Genre: Action and Martial Arts Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.
Release Date: August 21st, 1992 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Dwight H. Little Actors: Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, Nick Mancuso, Kate Hodge, Raymond J. Barry, Tzi Ma, Tony Longo, Brigitta Stenberg, Al Leong, Michael Paul Chan
fter a 26-hour flight, Los Angeles heroin distributor (and La Cosa Nostra bigwig) Tony Serrano (Nick Mancuso) arrives in China to visit drug manufacturer Tommy (Tzi Ma), threatening to take a percentage of Tommy’s business. Back in L.A., Jake Lo (Brandon Lee) studies life drawing, which goes well, considering that the nude model asks him out to dinner after class. He’s trying to avoid the ongoing political movement, locally spearheaded by the democratic Paul Yang (Dustin Nguyen), but Lo’s father was one of the great martyrs of the cause, having perished in the Tiananmen Square massacre, which makes Jake a frequent target for such activists.
When he joins his date that evening, it turns out to be a ruse to bring Jake together with Paul, though this meeting is coincidentally interrupted by a shootout involving Serrano (having just returned to the States) and some Chinese gangsters who aren’t thrilled by the intrusion into their narcotics operation. During the fracas, Jake witnesses Serrano execute one of Tommy’s men, which causes the police to arm-twist him into testifying in Chicago – a task that requires ‘round-the-clock supervision by FBI agents Daniels, Anderson, and Klein. But Serrano has informants and assassins everywhere, forcing Lo to flee yet again – this time into the territory of Lieutenant Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe, who grunts or yells all his lines, trying desperately not to betray any emotions – or any acting chops) and Detective Karla Withers (Kate Hodge). “I’m your only ticket out of here, kid.”
Every other scene is a shootout, involving heavy weaponry, lots of destruction, explosions, bloodshed, chases (with cars and elaborate motorcycle scenarios), and stunts. It helps that Brandon Lee knows a handful of martial arts styles (modeled after the methods of his father, Bruce Lee), which play into numerous confrontations. Much of the film is an excuse to show off the fight choreography, yet the hand-to-hand skirmishes and bullet-riddled, flailing bodies contribute to some unexpectedly impressive daredevilry. Though Lee is skilled, it’s actually the henchmen who tumble down stairs, crash through windows, and land heavily on tables, looking extremely (and painfully) convincing in these heavy-hitting brawls.
The plot is so flimsy that it’s actually moderately comical when one gunfight segues into the next gunfight (the firepower does get increasingly bigger and louder, however). And the cops are so incompetent – specifically so that Jake has to handle things on his own – that it would be infuriating if it wasn’t so predictable for him to emerge alive (but not unscathed) from each affray. Ludicrously, he manages to punch virtually every character in the face – the good and the bad – as if his own personal version of a salute or a handshake. But with Karla, Lo gets a sex scene, though it’s bizarrely intercut with an assassination and a stakeout, all presided over by ’90s love music.
The finale once again finds Jake playing the part of the bait, while the cops are blindsided, leaving the success of a decade-long police assignment in the hands of a young civilian with no authority or motive – other than righteousness. Fortunately, the conclusion features two spectacular moments: one in which Tommy glances, flabbergastedly, down from a staircase to see Lo in pursuit; and the primary villain’s demise, which is laughably multi-faceted, as if a single type of death isn’t enough for this particular evildoer. Sadly, however, last-minute flashbacks, over-the-top drama, and Hardline’s “I’ll Be There” rock song work to ruin the momentum.
– Mike Massie