Twitter Plot Summary: Van Damme, dressed all in black, seeks revenge for the death of his wife.
Five Point Summary:
1. Who brings a random Chinese girl home? This will end badly.
2. Called it – it did end badly. Silly woman.
3. Who would have thought the best scene would feature two old men torturing another man?
4. All the budget clearly went on the car chase.
5. That’s a very cheap finale.
Opening with a brief action sequence followed by a James Bond style opening credits montage, Wake of Death marks perhaps one of the more stylish entries in the latter works of Jean Claude Van Damme. He is Ben, a man who finds himself tired of the gangster life – partying, drinks, drugs, and punching people in the face repeatedly. He chooses to go straight so he can spend more time with his wife and son. Meanwhile his wife Cynthia randomly brings home a young Chinese girl who she finds on board a ship of immigrants. Naturally (because it would otherwise be a very boring film) the girl happens to be the daughter of a nasty Triad chap, who goes in search of his daughter and kills Cynthia in the process. Ben gets to use his particular set of skills whilst seeking revenge for his wife’s death and to rescue both his son and the Chinese girl who caused all of this in the first place. So far, so cliche.
And from this drawn out and lengthy opening it subsequently does nothing new with the action revenge template, although it’s not without its occasional positive points. There are a lot of random action sequences designed to show off Van Damme’s martial arts skills and to further demonstrate that he hasn’t physically fallen apart to the same extent as fellow action stalwart Steven Seagal. Blood flows with reckless abandon, and Van Damme stalks around, dressed all in black, like a bored avenging angel. Of course, by bored that should read “anguished” – it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.
But you’re not watching Wake of Death to guess whether Van Damme is emotionally traumatised by the death of his wife or if he’s just suffering from a minor case of constipation, you’re here to watch him beat up bad guys. As it happens the action is well handled, although more often than not it’s obscured by the low light and muddy cinematography. A car chase sequence provides moderate interest but only because the white car driven by Van Damme is the only thing that stands out in the darkness. That and the massive fireball – fans of the same explosion shot from seventeen billion different angles are well served. The sequence is tarnished slightly from the fact it opens the movie and then we see it again in the correct sequence – almost an admission from the filmmakers that this is the best part of the film and subsequently deserves to be seen twice. By the time the narrative catches up with that sequence it lacks any dramatic force whatsoever, because we know there’s still another 15 minutes to go before the end credits. That idea deserves a slow hand clap.
It also proves itself to be a slightly gnarly film, one not afraid to show a man being tortured for information by two bald men who shout a lot and attack him with a power drill. It’s a nasty sequence and proves to be the best part of the story after the car chase, providing something a little bit different outside of the usual template. There’s even the obligatory shot of Van Damme’s backside as he gets intimate with his wife. Because no Van Damme film is complete without him showing off how toned he still is. Or something. Wake of Death is deservedly placed in the bargain bin section, but if you’re into your action films (or Van Damme’s buttocks) then there are a few elements worthy of your time.