Rapid Fire (1992): Breakdown by RANTBO
A kung-fu college student witnesses a murder, is put into protection and goes on to commit a shit load of his own in “self-defense” and retribution.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
Brandon Lee is Jake Lo
Serrano: You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna break your hands, finger by finger. And then I’m gonna break your ribs, rib by rib. Then I’m gonna break your legs.
Jake: Knock yourself out.
Jake Lo, rebel without a cause. You know this because he wears a leather jacket, rides a motorcycle and has daddy issues. Oh, and Elvis hair. Can’t forget that quaff, baby. Jake’s an art student at a university, but he actually majors in kicking ass. I’m guessing he was a bit of a savant, as both his martial arts and drawing skills are beyond the average level for an undergrad, yet his social skills consist mostly of angry yelling and taking off his shirt. Homeschooled, perhaps?
His Chinese father and (I’m assuming as she’s never mentioned) American mother raised him in Hong Kong, leaving Jake both multi-lingual and exotically good looking (again, fabulous hair). And while his history of martial arts training is also kept secret, one assumes he was trained to help master a rebellious and ‘give-a-shit’ attitude. Something that seemed to only get worse after his crusading father is killed in flashback during that whole to-do at Tiananmen Square, with the tanks and the death and whatnot. So he’s a mysterious man, with a haunted past and issues to be resolved by the only way he knows how—beating the fuck outta people. And, as I already established, Jake is beyond the average level.
Powers Boothe is Mace Ryan
Withers: He’s the best cop I’ve ever known.
Jake: Well you have to get out more.
Even though he looks like Jeremy Piven’s evil twin, Powers’s character Mace is a god amongst disgruntled cop badasses. In an interesting, yet unsubtle metaphor, the writers made Mace a fan of bowling. Continually getting caught-up in a single-pin spare scenario, Mace’s hobby symbolizes his day job as a police detective in that he just can’t seem to take down that final piece (read: drug-kingpin) needed to close the game (read: case). Then, in the third act, Mace has had enough of his shitty bowling (read: detective impotence), so he just pulls out his gun and shoots the 12th pin the fuckin’ head. THAT’S the kind of man Mace Ryan is.
Mace introduces himself to Jake after killing three men and blowing up a car to save his life. Even cooler, he does it as casually as though they were meeting for brunch after a morning round of golf. Ryan’s a cop, and a damn good one by both the film’s and my standards. Obsessed with the job, he’s alienated everyone close to him, so he’s a begrudging loner. Though, oddly enough, he’s not nearly as “renegade” as you might expect from this type of flick. Which is not to say Mace doesn’t break the law in-order to get the bad guys, he does (illegal wire-tapping, unsanctioned raids, using civilians in undercover stings, etc.), but he truly loves the job and is a die-hard detective, having devoted over ten years to bringing down the film’s drug-trafficking villains. So, all-in-all, Ryan’s a pretty balanced 80s-to-90s transitional cop archetype, with a bad-ass ‘as-portrayed-by-Powers-Boothe’ edge. Not to mention, late in the film he gets shot about eight-or-so times in the torso, and not only does he survive (spoiler), but he still has the willpower and dexterity to tackle his would-be killer, take his gun and fire back the remainder of the clip into the fucker’s stomach.
Nick Mancuso and Tzi Ma are Antonio ‘Tony’ Serrano and Kinman ‘Tommy-Boy’ Tau
Partners in stereotypes.
Serrano (Nick Mancuso, Breaker the douche-bag from Under Siege 1&2), is your classic over-the-top Italian wise guy boss; always eating, always shouting, abusive toward his own men and a racist. But Mancuso brings a unique sense of style and ‘what-the-fuckery’ to the performance. For instance, in one of his best scenes, Serrano slips on a leather glove to sucker-punch a captured Jake. Then, in what I can only assume is an act to pump himself up for his obligatory “Oh, what horrors we’re gonna do to you!” bad-guy speech, makes with the crazy eyes and starts biting his own gloved hand. What the fuck was that all about? Whatever it was, it, and other similarly-emoted zaniness worked well in making the Mafioso drug-runner a memorable, albeit simple villain. Too bad he dies crying on his knees like a bitch (spoiler).
Supplier to Serrano’s syndicate, Tau (Tzi Ma, RoboCop 2), plays the yin to Mancuso’s yo’ fugedaboutit. In-exchange for the loud and hot-tempered Italian archetype of his long-time business partner, Tau is your classic Chinese version of a typical 80s/90s crime-boss: soft-spoken, reserved, spouts words of wisdom and idle threats through proverbs, employs a stunt-team, beats the shit out of said stunt-team with bo-staffs when he gets upset, etc. Essentially making him an eastern version of Serrano, with an equally stock and generic fist (though his is un-gloved). But unlike Mancuso, Ma doesn’t really bring anything special or memorable to the role until his very last scene. But credit where credit is due, it’s mostly the bitchin’ death sequence that makes for the memory. However his #2 and bodyguard is played by a stoic and ever-badass Al Leong… It’s just too bad I can’t award a badass status by henchman association alone.
So, over-all, the two main villains of the picture are both mediocre and basic, yet fitting as they match well within the context of the film and in mirroring the dual ethnicity of Brandon Lee and his fight to be master of both.
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO:
Tau: Ha-ha-ha, I got wrinkles on the inside, my friend!
Anyone who claims that Brandon wasn’t trying to follow in his father’s ninja-footsteps clearly hasn’t seen the bulk of Rapid Fire‘s sans shirt action sequences. Jake is hot-blooded and you don’t need to check him to see, as he can’t wait to strip down and show off his impressively cut and sweaty shoulders, arms, chest and abdomen, etc. Whether it’s fending for his life in an apartment, running in slow-motion from the cops, or just hanging one-button loose in a burning laundry factory, Lo knows how to keep his sexy-ass cool.
Not to mention the title of the film brings to mind thoughts of pornography and what I like to call “sprinkler-dick”. The act in which thick ‘rapid fire’ ropes of seminal fluid fly about the air, ruining people’s days and staining upholstery. Probably should have kept that last thought to myself…
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
While the film does showcase an attractive young woman’s breasts in one of Jake’s art classes, it’s just as quick to explain how little importance they are to Lo (and likewise the target audience) as his interpretation of her body involves drawing a giant dragon and not exaggerating her feminine features to Heavy Metal proportions like any normal straight man would. Plus, a nude model is hardy exploitative by this point in modern cinema. Hell, just a few years later James Cameron pulled off getting one in Titanic and still managed to keep his precious PG-13 rating.
However, there is still the case of Karla Withers (Kate Hodge) and the bearing of her forbidden fruit to Jake. But, as it happens in a blink-and-you-miss-it frame during the laughably ab-centric sex scene…
…the argument is pretty moot. Plus, it’s too dark to make out any definition on her half of the frame. However, she does end up getting kidnapped late in the third act… but so does Mace and he’s a bad-ass motherfucker, so she had no chance and it would be silly to hold it against her.
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [ 34 ]
Click HERE for the Body Count Breakdown
For a martial arts movie, Rapid Fire is surprisingly corpse laden. Most are shot down by various popular street caliber weaponry, but there are also a few spicy dashes of neck snapping, electrocution and explosions inserted as well for good measure. But the real fun stuff is in the unique choices of cutlery that are used to ruin motherfuckers, which include throwing stars and of all awesome things, a barbecue fork. And as far as I’m concerned, there just aren’t enough deaths with cookout equipment these days. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a guy get stabbed with a shish kebab, or had his face raked with a steal brillo pad? Too god damned long if you ask me.
MOST SATISFYING ASS-KICKING AND/OR DEATH:
Lo vs. Minh
Finally, after years of memorably hanging out in the background, Al Leong gets a showcase battle and thank fuck it’s a good one. Set within the bowels of a Chinese laundry/drug factory, these two titans of action cinema square off the only way that two men of such bad-ass caliber could: in a kung fu showdown of epic proportions.
Just as Jake makes for the stairway to his vengeance, down comes the tempered bodyguard in all his fu manchu glory. And by choosing (?) to play the role of Mihn so low-key and subdued for the first 2/3rds of the film, Leong’s arena-style entrance is comparable to that of a gladiator to a crowd of thousands. Then, what begins as a simple trading of blows, quickly escalates as the two masters up the tension and the anti with an increasingly impressive displays of acrobatics and no-mercy maneuvers. Of course, in being the underdog #2 villain, it’s not long before Mihn feels the need to cheat by brandishing a blade, which Jake is only too happy to turn around in his favor. But not before displaying his skill in evasion and retaliation by snapping Mihn’s stabbing arm like a piece of balsa wood. An awesome enough finishing move in and of itself, but then Jake encores it by using Mihn’s broken appendage to bury the underboss’s knife deep into his own rotten guts. A most fitting fatality.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
Being choked from behind by a Serrano Goon with the stock of a shotgun, Jake notices another of Serrano’s men take aim at him. Quick like lightning rapid fire, Jake reverse-head butts his assaulter, grabs the shotgun, does a back flip over the body of his attacker (who then becomes a human shield), lands, and uses his newly acquired weapon to blast the remaining assassin. Then he beats down three more in rapid fire succession. Outstanding!
After being detained by the police for his involvement in the art-warehouse shooting, one of the FEDS says this bullshit about Jake…
Rando Fed: You know what I think? Maybe this is the guy that did it!
To which Jake replies…
Jake: The guy that “did it” needed a gun.
Letting the cops-in-suits know that he can kill anyone he wants, anytime he chooses and with nothing more than his well-toned body. But he won’t, ‘cuz he’s not a murderer… Until the next day.
Rapid Fire opens in a classic kung-fu film fashion, with a man named Lee performing martial arts in-front of a black backdrop. The short but stellar credits sequence works well as both an homage, and as a stylistically modern lead-in to the film that follows it. And it couldn’t be a more fitting or a more perfect choice, as Rapid Fire marks Brandon, son of Bruce’s first big solo-starring American action film.
Taking place in present day, 1992, the movie follows the story of Jake Lo, a promising young art student and rebel without a cause, despite everyone wanting him to have one. This is due to his being the son of a well-known martyred Chinese political activist. But, Jake finds no pride or honor in his father’s demise as he is angered by the perceived little effect his father’s sacrifice had toward democracy and what large effect it had on leaving Jake a disillusioned teenage orphan. Translation: Jake’s a loner and kind-of an angry prick with daddy issues and a 1950s style disposition of sticking it to the man. Thankfully though, this film lives up to it’s silly name by not wasting time with too much mopey melodrama of self-transcendence and quickly makes with the ass-kickings action fans had come to expect from the name of Lee.
After being duped into attending a political social gathering under guise of a date, Jake becomes witness to a mob hit and as such, becomes the target of another one. And over the course of many, many excellent action sequences, ends up finding a reason and cause worth living and fighting for: namely becoming a bad-ass-motherfucker-taker-of-names-and-kicker-of-asses. And he even resolves his parental issues by warming to a policeman turned father-figure, Mace Ryan and sleeping with Ryan’s partner, Karla Withers. Which is kind of Oedipus-esque, now that I think about it… ~Eeeeew~ Did I mention Jake fights one-on-one with Al Leong? Yes I did? Well, fuck it, it bares repeating.
A (90s) modern martial arts epic and homage to the film’s of the 70s, while at the same time made to fuse with the trends and fads of the time, Rapid Fire is simply a fun-as-fuck action spectacular. What with it’s upbeat and funky jazz soundtrack and baseline story of a kung-fu efficient hero, sought out by gangsters; mixed with John Woo-ian style gunplay and dashes of Jackie Chan environmental gymnastics and improvised weaponry, director Dwight H. Little (Marked For Death, Murder At 1600), successful crafted Rapid Fire into an American/Hong Kong mish-mash of classic Badass Cinema.
Lee’s choreography also plays off both the classic and modern styles, in that he keeps up with the whole lone shirtless rabblerouser who makes goofy faces and flexes a lot, and in that he uses his body to launch tables, bounce off of his environment, tackle support beams, kick through staircase railings and windows, etc, etc. And it’s all very exciting and fits the film like one of Serrano’s gloves.
For a for-instance of the blend, there’s a great showdown early on in the film that takes place in an apartment building between Jake and a pair of hitmen. For reasons seemingly based purely within the realm of vanity, Jake has removed his shirt from his chiseled bod, just in time to realize that his FBI witness protection squad are gangsters in disguise. So, rather than waste time slipping back on his cotton armor, Lee bare-backs it like his father before him, and battles his would-be assassins with nothing but a sheen of sweat to protect him. This is some classic martial arts shit. But then a few moves into the tussle, Jake must improvise to avoid a death by high-speed lead poisoning and defends himself by yanking out a drawer of silverware and chucking it into one of his attacker’s faces. This move, of course hearkens to more modern techniques like Jackie Chan in Police Story 2 where Chan kicked a guy’s head through a drawer of silverware, rather than waste time pulling it out. Both of which are great moves, by-the-way. However, if someone were to ask which I personally preferred, I’d have to go with Lee’s as it was slightly more fun watching the villain bat away the utensils as they flew through the air.
Mace: JAKE! Why don’t you take those fists of fury of yours outside. You’re makin’ the poor man nervous.
So it comes as no surprise that Rapid Fire was written and tailored specifically as a solo action vehicle for Lee, who had a lot of say during the production.
For further proof, all one would need to do is apply the story of the film to Lee’s personal life: A talented young martial arts man, whose beloved father died before his time, must find his lot in life through his relationship with Powers Boothe. OK, that last part is probably not true, but it’s a nice thought, isn’t it?
Apparently Lee originally tried to get John Woo on board the ship to America to direct, but was unable to for some unspecified reason. And while that obviously would have been amazing (think Legacy Of Rage, but with a good story and three or four good shootouts as opposed to just the one), I’m glad the deal fell through. Not just because Woo was probably in the middle of pre-production on Hard Boiled (aka the Greatest Action Movie Ever Made), but also because Rapid Fire (despite it’s name) is a died-in-the-wool kung-fu flick that ended up being a near perfect entry to the modern martial-arts genre anyways. So, in closing, not only is Rapid Fire a must see for fans of hardcore mortal combat and action buffs in general, it’s easily my favorite picture of Lee’s too-short career. So, if you like Brandon Lee, and you trust me, pick this one up. You shan’t regret it.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Nun dumandari per chiddu chi nun t’appartieni finche nun si priparatu mu pigghie.
It’s a Sicilian proverb, it means: Don’t fuck with men named Lee.
[THE AOBG ACTION CHECKLIST]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor” [Lee]
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[X] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[X] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[X] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[X] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[X] Manly Embrace(s)*
[X] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting [Al Leong]
[X] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[ ] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[X] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[X] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[ ] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[X] Vehicle Chase(s)
[X] Vigilante Justice
[TOTAL: 21 outta 25]
*Jake carried Mace out of a fire on his own shoulders. I’ll count it.
Rapid Fire (1992) © Twentieth Century Fox / Review © AllOuttaBubbleGum.com and Ty ‘RANTBO’ Hanson