W is for… Wake of Death
When I came across Wake of Death as a viable option for this site, I didn’t have any real expectations. I enjoy Van Damme, some reviews said it was his best movie in years, and even though revenge movies aren’t necessarily my thing, I figured it couldn’t be that bad.
…Let’s just say it’s not the first time I’ve been wrong. Please see Vehicle 19.
Wake of Death, directed by Philippe Martinez, stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as Ben Archer, a… um… Mafia bar/club bouncer? His actual profession isn’t quite mentioned. His wife, Cynthia Archer (Lisa King), is a social worker for the INS, and she brings home a 14-year-old immigrant, Kim (Valerie Tian). Granted, there was no way for her to know that Kim is the daughter of Chinese criminal Sun Quan (Simon Yam), or that Quan would track the girl to the Archer family.
Unfortunately, Quan kills Ben Archer’s entire family except for his son, Nicholas (Pierre Marais). The boy either goes to Archer’s friends or is found by them, it’s not clear, but either way he is there when Archer goes to them. Archer and his friends–employers?–mob-brothers?–vow revenge against Sun Quan. They start with a man–Andy Wang (Tom Wu)–Archer remembers seeing outside where his wife and her family were slaughtered; Archer and one of his buddies, Tony (Tony Schiena), go to Wang’s brothel and kill some goons as well as Wang.
Meanwhile, it’s revealed that Hoggins (Danny Keogh), Cynthia’s boss, is crooked and is working on drug smuggling with Sun Quan. He is the one who told Quan where Kim is (though he does lie and say it was his idea for her to go with the Archer family, rather than stay in a detention center with the other immigrants). Fortunately Archer learns that Hoggins is crooked through a cop friend of his (Da Costa, played by Warrick Grier), and they kidnap him. Archer’s other cronies, Max (Anthony Fridjohn) and Raymond (Claude Hernandez), torture Hoggins and learn of Quan’s location.
While Archer follows another lead from Da Costa, Quan has his men kill Raymond, Max, and Da Costa himself. They also escape with Nicholas. Archer is able to grab Kim and escape, and ultimately he and Tony infiltrate Quan’s ship, the SS Katrina. As Tony fights one knifeman, Archer slaughters his way through several goons until he reaches Quan. They shoot each other. The end.
It’s not awful, but considering the amount of plot, the film is a little convoluted and confusing, yet really slow at times.
Regardless, let’s go to the criteria!
A is for… Accents
Van Damme has his Belgian accent.
Quan and his men have Chinese accents.
Raymond only speaks French for some reason.
Max and Hoggins both have “tough guy” sort of city accents, perhaps a “mob” accent, if you will.
B is for… Bad Guys
Sun Quan is a member of the Chinese Triad, smuggles drugs into America using drug mules, and enjoys slicing people’s throats with his switchblade knife. Even though it seems as if he learns of his parentage to Kim right before she runs, he hunts her down across the ocean as if he loves her. More likely he sees a way to profit off of her. Like all Asian stereotypes, he does Tai Chi, in an interminable sequence that adds nothing to the film. Quan and his men are also racist against white people.
Hoggins is Cynthia’s boss in the INS, and is at first against her taking Kim home with her. It’s unclear when he discovers Kim’s parentage. He has been working with Sun Quan for some time, being his inside man in the US and facilitating the drug smuggling.
C is for… Chases
The film opens on a chase scene, which is uncomfortably reminiscent of Vehicle 19. In it, Archer is clearly chasing another vehicle while also shooting at it with a gun.
Halfway through the film there is a motorcycle chase as Archer chases some goons through a shopping mall. Yes, a motorcyle chase through a shopping mall, with the requisite stunts, and it is all reminiscent of both Commando and True Lies.
Finally the film catches up to the beginning, with Archer chasing Quan’s goon, who has Kim and Nicholas. The sequence is actually pretty exciting, except for random slow motion parts.
D is for… Damsels
Cynthia Archer is Ben’s wife, and she works as a social worker for the INS. And she is an idiot. Just because she sees a teen girl among the immigrants, she thinks it’s okay to take her home? She’s not a puppy. She’s a girl in a strange place, and she’s terrified. A stranger’s home is not the best place for her.
The viewer is also forced to watch a cringe-worthy conversation between Cynthia and Ben, where she explains that she loves him and knows him better than he knows himself, and knows that he’s a wonderful man. Completely gag-inducing. Also, if she’s with the INS, whose job it is to uphold the laws, she’s okay with knowing that Ben does illegal things? She is an idiot.
E is for… Explosions
The big chase scene happens in the vicinity of a fuel tanker truck. As Archer and Quan’s goon stall out, the truck hits its brakes and skids. It slides into Quan’s goon’s vehicle, and as it taps it it explodes into a
huge fireball, as if there’s no structural integrity to it at all. If those things exploded that easily, it would be illegal to drive them down the highway. Every commute would be like the opening of Final Destination 2.
Archer manages to drive his car up onto the Katrina, where it crashes and explodes.
F is for… Flashbacks
Technically the whole movie is a flashback if it opens on a scene from halfway into it.
Archer thinks about his dead wife.
G is for… Guns
Check out the IMFDB for details.
Quan’s men shoot Cynthia and her family in broad daylight, in cold blood, with no concern for silencers nor who might see them.
Archer engages in a shootout with them outside the restaurant, also in the middle of the day, but this time in the middle of the street.
After he’s attacked in his home, Archer chases the intruder outside and empties a clip in the direction of the getaway car.
Archer and Tony infiltrate the brothel while carrying shotguns. They clearly wanted to make a mess, and be seen doing it.
Archer shoots at the motorcyclist.
The shootout during the car chase scene seems unnecessary and probably distracts both drivers from being able to use their cars more effectively.
As Archer drives his car onto the Katrina, Quan’s men shoot at him. After Archer leaves the car, he engages in a shootout on the deck of the ship.
H is for… Helicopters
Sadly, there is not a single visual of a helicopter in the entire movie. The only hint of one is the audio of one flying above the dock as Cynthia and Hoggins look over the immigrants.
I is for… Improvisation
Sadly, Archer relies on his gun and his fists, so the only time he improvises is when he uses his motorcycle helmet as a club in the mall.
J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects
The swordsman Quan sends to “cut” Archer leaps through his living room window for some reason. Archer then kicks him through another window during their fight.
The goon Archer is chasing drives his motorcycle through the window of the mall.
K is for… Kill Count
While I’m not sure exactly how many of Quan’s men Archer kills, every one of them dies a violent death.
Andy Wang’s death is particularly annoying–I understand Archer is upset about the murder of his wife and he wants revenge, but A) he doesn’t know if Andy did any of the dirty work, and B) he doesn’t interrogate him or anything before he shoots him. It’s such a pointless death because he could have learned something before he killed him.
Raymond and Max kill Hoggins for Archer in a horribly violent and bloody torture scene involving a drill. It was seriously like watching Hostel.
Archer memorably kills the motorcyclist by stomping on his face.
L is for… Limitations
Archer is the target because he has Quan’s daughter, but considering what he’s lost because of her, does he really care about her? It’s an ethical dilemma.
Archer is also struggling through the early stages of his grief, and it’s clouding his judgment even as he seems to think it is focusing him.
Archer is short on time, because he knows Quan is hunting him to get to Kim.
Other than these mental and intangible things, Archer seems to be pretty stocked up on weapons, skills, and sidekicks.
M is for… Motivation
Sun Quan is hunting for his daughter, and may want revenge for the white people taking her.
Archer wants to kill Quan and his men for killing his wife. Once Nicholas is kidnapped, he also wants to get him back.
N is for… Negotiation
The Hoggins torture scene is sort of negotation, but Max never says he’ll stop if Hoggins talks.
Once Archer has Kim and Quan has Nicholas, there’s the implication of swapping.
Archer and Quan don’t really interact at all, they just kill or have other people kill for them, so there really isn’t room for negotiating.
O is for… One Liners
Quan: The only thing you postpone in life is death.
Due to the nature of the story, there aren’t really any jokes at all.
P is for… Profession
What Archer does for a living, where he learned what he knows, why he’s in LA now, none of it is really explained at all. We first really meet him when he’s saying that he wants out of whatever it is he does, and says that he’s tired of the bars and smoke and deals. He maybe be in the Mob, but even guys in the Mob have actual jobs and roles within the organization. He seems to be a bouncer, which means he’s the muscle.
Cynthia knows he works in “the bar business,” but is also aware that it’s something more. There are mentions of “Marseilles.”
The viewer doesn’t really know anything about Archer except he loves his family and likes chocolate pudding.
Q is for… Quagmire
There aren’t really enough established rules for the viewer to ever perceive Archer as being in real and total danger. He’s alone, but has friends. He has weapons, but is good at hand-to-hand. He’s clearly above the law, but doesn’t work for the law. He doesn’t have all the info, but kills people without asking questions. Other than perhaps at the very end when his fate is unclear, Archer doesn’t seem to be in any real danger; there’s no thought that he isn’t going to emerge victorious at the end of the film.
R is for… Reality, or Suspension of Disbelief
The film itself is hard to follow–we don’t know much about Archer, or even Sun Quan. It makes it hard to know what is possible and what isn’t. For example, Archer is involved in a shootout in the middle of the street, yet there’s no mention of him being interrogated or following the law, yet his gun was taken for evidence. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m not an expert on police procedure nor the Mob, but it’s jarring that he can be in the police station after that shootout and no be under questioning of any sort.
So, as far as stunts and basic story line, the plausibility is fine, but the details are confusing me.
S is for… Sidekicks
Archer receives a call from Max and goes to his house to collect Nicholas, but at no point is Archer’s relationship with these men explained overtly:
Da Costa – cop who is a friend of the Mob; he clearly covers for Archer and his gang, but he also seems to be asking for a break to help him with the case.
Max – in a wheelchair, clearly in charge. He seems to be a father figure to Archer, yet describes Cynthia as his niece.
Raymond – speaks French and seems to be the errand boy or the hands/feet for the crippled Max.
Tony – along with Archer, the muscle. He tells Archer he’ll take a bullet for him. Archer refers to him as his “brother,” but in what sense? Surely not biologically, so then in some sort of Mob way? A simple friend way? Were they raised together?
T is for… Technology
There is no use of technology for the plot at all; the film could have taken place any time and any when.
U is for… Unexpected Romance
Considering the point of the movie is Archer avenging his dead wife, it would be really tacky if he met a woman along the way.
V is for… Vehicles as Weapons
During the car chase scene, Archer uses his car to bump and direct Quan’s goon’s.
W is for… Winning
Archer and Tony head to Quan’s ship, the Katrina. Archer systematically kills or wounds every goon between him and Quan, shouting, “Suuuuunn Quaaaaaaaaannn” periodically. Tony gets involved in a knife fight with the swordsman, taking up all of his time. Using Nicholas as a shield, Quan approaches Archer. Meanwhile, Kim had called the cops and runs onto the ship, shouting, “Papa!” as police approach. It’s enough of a distraction that Archer fires his gun, but Quan fires it at the same time. Quan is shot in the chest, drops, and appears to be dead, but it’s not evident where Archer was hit. Nicholas runs to him and they embrace and cry. Cue fade to black, and the words “The End” coming on the
The audience doesn’t know the fate of Archer, nor Kim, and doesn’t even know if Tony lives. But with the cops there and Da Costa dead, aren’t all of Archer’s illegal dealings going to come to the fore?
X is for… X-rays
Archer is fine through the whole movie up until the last minute or so, when he’s shot. The audience doesn’t know if he lives or dies, and if a doctor could help him or not.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem
This film exemplifies this concept the best so far…if Cynthia hadn’t taken immigration regulation into her own hands and brought Kim home, none of it would have happened–everyone would be alive and life would go on. Instead, she made a terrible decision and everyone Archer knows except for his son is dead. “You don’t bring home strange kids” is probably a good rule everyone should follow.
Z is for… Zone, in the
By the time Archer gets to the Katrina, he is focused and ready to take on Sun Quan. The goons in his way are just fodder as he works his way through them to get to Quan.
In Summation, and Other Thoughts
Ouch. I’m grateful the film was so short, because it was hard to get through. The story is so simple, yet it’s complicated needlessly by bad writing and directing. The characters are bland and one dimensional, and I’m sure there are dozens of films with a similar concept done much better. That all being said, there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half. …I’m not even going to link back to Vehicle 19 again, as I think you get the point. At least things do happen here, and the main character isn’t a complete moron.
At the beginning of the film is one of those rating screens, with “R is for Restricted Content.” However, it only lists the R being for “language and a scene of sexuality.” What about the ridiculous and needless gory violence? An action movie does not need torture porn in it.
The sure sign of a classy film is when there’s a sex scene during the opening credit sequence. Especially when the scene does absolutely nothing for the story, considering the woman involved gets killed two minutes later, because she’s an idiot and tells her Triad lover she’s leaving him and taking their daughter (only explaining his parentage to her now, of all times).
There are several slow motion or quick cut or time lapse scenes that break up the narrative, but considering the film is choppy and could use some more explication, clearly the time could have been spent on something other than the weird floaty scenes.
Cynthia works for Immigration, okay, and she takes Kim under her wing, okay. She asks Kim if she speaks English, and Kim doesn’t respond. Cynthia proceeds to speak in English to her, and Kim proceeds to not respond. FINALLY Kim does speak English, and Cynthia answers her in Chinese. What the heck?! Why not speak to her in Chinese the whole time?
There is a gratuitous shower scene with Van Damme, and see the point above about weird slow sequences that serve no purpose. Perhaps the shower symbolizes Archer wanting to cleanse his life and start anew, but that’s a stretch. It’s likely just to get Van Damme naked on screen.
Throughout the whole film, but most noticeably in the chocolate pudding scene, the film uses way too many close-ups. Nothing happens, just staring zoomed in at the person. Especially with Archer and Kim, when it’s not clear that she even understands what’s happening around her, it’s super awkward to have to try to read their expressions or catch what’s happening underneath for such a long period of time. The film and its close-ups were actually at the point where I was wondering if I had the TV set in the proper aspect ratio.
To continue the awkwardness and unnecessary close-ups/sex, there’s a graphic sex scene between Archer and Cynthia. Not only is it inappropriate for the story, because it doesn’t do anything for it (if it’s to show how much Cynthia and Archer love each other, it’s rendered redundant by their conversation in the bathtub immediately afterwards), there’s a freaking strange kid in the house! What if she needs something? Completely ridiculous. If you’re keeping count, that’s two awkward sex scenes and a shower scene in the first like fifteen minutes of the movie. It’s like watching The Room, but without the sense of whimsy.
Van Damme’s character is named “Ben Archer.” It sounds so similar to “Sean Archer” from Face/Off that it’s actually distracting. Thank God this movie doesn’t drag itself out for an extra half hour too long the way that one does.
Soooo many candles used. It’s like the set was designed by Smallville’s Lana Lang. Anyone get the reference? Anyone? Bueller?
This is one of those movies where you’re rooting for guys who aren’t much better than the antagonists, and it’s weird. Sun Quan is bad because he kills people, but how many people did Archer kill, and not because they were directly between him and Quan?
The end credit sequence is very short, which is nice to see in this day and age of credit sequences being five minutes long because so much in the film was done with computers. Practical effects and real stunts are so much better.
Confusing things even more is that Sun Quan’s house and Max’s house look exactly the same, so it’s hard to tell where people are. Also, Max is in a wheelchair, but most of his house is below street level. I hope he has an elevator. It would have been an interesting plot point or use of the set, if there were a fight in it or something.
Archer tells Kim to call the cops if he’s not back in twenty minutes. Considering she doesn’t seem to have a tool to measure time, nor a phone from which to call, she’s clearly magic when she summons the police later.
The swordsman sure likes his blades–he brings an awful lot of knives to a gunfight. He also gets killed by one of his own blades.
That all sums up Wake of Death. It’s not a terrible movie, but there’s a lot wrong with it when there doesn’t need to be. If the direction were more focused on story and fleshing out the characters instead of being artistic, it really could have been good. I also hate when a film ends without a resolution. Archer got his resolution with Quan’s death, so why can’t the viewer know what happens with Archer, Nicholas, and Kim?