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Wake Of Death (Columbia/Tri-Star) DVD Review

    Ian Jane

  • Wake Of Death (Columbia/Tri-Star) DVD Review

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    Released by: Columbia/Tri-Star
    Released on: December 28th, 2004.
    Director: Philippe Martinez
    Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Simon Yam, Philip Tan, Valerie Tian
    Year: 2004
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    Wake Of Death - Movie Review:

    Can it be? Is it truly possible? Holy crap! After a bit of a rough spell, Jean-Claude Van Damme made two good low budget, straight to video movies in a row!!! Following up the sorely underrated and underappreciated prison film In Hell, Van Damme's 2004 effort, Wake Of Death, proves to be a worthy, if a little clichéd, action film that proves that his slump of recent years may be coming to an end.

    The muscles from Brussels plays Ben Archer, an enforcer for the local mafia who works out of a fancy nightclub. Ben's a happily married man, and his wife, Cynthia (Lisa King), works for Immigration and Naturalization Services. Together they have a kid and it's because of this that Ben decides he's going to quit the business and go straight. He's tried of the craziness that his job brings to his life and he just wants to settle down.

    One night Cynthia is called in to help with a boatload of Chinese refugees who have wound up in the harbor. Most of them are adults but Cynthia spots a young girl named Kim (Valeria Tian) and feels sorry for her. She takes Kim back to their home for the night so that she can have some peace after all that she has been through. The next day when Cynthia takes her son and Kim to a Chinese restaurant run by her foster parents, a Triad gang moves in and kills everyone except for the two children.

    Ben arrives just in time to get into a shootout with a few of the gangsters and to find his son missing and his wife dead – her throat slit. He swears revenge and goes back to his former mafia employees for some help. Together they uncover a plot between Cynthia's boss at the INS and a Chinese gangster named Sun Quan (Simon Yam) to use the refugees to smuggle heroin into the United States. When Archer finds out that Kim is actually Sun Quan's daughter he discovers that he's in a whole lot more hot water than he first expected and that the only way he's going to make it out of this alive and get his son back in one piece is to fight his way to Sun Quan and take him down before the Triad's kill him first.

    The cinematography is slick, almost a little too slick in a couple of the earlier scenes, but towards the finale it takes on a rougher, more haggard look that seems to fit the tone of the storyline a little better. The colors are intentionally bleak and drab looking and the movie has a very dark look to it – just as the story does.

    When Van Damme teamed up with Hong Kong uber-director Ringo Lam for In Hell the result was a hard and gritty picture that showed us a more savage and primal side of him that we hadn't seen before. In this latest film, directed by French auteur Phillipe Martinez, Van Damme exists solely to get revenge against those who killed his wife and kidnapped his son. He doesn't care who gets in the way and actually doesn't do a half bad job of showing both extreme anger and some heartfelt sadness. The script touches on almost every action movie cliché in the book – everyone around him is taken down and it's up to him to finish the job and save the day; some people he knows and trusts are in on it all; he has to turn to someone from his past for help despite the fact that he's trying to distance himself from it - and there are a fair share of corny moments (the bedroom scene is almost laughable). However, there's enough action and bloodshed in the last half of the film to more than make up for the cheesy moments that are in the first half. When Archer finally has enough and takes the war to the Triad's, he punches, kicks and primarily shoots his way through them like a bat out of Hell. This is no fancy kickboxing movie like Van Damme has made in the past though. While sure, a couple of bad guys get a boot to the head here and there most of the Van Dammage is done with a forty five or a shotgun, with a couple of head butts thrown into the mix just to spice things up a little bit.

    Wake Of Death - DVD Review:

    Wake Of Death comes straight to video in an okay looking 1.78.1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer that is free of print damage and mpeg compression problems but which does exhibit some edge enhancement in a few scenes that give the movie a slightly shimmering look that does prove a little distracting. That doesn't happen too often, but there are a couple of spots where even viewed on a smaller television set, your eyes will pick up on it. Other than that though, the movie looks quite nice. Seeing as so much of it takes place in darker locations, it's nice to see that the black levels stay strong and deep and color separation is nice and distinct. Overall, this is a pretty solid transfer considering it’s a non-anamorphic DVD made almost twenty years ago.

    There are three audio tracks present on this DVD – Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes in both English and French, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix in Spanish. The English 5.1mix is the way to go as it provides plenty of directional effects during the action scenes and mixes in the background music and sound effects nicely against the dialogue which remains easy to understand and very clear throughout. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and this is a very satisfactory mix. Subtitles are available in French only, though there is an English closed captioning option.

    The film's original trailer is provided, as are previews for a few other unrelated Columbia/Tri-Star action films. Also included is a featurettte that runs just over ten minutes in length that mixes up interviews with director Phillipe Martinez with some interesting behind the scenes footage and a wealth of clips from the movie. Martinez discusses how he envisioned Van Damme in the lead from day one and how it was to work with him as well as Hong Kong cinema legend Simon Yam. There's nothing groundbreaking in here, but it is reasonably interesting and worth checking out once – just be sure to watch it after the feature to avoid spoilers.

    Wake Of Death - The Final Word:

    Wake Of Death is a rather 'by the numbers' story and the dialogue is riddled with clichés but the action scenes and slick camera work more than make up for those shortcomings. Columbia/Tri-Star's DVD looks and sounds pretty good by the standards of its day and this release comes recommended.

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