‘Rapid Fire’ – ’92 Cinema Revue

Rapid Fire – #3 in the US (Aug. 21 – 23)

All-Time Domestic & Worldwide $14,356,479

Rapid Fire is a paint-by-numbers film that works best as a showcase of Brandon Lee’s talents.

Brandon Lee was set to follow in the footsteps of his father, Bruce Lee. Being the son of one of the most famous martial artists would be intimidating if Brandon did not set out to study acting at Emerson College in Boston. He did some TV, specifically a revival of Kung Fu, but had his sights set on being on the big screen in the Hong Kong film Legacy of Rage in 1986. Years later, Brandon would get into Hollywood films with the cheesy goodness of Showdown in Little Tokyo alongside Dolph Lundgren. Then came Rapid Fire, his first proper lead role in a Hollywood film to show that he could lead an action film. It would serve as a test to see if Lee could hold his own and get a big project.

Jake Lo (Lee) is an art student in Los Angeles who witnesses drug lord Tony Serrano (Nick Mancuso) kill his rival Kinman Tau’s (Tzi Ma) associate at a private event for a pro-Democratic China party. Lo gets out of there after fighting random goons plenty, only to fall into the hands of the FBI. The feds want Lo to stop Serranos’ dealings in Chicago. However, even with that set in motion, Lo gets caught up in the mix, working with Lt. Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe) and Det. Karla Withers (Kate Hodge) to end Serrano.

The 90s were filled with dumb-but-fun action romps, and Rapid Fire is no different. Anything you pictured about 90s action movies is in this film. Lots of guns blazing? Check. A tough-as-nails cop as a partner? Another check. A love interest for no reason to fill a quota? That’s right, that’s here too. Instead, it is 90 minutes of action cliches, casual racism (we’ll get to it), and a lead doing the most with a drug business plot that is as standard as they come.

That’s no lie either, as Brandon Lee is good as the lead selling the most cliche of quips and holding his own. He isn’t his father but doesn’t need to be. He has the star quality as a handsome charmer and a martial artist. The fight scenes in this are something I miss in modern-day action films. All the action is on display without quick cutaways and flashy camera moments. It’s hard-hitting, too, in the first shootout at the art gallery with him dominating guys left and right with only his fists and legs. The chase throughout the apartment in Chicago is also stellar by dodging bullets, crawling into tight spaces, and fighting back without ever needing to draw a weapon. The penultimate fight in a Chinese laundry warehouse has him going toe-to-toe with famous stuntman Al Leong (aka the candy bar guy from Die Hard) in a knockdown drag-out brawl amidst flames is fantastic by going all-in on the Hong Kong-style action. These are what the audience is here to see. It’s a great showcase of Brandon’s ability in an otherwise okay film.

Jake Lo (Brandon Lee) does battle against Kinman Tau’s henchmen Minh (Al Leong).
Source: 20th Century Studios

Powers Boothe seems not to be aware he is in 90s cheese because he plays Lt. Ryan with this hardened and jaded demeanor that feels almost out of place. Boothe is dynamite as he delivers a standard speech about how he wants Serrano gone and needs Jake’s help. It’s stunning, but why is it in this movie? It doesn’t matter because Powers Boothe ruled. The same goes for Mancuso hamming it up as Serrano, who is having a ball being bad. His delivery of the line, “We came down the chimney. Ho-Ho…Ho,” had me laughing up a storm. Serrano has big pasta dinners every night that borders on ridiculous but makes sense given he owns an Italian restaurant. Hodge as Withers is fine playing off Brandon Lee, yet the chemistry is off. She has a good rapport with Jake Lo but never feels like a romance will blossom between the two. They feel closer to friends than lovers despite the sex scene in the film. 

With these performances, it is a shame the rest of the film is cliched at best and questionable at worst. It runs the gamut of what came before with no genuine surprises in the movie, making it a bit of a slog to get through. Amidst the breaks in the action, it’s nothing special, with the drug war taking up most of the time, leading to dull moments. These plots were Canon’s bread-and-butter, so why bother seeing them again? The racism in this film spews from the villain’s mouth, but damn, is it damning? It’s causally racist in that way, with Lee mocking his look and his heritage. The film does not atone for this and plays it straight by ending in a Chinese laundry warehouse with Brandon Lee disguised in a stereotypical costume to get into the place. It’s not cool and feels wrong. The villains’ mockery makes sense because they are supposed to be evil, but it feels so offputting when it comes from others. 

As mentioned before, the sex scene is here for no reason, complete with a terrible power ballad and intercut with the death of Serrano. It’s so dumb and stupid, yet so entertaining that I was laughing. That was not the intended reaction, but seeing Serrano get annihilated while two people are getting down in the dark is so unintentionally funny that I think the editor must have made a deliberate choice. One last noticeable scene was a still image that showed Jake hiding from bullets in a closet. One frame shows Brandon Lee holding on for dear life to survive as bullets fly in. After a quick cut to a goon shooting the door, it becomes a freeze-frame with the shots animated. No one expected this film to be shown in high definition in 1992 to notice, but here we are.

Jake Lo (Brandon Lee) looks off in the distance at a pro-democratic China rally.
Source: 20th Century Studios

Rapid Fire is a paint-by-numbers action film that serves as a highlight reel for Brandon. It’s worth watching to see what Brandon did before his passing to see the potential he had. He did garner The Crow because of this film, and it’s not hard to see why. Lee was ready to be a bonafide star proving his worth in this film by helping make a pretty bland film into a fun dumb mid-tier romp. Unfortunately, fate would change Brandon’s plans within seven months of Rapid Fire’s release. Rapid Fire would be the last film Brandon Lee would see complete while alive. 

Revue Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Brandon Bruce Lee
February 1, 1965 – March 31, 1993

Next time, August comes to a close complete with flying Elvises, Nic Cage, and the late great James Caan. We are taking a Honeymoon in Vegas.

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