Shady nightclub owner Max Archer (Jean-Claude van Damme) wants to get out of the business and live a peaceful life with his son Nicholas and loving wife Cynthia (Lisa King) who’s an INS (immigration) agent. One day she comes across a container of Chinese people being smuggled into the U.S. and her eyes fall on a 14 year old girl named Kim. Even though it’s against regulation she takes Kim home with her so she can live in a normal house for at least one night before she goes into processing. Kim turns out to be the daughter of a Triad leader who also has Cynthia’s boss on his payroll. He sends his men out to retrieve his daughter and in trying to do so they kill Cynthia and her parents, while Kim and Nicholas manage to flee the scene. Van Damme, with the aid of his friends, goes out for revenge.
The revenge movie is a concept as old as movie making itself. It’s an easy and relatable subject when done right. All you need to do is make the justice system seem failing, the victims saints and the bad guys pure evil. Revenge movies usually consist of just two colors: black and white. There is no room for any shade of grey here, let alone 50. Make the bad guy(s) just a little bit sympathetic and *poof* there goes the strength of the movie. The only variation on the revenge movie that exists is whether the protagonist doesn’t go too far like Paul Kersey in the first Death Wish movie.
In Wake Of Death it’s pure black and white. Archer is never seen doing any harm while running his club, aside from tossing out some nasty customers. He doesn’t seem to be dealing in drugs, guns or anything like that. Nor do his buddies, yet you get a sense they are some sort of mob-type outfit. When his wife and in-laws are killed he collapses and turns to booze. When another triad member comes to the house for Kim he disposes of him and finds out who’s behind this, making his goal clear.
Being a direct-to-video revenge movie one would not expect much, if anything, from Wake Of Death but despite the simple premise there is something more beneath the surface here; while Van Damme’s accent is still tampering with him trying to act there is a powerful scene where he breaks down and the tears flow freely. Say what you will, but I’ve never seen Arnie, Chuck or Steven even try to convey such emotions on screen. Van Damme pulls it off, and really gives it his best in the types of movies Seagal would usually sleepwalk through. People mostly remember Van Damme from his stiffy 90’s performances, but it was the early 00’s he started to actually perform in movies leading up to his comeback movie JCVD which made people actually realize there’s more to him than split kicks and butt shots.
Wake Of Death is a decent movie, living up to the premise, but outside of that it’s a pretty straightforward affair, lacking any depth or sudden twists. The bad guys are all evil Chinese men, some of them even into kinky sex, but they’re all one-dimensional characters.
The police are only involved in the background, though they even supply Archer with tips on who might all be involved. Van Damme throws around a lot of punches and kicks. The stunt scenes are nicely done, I especially liked a chase scene on motorcycle through a mall.
Wake of Death is not the most memorable of Van Damme’s DTV movies, but a sombre toned, well acted one which is at least entertaining enough to warrant a viewing.