Knock Off (1998)
Knock Off (1998)

Genre: Action and Martial Arts Running Time: 1 hr. 31 min.

Release Date: September 4th, 1998 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Tsui Hark Actors: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rob Schneider, Lela Rochon, Paul Sorvino, Carman Lee, Wyman Wong, Glen Chin

 


 

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crate of dolls, which are filled with explosives, is set off in the sea just as a police operation closes in on the criminal gang responsible for the importation. Meanwhile, businessman Skinny (Glen Chin), a notorious mobster who deals with knock-offs of high-end merchandise, exchanges a few words with former crook Marcus Ray (Jean-Claude Van Damme), known as the Knockoff King, now a rickshaw racer who adorns himself with those very same glamorous fakes. His partner, fashion designer Tommy Hendricks (Rob Schneider), doesn’t like him mingling with characters of ill repute, as it reflects negatively on their designing enterprises, but Marcus can’t help but to be sociable with everyone.

When race competitor – and longtime friend – Eddie is attacked in the middle of the sprint, Marcus engages in a mightily destructive fight, taking out a van, a grocery store, and a whole team of Russian thugs. He also winds up in trouble with Royal Hong Kong Police Detective Ling Ho (Carman Lee) and VP of Sales Karen Lee (Lela Rochon), who informs the duo that their involvement in the company V-Six Jeans has led to extensive counterfeiting. “I swear, we’re just dupes!”

“There are knock-off artists in Hong Kong? I’m shocked!” The plot is all over the place, seemingly including a wealth of details solely to confuse audiences. The story unfolds so fast that all the particulars are difficult to sort out – from connections to companies to employment to partnerships to undercover missions. Revelations unfurl so rapidly that by a mere half-hour in, no one is the same as when the film started. And the major plot of tracking down questionable supply chains regularly gives way to completely unrelated action sequences.

The film is also, curiously, set in Hong Kong in 1997, just as the territory is returning to Chinese rule after being a British colony for more than a century. Yet even this element isn’t as important as it ought to be, serving as merely another part of an already ludicrously complicated premise. And then there’s the considerable amounts of technological surveillance, the involvement of the CIA, Soviet miniaturization of bombs, and far too many groups of people investigating far too many different things.

“The Russians did it!” As if this yarn wasn’t convoluted enough – and it most certainly is – the editing mixes it up even more through bizarre camera angles and movements, slow-motion, and blurred frames. It’s another layer of artistry that simply isn’t necessary for a picture that really isn’t much more than a martial arts actioner. And that action is fairly nonstop, combining Schneider’s comic relief yammering with an overabundance of explosions and carnage, while Van Damme gets to engage in exhaustively intricate fight sequences that spread across numerous locations, utilizing plenty of weapons and props and perplexing choreography. Plus, car chases and stunts are exceptional – perhaps too good for the silliness of this gangster/action/comedy/thriller/mystery/romance hybrid.

Despite the competent moments of adventure, the story remains hopelessly inscrutable. Just when audiences think the scenarios can’t get any more knotty, identities continue to shift, allegiances change, villains reappear, and supporting characters die. The freneticism is exasperating; getting to the bottom of this twisty enigma hurts the brain. The climax, though excitingly chaotic (and laughably abstruse in its design), is no less taxing on the senses.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10