Blazing Brandon

Blazing Brandon

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Aug 7th 2018

Many of the promotional interviews that Brandon Lee did for his first solo-starring action vehicle Rapid Fire (1992) centered on his famous father, martial arts immortal Bruce Lee (1940-1973), and rightfully so. It was an angle that would help the handsome and charismatic 27-year-old stand out from the screen action pack, which at the time encompassed multitudes like tentpolers named Gibson, Schwarzenegger and Willis and feisty challengers named Seagal, Snipes, Van Damme and Lundgren. Indeed, it was a recent Lundgren-Lee two-hander, Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), that indicated the younger Lee had an added flair for comedy and camaraderie that was not present in his father’s body of work. When questioners got off the topic of his father, Lee would say that his goal was a career like that of Mel Gibson, who could alternate Mad Max and Lethal Weapon projects with more thoughtful work in The Year of Living Dangerously and Hamlet. 

Paradoxically, genetics and parental training would position Lee well in the field and set himself up to break free of being labeled his father’s son. Bruce Lee disciple and Rapid Fire stunt coordinator Jeff Imada would recall that though Brandon Lee “definitely put in 120% or more of himself into that film,” Lee also told him at production’s end: “It’d be great to finish this film and not do any martial arts for a while. It takes its toll. You’re making contact with people no matter what and you’re getting bruised up and not getting to heal up quite as well…and you’re just physically tired from fighting all the time.” Watching the film now, a solid and crunching mash-up of police thriller, martial arts and romance-on-the-run written by Alan McElroy (Spawn, The Marine) and directed by Dwight H. Little (Marked for Death, Murder at 1600), the effect is a mix of well-executed genre-centric grit and bittersweet regret at the recognition of a marvelous future that was denied when Lee was accidentally killed on the set ofThe Crow (1994) seven months and 10 days after Rapid Fire debuted. 

Los Angeles Times critic Kevin Thomas saw that in his opening day review: “Brandon Lee has lots going for him: striking Eurasian features, genuine acting ability in contrast to his father, who alternated between sneers and grimaces, and most important, a style all his own. Tall and lean, Lee has a direct, matter-of-fact approach to his formidable martial-arts skills in contrast to his father, whose appeal rested largely upon the breathtaking balletic grace he brought to his kung fu moves. For the son, martial arts is but one aspect of his personality, not the raison d’etre it was for his father. As Jake Lo, Lee is a college arts major living in Los Angeles who is maneuvered into attending a campus gathering marking the second anniversary of the Tian An Men Square massacre, where Jake witnessed the death of his father, a U.S. Army Intelligence officer. Bitter about his father's death, which he regards as a pointless sacrifice, he had not wanted to attend or participate in the event. Yet no sooner does he arrive than he witnesses a Chicago gangster (Nick Mancuso), whose empire is crumbling, assassinate a distributor for a Golden Triangle drug lord (Tzi Ma), who refuses to give a bigger cut to Mancuso. The linchpin of the film is writer Alan McElroy’s skillful rendering of the gradually evolving relationship that develops between Jake and tough, high-principled Chicago cop Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe). As Jake moves from a witness to be protected to the key position on Ryan’s team he’s reluctantly faced with the fact that Ryan is a man very much like his late father. Rapid Fire isn't just about the good guys nailing the bad guys but about a young man discovering, through a surrogate father, that there was meaning in the loss of his own father’s life.” There is also satisfaction that Rapid Fire, also starring Kate Hodge and Raymond J. Barry, and featuring cinematography by the expert Ric Waite (48 Hrs., Red Dawn, Andersonville) and a superb score by Christopher Young (Invaders from Mars, Virtuosity, Entrapment, Wonder Boys), will finally show its magnetic star and breathtaking mayhem in stunning 1080p on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray August 21, the 26th anniversary of its theatrical opening. In addition to two vintage featurettes, this release features a new Audio Commentary with composer Young and TT’s Nick Redman. Preorders break open tomorrow, Wednesday August 8.