RAPID FIRE: Brandon Lee’s Star Is Born

One of the great action films of the 1990s hits Blu-ray

The Crow isn’t even my second favorite Brandon Lee movie.

Sure, there was a time when it was the greatest thing to ever grace this earth. I dressed as The Crow multiple years in a row for Halloween and mourned Lee’s death like only a true 13 year old can. Obviously I still find his early and accidental death to be tragic and mourn for the life and career that could have been. And yes, The Crow was a visionary trend setter and propelled Lee to international stardom which could have blown his career up to brand new heights.

But I’m here to tell you that Rapid Fire is far and away Brandon Lee’s greatest film. And it’s a showstopper ranking among the very best action films of the 1990s. This was Lee’s first solo starring role after co-headlining Showdown In Little Tokyo with Dolph Lundgren (and yes, I’m also here to tell you that that film is Brandon Lee’s second best). Rapid Fire utilizes Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do style of fighting effectively and respectfully. It also takes that Bruce Lee style and infuses some John Woo and Jackie Chan into the mix to create a unique space for Brandon Lee to bring something to the screen that only he could. Lee starred in three major Hollywood/studio films and they’re all uniquely awesome and portray a handsome, talented, charming, and charismatic leading man who not only honored the legacy of his father Bruce Lee, but made an impact all his own for my generation. It’s few and far between a person lives a life (or leaves a legacy) like that.

Bringing his own martial arts choreography to the project, Lee not only stars and does his own fight sequences, but also had the part written specifically for him and was involved in the pre-production from the start. Rapid Fire is Lee’s movie, and that’s why it’s his best. Alex Proyas is one of the few directors who lives up to the loaded moniker of being a “visionary” director. And while his vision for The Crow broke Lee into a whole new world of potential roles, Rapid Fire showcases a young man with passion to honor his father’s martial arts legacy and take his shot at the spotlight. It’s been unfairly swept aside due to the drama and enduring goth legacy of The Crow, but it truly deserves to be spoken of alongside such other 1990s action classics as Speed, Cliffhanger, Point Break, and the like. It’s perhaps lower stakes than those, and certainly lower budget. It fits a formula maybe a little bit too comfortably. But dammit… it’s a great formula and a sublime piece of mass consumption entertainment.

Lee plays art student Jake Lo, a talented young man who tragically watched his father die in a protest in China’s Tiananmen Square and who consequently wants nothing to do with any righteous causes. When he witnesses a gangland murder, he’s caught up in a fight much bigger than himself. But soon, good cop Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe, typically fantastic here) and his team will be the only shot Lo has at getting out alive. But Mace will need Lo just as much as Lo will need him. The script from Alan McElroy is effective, keeping Lo on his toes, providing a rogues gallery of villains you love to hate, and sprinkling classic action set pieces throughout. As Twilight Time essayist Julie Kirgo astutely point out as well, there’s a touching father figure subplot between Lee and Booth’s characters that takes on more potency knowing Lee’s own loss of his father. It’s subtle enough to be effective without ever getting melodramatic. Director Dwight H. Little had just done Steven Seagal’s Marked For Death prior to this project, and displays some major action chops here. Lee’s choreography is deftly captured, the pacing is strong, the comedy beats click, and most importantly the characters connect.

Ultimately it’s Lee’s contributions to the film that really make it sing, however. And the action he was able to create along with his team led by stunt coordinator (and living legend) Jeff Imada is the kind of inventive and fist pumping stuff that gives you goosebumps. It’s hard to review this kind of thing because of how purely visual and kinetic it all is, but there are moments here that absolutely slay and stand far and above your average sequence of fisticuffs. Lee sells all of this displaying both vulnerability and engenuity, all of which endears us to his character.

With heart, thrills, killer action set pieces, homage to legends, and a new twist that only its spectacular lead could pull off, Rapid Fire is a film that feels squarely of its time, but singular in its execution. Though it’s been largely forgotten by time and overshadowed by The Crow, Rapid Fire is the film that will allow Brandon Lee to live forever in my memory as a bright shining star who will never be replaced.

The Package

As always, this Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray release is accompanied by a stellar essay from Julie Kirgo. The commentary track highlights the score of the film and features Twilight Time founder and film historian Nick Redman interviewing Rapid Fire composer Christopher Young. Redman and Young are old friends and have an easy rapport. The track heavily focuses on film scores and composition, which is just fine by me. You’ll also get some promotional featurettes from the film’s release and the theatrical trailer.

Because Rapid Fire is a visually explosive film, it thrives here on Blu-ray and comes with a high recommendation for any action fans.

And I’m Out.

Rapid Fire is now available on limited edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time

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