It’s hard to believe but it’s been twenty five years since Brandon Lee was accidentally killed while filming “The Crow.” Lee was such a rising talent who wanted to prove himself as an actor more than become the next big action star, and he was well on his way. Lee, like his dad, had to earn a lot of his clout. First: by starring in films in Asia, and then coming to America to try his hand. But unlike his dad, Brandon had the humongous shadow of his father looming over him and he would have had to work extra hard to come out from under it and make Brandon Lee a very different name from Bruce Lee.
After bit parts in various films, and playing second banana in “Showdown in Little Tokyo” to Dolph Lundgren, Lee finally was able to let loose and show his chops in 1992’s “Rapid Fire.” While not a hit in America and by no means a critical darling, Lee’s big debut is a genuine childhood favorite that hasn’t aged too much at all since its release. Dwight Little’s action bonanza just has an energy and appeal to it that’s hard to resist and it never fails to entertain me. “Rapid Fire” almost demands to be watched whenever it crosses my path, and I have a hard time just passing it by.
Little’s gritty direction along with the big turn by Brandon Lee amounts to an admirable if small scale action film that excels in pure entertainment value above all else. One of the main reasons to watch the movie beyond the breakneck pacing is the great cast. Brandon Lee is absolutely dynamite in his role as an inadvertent hero caught in the middle of a war between police and two mafia syndicates.
Brandon plays Jake Lo, an activist turned pacifist with a heavy love for art, who is invited to an art gallery. While attending he accidentally bears witness to a mob hit that’s ensued above him, and now is an unwitting target to two very powerful crime families that have decided to join forces. “Rapid Fire” feels a lot like two films, but thankfully never falls apart. The only real lull is in a love scene that feels tacked on more than anything.
The film has two big chapters with Jake first having to go on the run from the mob and then finding no choice but to infiltrate them and put them down before he has to suffer any longer. While most audiences wrote the movie off as a goofy stock shoot em up martial arts film, “Rapid Fire” has a deceptively interesting narrative with some fine twists. Lee’s charisma and natural flair on camera allow for the film to grab audiences, and keep them invested in his personal battle.
Along for the ride is the great Powers Boothe as a special agent who is personally invested in the war on the streets. He is anxious to bring Jake on to his team to help him win and does almost anything to convince him, even rig Jake’s personal welfare a bit. “Rapid Fire” garners a ton of sweeping and exciting martial arts fights, with Lee allowed to take on just about everyone. There’s even one instance where he has to fight four mobsters at once, and Lee is entertaining in his evident exhausting during the fight. I always get a kick out of the big exhale he takes as he’s surrounded by four thugs. The best part though is when Lo is forced to go under witness protection.
Of course, being under witness protection is easier said than done as while he’s being held, two of the agents end up being assassins for hire and set out to murder him. Thankfully Lo catches on in time and has to rely on his wits and his environment to take them down. It’s here where Lee shines the most in the film, using every resource to his bring down his attempted murderers, even bringing them down with a fridge door, and assorted pots and pans.
There are surprisingly two big centerpieces of the film: One where Jake is held hostage by Italian mobster Serrano. As a crossfire breaks out between gangsters and police, Jake dismantles the stronghold from within, battling every gangster he comes face to face with. There’s also the finale where Lee pays homage to his dad, mimicking an Asian laundry worker. There, not only is Brandon able to bring his dad to life for a brief moment, but he’s able to share the screen with the one and only Al Leong, who gives Jake a hell of a one on one fight.
It’s too bad Lee never had a chance to come back for a “Rapid Fire” sequel, as I think there was a lot left to know about the character Jake Lo. With “Rapid Fire” getting a special edition release this year, I hope audiences will pick it up and give it a shot. Lee’s starring debut is such a kick ass bit of action cinema, and one that always keeps me glued to the screen.