Rapid Fire: Brandon Lee’s Action Epic is the Best Movie You Never Saw!

We take a look back at Rapid Fire, the very underrated Brandon Lee action movie that should have made him a star.

Last Updated on March 11, 2024

THE STORY: A college kid (Brandon Lee) witnesses a gangland hit. Betrayed by witness protection, he’s recruited by a task force headed by a no-nonsense cop (Powers Boothe) as a pawn, but little do they know he’s more than able to handle himself against any of his foes.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, Tzi Ma & Nick Mancuso. Directed by Dwight H. Little.

THE HISTORY: The early nineties were the heyday of the martial arts movie star. Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme were consistently churning out hits, so if they could become icons, why not a guy like Brandon Lee? He was movie star handsome, could move, was charismatic and could act. Oh yeah – he also happened to be the son of the greatest Kung-Fu movie star of all time, Bruce Lee.

“I wouldn’t want to refer to them as stepping stones. That seems to demean them. But I’m hoping they will get me to another place. I don’t think of this (`Rapid Fire’) as a stepping stone, but neither would I like to think it will be my bread and butter. I’d like to have the kind of career that would leave a wide body of work, like Mel Gibson, who does the `Mad Max’ and `Lethal Weapon’ films but can also step off and have credibility with `The Year of Living Dangerously’ or `Hamlet.’ ” – Brandon Lee Interview (1992)

After an aborted attempt at Hong Kong movie stardom (where Legacy of Rage oddly cast him as a gun-toting hero in the Chow Yun-Fat model), Lee ecked out a no-budget direct-to-video actioner called Laser Mission that helped get him noticed. A supporting part as Dolph Lundgren’s partner in the gonzo actioner Showdown in Little Tokyo (which we love here on JoBlo) was enough to propel him to leading man status with Rapid Fire.

brandon lee rapid fire

To launch what they hoped would be a new star, 20th Century Fox gave Rapid Fire a decent budget and a strong supporting cast of tough guy actors, including Powers Boothe and Nick Mancuso. The reviews were inexplicably poor, but even those who hated it acknowledged Lee was a star-in-the-making, even though the $14 million box office take was meager (it was a huge hit on VHS). Lee, using it as a stepping-stone, went on to make The Crow, a movie which would have firmly established him as a star, when disaster hit and he was killed in an on-set shooting accident.

WHY IT’S GREAT: I was heartbroken when Brandon Lee died  (in an incident the director of this movie found inexplicable)– and at that point, I hadn’t even seen Rapid Fire. I was about eleven when it happened, and this one hadn’t quite made it to the Canadian version of HBO, The Movie Network, which is the way I usually got my action fix. Saturday nights at 9:30, right after Dream On was when TMN would program the hardcore action flicks, and I tuned in each and every week. I’d watch pretty much any actioner, from the latest from Seagal and Van Damme (Stallone and Schwarzenegger would merit a trip to the theater), to the occasional pleasant surprise like Thomas Ian Griffith’s Excessive Force and the Pierce Brosnan bomb-romp Live Wire, to the lower end of the spectrum – DTV movies with Lorenzo Lamas. More often than not, my dad would join me, and the week Rapid Fire finally premiered, I was psyched but also sad because I knew that if I liked it, I’d never see another movie like it with Lee in the lead.

“Well, Brandon was such a natural star. He had that quality. He had the acting, the physicality, his dad was Bruce Lee. He had the whole make up to become a huge star and he would have been, I think, become a huge star had he not gotten killed. It was extremely sad what happened.” – Dolph Lundgren – Den of Geek interview

Sure enough, Rapid Fire kicked my ass, and even my beyond cynical about these kinds of movies dad had to admit it was decent – mostly thanks to Lee, who was a hell of a good leading man. Rapid Fire has picked up a bit of a cult following over the years. Still, few really talk about it now, with most of the ink predictably going to The Crow (which I think is a masterpiece) or Showdown in Little Tokyo for the gonzo, unintentional (?) homo-erotic vibe (it’s kind of a blast).

Rapid Fire, though, has it all. Watch this and see what Brandon Lee as an action star might have been. A big film buff, Lee knew his craft well and had tons of creative control here. He loved HK action cinema and sprinkled in references to some of the classics, like a brief motorcycle scrap he took out of Jackie Chan’s Police Story. He wanted John Woo to direct this so badly he couldn’t help but throw in references to A Better Tomorrow, The Killer and Hard-Boiled. Lee and Woo together would have been epic, but the director, Dwight H. Little actually did a terrific job. Little has always been underrated, with his Steven Seagal movie, Marked for Death, also being top-notch (pick up his recent memoirs here).

It helps that the supporting cast is aces, with the late Powers Boothe getting one of his better roles as the grizzled cop trying to help Lee’s Jake Lo get out of trouble while also using him as a pawn. He makes for a very cool Dirty Harry-style cop. I also dug Nick Mancuso as the smooth-talking Mafioso baddie, with him throwing in some nifty “Actor’s Studio” ticks to evoke a sadistic streak that gives him extra menace.

BEST SCENE: There are a lot of good ones, with two really solid mano-a-mano bouts, one with the famous Al Leong (the skulleted henchman who showed up in seemingly every eighties action movie) and the battle royale with Tzi Ma’s main baddie. As good as those are, I really liked the way Lee would take on a roomful of foes, mixing in props like Jackie Chan, but also bringing out the firepower when given the opportunity (how a college kid got so good with guns is never explained – but whatever). The sting operation gone wrong is the big action highlight for me, but there are plenty of others.

SEE IT: Rapid Fire is available digitally but seems to be out of print on Blu-ray, with it pretty pricey on Amazon marketplace. Hopefully, a studio like Kino Lorber or Shout Factory will give it a special edition sometime soon.

PARTING SHOT: As far as I’m concerned, Rapid Fire is the great unsung action classic of the 1990’s. Lee would absolutely have become an iconic hero, and it’s an absolute tragedy that he never got his moment in the sun. Even still, he left behind a couple of great movies, and Rapid Fire is one that’s just waiting to be discovered.

Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.