniques, sombre music, and Van Damme’s exceptional performance, Martinez shows the audience that melancholy can exist in an ultra-violent Van Damme B-flick.

However, Martinez really needs to settle down with the stylized filming. He has a good eye for it, but none of it is original. It’s been done a million times in a load of other movies. I’m not a big fan of this so-called “MTV Editing,” which lingers throughout the whole film, so I’m obligated to rant a little; or do all filmmakers strive to be Jerry Bruchkeimer wannabes? If I want to see quick cuts, slow-mo shots, contrasting colors, and other overdone “stylish” sh*t, I’ll watch music videos. The overuse of style is definitely the film’s weakest point.

The action in Wake of Death is a mixed bag: car chases, shoot outs, explosions, brutal torture scenes, and some kicks and punches here and there. Although it has a nice share of well done action, I was hoping for more hand-to-hand fight sequences (I mean, it IS a Van Damme flick, right?). Hell, we don’t even get to see Van Damme and Simon Yam go at it (not that Simon Yam can fight, but then again, neither can Van Damme).

Wake of Death isn’t Van Damme’s best film, but it’s better than anything in this straight-to-video line-up (and remember, Ringo Lam’s Replicant and In Hell were pretty decent flicks). It has a hip soundtrack (pseudo-Massive Attack type stuff, but it’s catchy), paces well, and should please anyone looking for some Van Dammage (hehe, I haven’t heard that one in years…). One thing’s for sure; Van Damme is getting better in the acting department.

Mighty Peking Man’s Rating: 7.5/10

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