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Review: Wake of Death (2004)

Director: | 87 minutes | , | Actors: , , , , , , , , , , , Tom Wu, Jacqui Chan, Burt Kwouk

It seems as if Jean-Claude van Damme is getting better at acting. In the -like “JVCD” he uses a healthy dose of self-mockery and shows that he can still manage quite well on a dramatic level. Also in the relatively old “Maximum Risk”, from 1996, he showed himself more than just a jackass. He continues this trend in “Wake of Death”, a no-nonsense action with an average revenge story, with a little more attention to tragedy and the grief of his character than usual. But even though he manages to keep his head above water in the more dramatic scenes, the story is still too simple and flawed, to be able to get added value from moments like this. And in the end it is all a bit too depressed to provide a standard action movie with enough entertainment value. Good intentions, so, but a performance that leaves some stitches. Fortunately, Van Damme does deliver a few good blows and there are fascinating chases and shootouts in the film, so that “Wake of Death” is sometimes quite worthwhile for the action fans. “Wake of Death” is a pretty depressing movie.

Van Damme plays a bouncer and ex-criminal who wants to slow down for his wife and child. When an idyllic moment between Ben Archer (Van Damme) and his Cynthia (Lisa King) takes place in one of the first scenes of the film – in which he asks her never to leave him – it is of course bound to be that she is murdered and he will use his raw strength and connections to avenge her. Not that it was really necessary for the villain to get his daughter who had fled to America back in this excessive way, but in the film a way must be found to make Jean-Claude blood-link and send it to war. And he becomes bloody cool! With fists, feet, firearms, and on foot, by car, and even on a cross moped (with spectacular jumps in an indoor shopping center!), He thins out the army of villains who dare to bother him. Archer gets some help from his friends when needed – the most memorable example being a brutal torture in a basement, the main ingredients of which are a drill and the victim’s kneecaps.

One friend in particular, one Tony (Tony Schiena), is extremely loyal to Ben and helps him during a thrilling shootout at a brothel, where Ben is looking for one of those responsible for the murder of his wife. This character is potentially very engaging and it seems like there is a lot more to tell about his past and his connection to Ben. Perhaps many more scenes with Tony were shot but were killed in the editing room. A shame if this is the case. Simon Yam portrays a good villain as triad member Sun Quan, and actually the whole cast is very competent. Including Jean-Claude himself. The director may go a little too far in showing Van Damme’s lost in thought or tearful face, but the acting is not that much to criticize (although the English language is clearly still a stumbling block for the “Muscles from Brussels ”). The brutal action is still there and Van Damme still manages to hold its own in this area, although it is a pity that the director does not give a better overview of the fights more often. Often during combat (parts of) movements or limbs are now out of the frame, which is very frustrating, especially when you get the feeling that the fight has been performed quite competently. This actually applies to very ‘Wake of Death’: the parts you see are often good or taste for more, but there is just too little depth on the one hand and entertainment on the other to make the film a success.

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