Wake of Death (2004)
By: Devon B. on July 17, 2012  | 
Sony Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 87 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Philippe Martinez
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Simon Yam, Valerie Tian, Philip Tan
Screenplay: Philippe Martinez, Laurent Fellous, Mick Davis
Country: UK, France, Germany, South Africa
External Links
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I've certainly enjoyed a few of Jean-Claude Van Damme's movies, but he's not one of my favourite performers. I don't have a problem with his fights when he manages to not jump in the air like a goon, but I've always had issues with his acting outside the fight scenes. He proved to a lot of people that he could actually act in JCVD, but those that followed his career after Knock Off might not have been surprised, because Van Damme had shown some previously unused acting chops in Wake of Death.

The film starts with a woman trying to leave her partner, but he's a shady character and kills her instead of letting her go. Some boat people arrive in the States (ooh, it's almost like a topical film about Australia, today!), and among them is the daughter of the woman who was killed in the first scene. One of the immigration workers decides to take the little girl home, which wouldn't be regulation, but given the worker's married to Van Damme she clearly has a thing for immigrants. Maybe she even smuggled him in. Anyway, Van Damme is a mob enforcer looking to retire, so we know he's tough. His wife picked the wrong aspect of her work to bring home, though, because the girl's father comes lookin' for her. When Van Damme's wife is murdered, Van Damme leaves a WAKE OF DEATH behind him in his quest for vengeance.

The film gets bogged down in talking and setup, which is a bit weird since the movie's pretty short, but it does eventually get going. Things get overly melodramatic like a John Woo movie in some places, but once the movie gets through the setup it becomes a strong, stylish revenge flick.

Van Damme's fans might've been a bit disappointed with the film because it's not heavy on the martial arts. Except for one little skirmish, the first fight is about a third in, and while it's a cool, surprising scene, it's also short. The lack of hand-to-hand combat means Wake of Death might not be an ideal movie for hoo ha fans, but the movie has plenty of good qualities to make up for the lack of fisticuffs. There're some really good action set pieces with high production value so even though it's light on fights, the movie isn't devoid of action, and there's also some unexpected and unflinching violence. The acting quality levels vary, but as I said before Van Damme's acting is much improved, and he is believable as the tired and aging enforcer.

It may not have a lot of martial arts, but it's still one of Van Damme's best movies, and may even appeal to people that normally pass over his films.
Wake of Death looks clean and clear. The transfer is strong, and I only noticed a few minor seconds of edge enhancement.
The first third of this movie is mostly just talking, but bullets do fly eventually and I liked the deep thumps when people got kicked. This is a front heavy mix, but that suits the movie most of the time.
Extra Features
There's a 10 minute featurette which interviews writer/director Philippe Martinez and one of Van Damme's co-stars. Martinez explains that the script was written for Van Damme, but as an actor not a "karate guy." The film was designed to move away from the "karate guy" persona, and it surprisingly worked because Wake of Death is a good movie.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
How the director knew Van Damme could act is beyond me, but his gamble paid off. Wake of Death is a movie that should broaden Van Damme's audience while at the same time please the open minded fans he already had, and it puts most of Van Damme's other action vehicles to shame. In fact, it puts a lot of other people's action vehicles to shame, too.

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