Rapid Fire (1992)
Despite being Bruce Lee's son Brandon Lee had to work his way up to being a star. His first lead role in a feature film was his one and only Hong Kong film, Legacy of Rage, after which Lee found himself playing bit parts and television roles before again being featured in the 1989 low budget Laser Mission. It was a supporting role in Showdown in Little Tokyo and another starring turn in this movie that finally set him up for his inevitable breakthrough role in The Crow.
Unfortunately, it is well known what happened at that point, but Brandon had a number of advantages that his father didn't when breaking into Hollywood. While it had in no way disappeared, the anti-Asian bias of the late 1960s had faded, and studios preferred hiring Asians for roles (although they couldn't figure out that it's silly to hire a Chinese person to play a Japanese role) rather than putting a white guy in makeup. It was also in the middle of the classic '80s action movie boom, which was perfect for a handsome young man that could passably act as well as do his own stunts. Though not as legendary a martial arts practitioner Lee was set to eclipse his father as a movie star.
Jake Lo (Lee) is a Chinese-American art student whose father, while working with U.S. intelligence, was killed in the Tiananmen Square uprising. When a figure model (Brigitta Stenberg) invites him out, he finds that he was tricked to go to a meeting to speak about his experience. Not happy about the ruse he intends to leave, but before that happens chaos erupts when mobster Antonio Serrano (Nick Mancuso) begins his takeover of an Asian heroin operation by killing Chang (Michal Paul Chan), the organizer of the event and the middleman between Serrano and Kinman Tau (Tzi Ma). Unfortunately Lo witnesses the murder and barely escapes, only to be arrested.
Brought to Chicago to testify against Serrano, Lo is promised protection, but the agents in charge are on Serrano's payroll. Barely escaping again, he finds some sanctuary with with Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe), a Chicago police detective who has been trying to bring down Tau. Lo agrees to help Ryan, first by bringing in Serrano and then helping Ryan and his partner Karla Withers (Kate Hodge) to go after Tau. Despite being an art student and an innocent bystander, it turns out Lo is also a martial arts expert, and he is able to use his skills to both survive and help bring in the bad guys.
The plot of Rapid Fire is about as generic as it can get, but it served its purpose, which was to get Brandon Lee noticed and moved on to bigger and better things. Dwight H. Little, based on his work with Steven Seagall in Marked for Death, was brought in to make the movie, and to his credit he is able to do a good job displaying Lee's skills as well as setting up decent fight scenes throughout. The movie had all the hallmarks of a typical action film at the time and proved that Lee, when given a decent script, could carry a Hollywood movie on his own. I also give credit to writers Cindy Cirile and Alan B. McElroy that they didn't make Lee spout horrible one-liners after taking out the bad guys, although the opportunity was definitely there.
Lee feels laid back and comfortable in the role, leaving the scenery chewing to both Nick Mancuso and Powers Boothe. There was some attempt to make Kate Hodge more than just a token love interest to get some extra nudity into the film, but she still doesn't do much other than provide an extra person for Jake Lo to rescue in the finale. In fact, the love scene between Lo and Withers goes to show just how dated the production is, as it is accompanied by music from Bon Jovi wannabes Hardline. Although made in 1992 in many ways Rapid Fire still feels like a movie from the 1980s.
The fact that action films are not made like they used to be does add some nostalgia to it, and Rapid Fire doesn't bear the baggage that The Crow does, although even without Lee's death that movie was still more in line with the '90s than Rapid Fire was and would have helped move Brandon Lee to a point where he didn't have to do action thrillers anymore. What that would have said for Simon Says - supposedly the sequel to this movie which was reworked into Die Hard with a Vengeance after Lee's death - is unclear, as most likely he would not have wanted to move backward at that point. Despite everything, Rapid Fire still delivers what it promises, and is a nice nostalgic diversion.
Rapid Fire (1992)
Time: 95 minutes
Starring: Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, Kate Hodge, Nick Mancuso, Tzi Ma
Director: Dwight H. Little
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