Tsui Hark's second U.S. film is
unfortunately his second Jean-Claude Van Damme film. Fans of Van
Damage may be happy with this creative action flick, but the lack
of substance behind it can only annoy longtime fans of Tsui Hark.
The Universal Soldier stars as Marcus Ray, a shady businessman
in Hong Kong who gets drawn into a scam where counterfeit goods
(or knock offs) are being stuffed with miniature bombs. Despite
being not a law-enforcement type, Ray soon finds himself squeezed
between numerous parties. Some claim to be good, but are actually
bad. And some seem bad but are actually good. It's just like all
action thrillers should be.
A better-than-average cast was assembled
for this Muscles from Brussels epic. Aside from some bit parts
by HK actors (Dennis Chan, Moses Chan, Wyman Wong), Tsui Hark
has enlisted Carman Lee and Michael Wong for semi-sizable roles.
Wong has the role that initially was earmarked for Jet Li: a Hong
Kong law enforcer who finds himself teaming up with Van Damme.
However, Wong is not Van Damme's main buddy in this flick. Instead
it's Rob Schneider of "Saturday Night Live" fame, who
gets to make all sorts of homoerotic jokes about Van Damme's shapely
behind. No, you did not read that incorrectly. Schneider and Van
Damme spend a good portion of the film enjoying each other's company,
which could be viewed as karma in some religious circles. Not
unexpectedly, their comedy routines are largely unfunny.
Knock Off was shot with a heavy
sense of style, but that style is not offset by any substance.
Unlike Tsui Hark's The Blade, there is no rhyme or reason
to the nifty shots and dizzying camera movement that permeate
this picture. The manic energy that Tsui employs seems to exist
solely to bring the film in under ninety minutes. Thankfully,
he did a good job; Knock Off breezes by with the disposable
satisfaction of intentionally unhealthy fast food. Van Damme actually
comes off looking rather silly in this movie, which is a welcome
change from the usual Van Damme love-fests. Also, the action can
be surprisingly entertaining. It's sad that Tsui Hark has once
again chosen to go the cheap route and given us a flick that has
no weight. Still, for the personnel it employs (Jean-Claude Van
Damme and Michael Wong? It's a team-up from cinema heaven!), Knock
Off isn't god-awful. It's most definitely crap, but it also
possesses some meager cinematic charms.
However, it must be said: Tsui Hark,
go home! (Kozo 1998)