The Film: Rapid Fire (1992)
The Principals: Director: Dwight H. Little, Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, Nick Mancuso, Raymond J. Barry, Kate Hodge, Tzi Ma, Al Leong.
The Premise: Chinese-American student Jake Lo (Lee) witnesses a mob hit by fading mobster, Antonio Serrano (Mancuso). He soon finds himself caught up in a situation where the legit authorities are railroading him into testifying, and then some corrupt feds are trying to kill him for Serrano, who needs him very dead. The only reason Jake has survived two attempts on his life are his incredible martial arts skills. When he’s on the run from both the feds and the mob, the only person to whom Jake can turn is Det. Mace Ryan (Boothe). Ryan is a burned-out Chicago cop who’s been after an Asian drug lord and former confederate of Serrano’s, Tau (Tzi Ma) , for years. Together, they work to take down both Serrano and Tau with a Ryan’s guns and with Jake’s fists.
Is It Good: It’s sort of in the middle: great action that puts Brandon Lee’s incredible physical talents in the forefront for the first time in a starring role, and a wonderfully hammy performances by a favorite of mine, but a story that follows the action film playbook of the era like clockwork, often to the detriment of logic. Yes, this was the late Lee’s first American starring role, and considering the legacy that was expected of him, he does pretty well. His action scenes and physicality had a smoothness that was worthy of his father, albeit in a noticeably different style. The younger Lee seemed to have incorporated elements of the style of a contemporary of his father’s, some guy named Jackie Chan, in that he made copious use of his surroundings when fighting. Lee was incredibly athletic and had a graceful fluidity to his movements. Plus he could also hand dudes their sphincters quite well when required.
In terms of acting, Lee was still new fairly to the game and homing his craft, so there were a couple of hiccups, but nothing major. His Jake wasn’t quite the wisecracking, ass-kicking quipster that Johnny Murata was, but Lee did manage to give him a likable charm. Needless to say, by the time The Crow started, he had upped his game quite a bit in that department. Regarding his fights, Lee dazzled on screen: quick, again, very fluid and giving a shout out to his old man once or twice along the way with a signature move or two. He has a very memorable fight with Al Leong that was very Eastern style and one of the all-time greats in laundry combat. Lee also brought just something…fresh, to even the fights with Serrano’s underlings, particularly in that bar scene shootout. Cool stuff in the apartment with the dirty feds also.
If there’s any performance other than Lee’s that’s going to be remembered in this movie, though, it’s easily Nick Mancuso as Serrano. Mancuso has been a favorite of mine going all the way back to his all-too-short stint on ’80s TV show, Stingray. Loved that show. Here, he’s a stressed mobster on the downside of his influence trying for one last power grab against Tau. Mancuso chews up damn near every scene he’s in and spits it out. I thought his friggin’ heart was going to explode from hypertension in that entire pre-bar scene shootout (“I’m gonna break your fingers…finger by finger…then I’m gonna break your ribs, rib by rib…”). Serrano was Michael Corleone with anger issues. Let me reiterate, love Nick Mancuso.
Powers Boothe was good also as the broken down Ryan, bringing his gruff exterior to the table. He and Lee had good interaction. Raymond J. Barry puts in a nice quick appearance; always nice to see Tony Longo, and Tzi Ma is always reliable in whatever role he takes. He’s good as Tau, and I always loved the complete overkill in comeuppance his character got. It’s one of those “man, that dude is all kinds of dead” moments. And of course Al Leong is always the man.
Dwight H. Little is a director who’s had a fairly solid career in both film and TV. His film before this one was Marked For Death. Subsequent gigs have included Free Willy 2, Murder at 1600 and Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid in film, and Millennium, X-Files, The Practice, 24, Prison Break and Bones in TV. Film-wise, he peaked with the Seagal flick, which is still enjoyable. He can stage action suitably well enough, but there were a couple of hesitations by Lee, one in the party fight scene, and one in the Leong fight, that could have probably been reshot. Little was also a victim of a lapse in logic here, one that’s laughable in reality, but works just fine in and early ’90s action film universe. That being that no cop is going to risk the life of some kid – let alone one who’s the star witness in a mob case – to try to take down hardened criminals like Ryan does with Jake. But otherwise, there’s no second half of the movie, so what are you gonna do?
So yeah, with the 18th anniversary of Lee’s passing just yesterday, Rapid Fire is one of a small handful of examples that remind us we lost a talented young man far too early and needlessly.
Is It Worth A Look: It’s the best way to get a complete look at Brandon Lee’s phenomenal physicality.
Random Anecdotes: Just realized that Screwface was an FBI agent in this.
Cinematic Soulmates: Showdown in Little Tokyo.