Van Damme is Out for Revenge
Ben Archer (Jean-Claude Van Damme) has been an enforcer for a Mafia family for a long time but he is tired off it all, the clubs, smoke and drink and just yearns for the quiet life at home with his wife Cynthia (Lisa King) who works in immigration and their young son. When one night Cynthia is called in late to deal with a boat load of illegal immigrants she takes pity of a young girl called Kim (Valerie Tian) and takes her home. But it was a big mistake and the next day Cynthia is murdered by a gang of Triads and Kim along with Ben's son go missing. In need of revenge Ben calls on his underworld contacts to help him track down the Triads but in doing so finds things are a lot messier than he could ever imagine as corrupt officials and drugs are involved.
Director Philippe Martinez' is not a name I am familiar with and as of writing he has just 4 movies to his name, 3 of which have low ratings on a popular movie sites. At the same time the cinematographers Emmanuel Kadosh and Michael Swan are not familiar to me either yet somehow these three people have delivered a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie which seems to break the mould. In fact ignore the aspect of style for a minute and "Wake of Death" has a derivative story of a husband seeking his son and revenge for the murder of a loved one. It also have various cliche elements from a sex scene to corrupt officials and of course plenty of action scenes.
But between Martinez, Kadosh and Swan they have taken something derivative and turned it almost into an artsy experience. From the way the sun shines through a man in white trousers doing some sort of martial arts based work out to the way the action scenes play out with unusual camera angles which are reminiscent of John Woo it makes "Wake of Death" feel more than just another Van Damme movie. In fact take the gratuitous sex scene, a typical ingredient of so many Van Damme movies, well it comes across as surprisingly sweet and loving due to the non typical framing of it.
Now I put most of the praise for "Wake of Death" on those behind the camera for creating such a surprising action movie but at the same time Jean-Claude Van Damme deserves some praise as well as this is a more mature performance from Van Damme, controlling his usual tendency to go big with his characters and giving Ben much more of a soul than what he normally does. The thing is that whilst it is good to see Van Damme showing that he can act and do emotion it is not something you want to see in every Van Damme movie because quite frankly Van Damme hasn't got the range to make it work in one movie after another and sometimes all your really want is some classic Van Damme wham, bam, thank you maam.
What this all boils down to is that "Wake of Death" ends up an entertaining variation on what you usually get from a Van Damme movie with an artistic side which catches you off guard. But it is not completely style over substance as it offers up enough action to keep traditional Van Damme fans happy.