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Wake of Death (2004)
Written by: The Arrow
Director: Philippe Martinez

Starring:
Jean Claude Van Damme/Ben
Simon Yan/Sun Quan
Tony Schiena/Tony
Lisa King/Cynthia
7 10
PLOT-CRUNCH
When a ruthless Chinese Triad Kingpin (Yan) comes to America in search of his runaway daughter, he winds up murdering “gangster” Ben Archer’s (Van Damme) wife in the process. What he didn’t bank on is that Ben can drive a car like an F-1 champ, can fight like a bull seeing red, can shoot a gun like Dirty Harry on a “cranky day” and…he’s freaking pissed off! Revenge is a dish best served Van Dammed?
THE LOWDOWN

Who killed my wife – Ben Archer

Jean Claude Van Damme means a lot to me. I grew up on his movies and to this day I’m still a huge fan. Shite, I started practicing Tae Kwon Do because of him and his determination in terms of making it in show biz has always been an inspiration. When you’ve followed somebody’s career for so long; you almost feel like your part of it to some degree due to the constant support (i.e. my cash) you’ve given over the years. Van Damme’s life has been through ups/downs professionally and personally now of late, so when he does good work; I feel compel to prop it. And when he does great work; I go out of my way to back it up as much as I can! So here it goes!

Getting my boxing gloves on an advance copy of the final cut of “Wake of Death” (the film will hit North America straight to DVD on December 28 2004) was akin to finding Tara Reid and Sarah Michelle Gellar naked in my bedroom making out, after a hard days of work. Yes I was a very happy dead camp counselor and popped open a bottle of spiked Kool-Aid to celebrate. Was it worth the wait? Damn straight it was! There are two kinds of JCVD films hitting our shelves these days. The dumb (Derailed - The Order) and the mature (Replicant - In Hell). Thankfully Wake of Death fell in the latter category and fans of the Muscles from Brussels will rejoice in seeing their hero tackling yet another role that showcased his mucho developed acting chops. In fact, I have never seen Jean Claude reach this level of acting before! My good bud said it best after viewing the flick: “He’s ready to star in a Michael Mann movie now”. DAMN VAN DAMME!

Wake of Death gave out lots of “ouch that’s freaking harsh” a minute for my bucks! The film’s aura was one of drabness, nihilism and extreme brutality with all of it bathed in Director Martinez’ groovy artsy-cum-MTV polished visual style. Much like “In Hell” this was JCVD at his grittiest where there was nothing funny about this tale. To be honest, although the slew of exciting gunfights, breath neck car/motorbike chases (loved the bikes in mall bit) and the film’s high cruelty quota (a drill in an eyeball…ouch) were all fun times in a round-kick bottle; that’s not what kept me in the game throughout this “wake”. Ben’s plight and the heart wrenching showcase Van Damme put out to convey it is what hooked me first and foremost. Much like Kill Bill, Man on Fire and the recent Punisher, Wake of Death tackled the universal theme of “revenge”. But out of all these films “Wake of Death” is the one where I felt the most pain for the lead character. I saw a dude mourn, lose it and become a violent wreck on an authentic plane. High five, a butt shot and the splits to Van Damme for his poignant, raw and visceral performance. He held the film together like a damn tube of Crazy Glue!

On the empty side of the clip, I didn’t care for some of the “too tight” editing on display where it would either become distracting or would lessen the impact of some of the action sequences. The screenplay also fumbled now and again “character exposition” wise. Either it didn’t have enough of it (who were Ben’s cohorts again) or its substance was handled clumsily. One good example would be the “key” conversation Ben had with his wife in the tub early on. The sequence was supposed to get across who they were and how strong their love was. Sadly it felt “written” and obviously there for “explanation” purposes first. It also didn’t help the sequence that both actors had zero chemistry together.

By and large though, Wake of Death was a down and dirty, vicious and quite gloomy little thriller that granted gave me what I expect from JC (the kicks, the guns, the butt) but at the same time when on to wrap its candy in a thicker kind of wrapper. Its official, our little Jean Claude is all grown up and it’s showing in his work. KEEP IT UP BRO!
GORE
We get bloody slit throats; mucho gun shot wounds to the head and body, a graphic and extended drill torture incident, groovy stabbings/slicings, a knife in the crotch (Ouaa!) and a couple of heavy blood spurting moments.
ACTING
Jean Claude Van Damme (Ben) was at his utter best here, displaying vulnerability and a rawness that owned me. When he broke down; I felt it. WOW! Simon Yan (Sun Quan) was intense and scary via his economic performance. Tony Schiena (Tony) was endearing, charismatic and he surprised me with some really nice Van Damme – like kicks. Lisa King (Cynthia) did well most of the time but the bad dialogue she had to spit out in places made her look bad.
T & A
We get lots of don’t blink you’ll miss them tit shots and the ladies get a buff Van Damme shirtless and a peek a boo butt shot.
DIRECTING
Philippe Martinez displayed lots flair behind the camera via his use of filters, slow motion, fades and stylish angles. He threaded the fine line that is “action movie”, “MTV” like directing and “artsy movie” quite often. That resulted in an interesting overall vibe. My only peeve was that the editing was at times too tight, especially during the action scenes.
SOUNDTRACK
The blues/opera tunes and the touching/exciting score worked for the film Aces!
BOTTOM LINE
Wake of Death was a to the bone “payback” opus that didn’t pull any kicks or punches when it came to delving into bleakness, sadism and grief. Sure the script wasn’t always up to snuff and the editing was too taut in places but that didn’t come close to ruining the overall experience. What the film had to say, the ugliness it showed, the pizzazz in its directing and Van Damme’s astounding showcase all burst out the screen to make this a death worth waking (wow did I just write that…). Let me put it another way; I watched this baby with a girl friend (Hey Elaine! There’s your shout-out!) and she bawled her eyes off! When a chick cries at a Van Damme movie; it’s doing something right. MR. MARTINEZ ET MR. VAN DAMME...MERCI BEAUCOUP!
BULL'S EYE

The film was initially going to be shot in my home town of Montreal, Canada by Ringo Lam under the title After Death. Something happened, Ringo bailed and the Production moved to South Africa. This was a bummer for me incidentally since I had auditioned for a goon role and was sure I was going to get the part…then the production fell though. One day JC…one day, one day...

The flick had a budget of 24 Million clams on its back.

Thanks to Mathieu for the hook up! You the man!
 

VISIT THE OFFICIAL WAKE OF DEATH SITE HERE

SEE VAN DAMME’S TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY HERE

WAKE OF DEATH TRAILER #1

WAKE OF DEATH TRAILER #2

VISIT THE OFFICIAL JVDM SITE HERE

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