Plot: After his wife is brutally murdered, an ex-cop (JCVD) wages war against the Chinese triads.

Review: Jean-Claude Van Damme stars in this visceral, stylish and brutal action movie as a man out for revenge. He is at his most ruthless in this movie, taking no prisoners and dispatching bad guys in satisfyingly violent fashion. There’s a particularly nasty torture scene involving a power drill as well… so this is certainly not for the squeamish.

The action for the most part is very well done with some great stunt work and real explosions. No CGI here, kids!

It is let down by being overly dark and it’s difficult to make out what is happening in places but aside from that there is plenty to enjoy. Action highlights include a motorbike chase through a shopping mall and the climactic sequence at the docks with an awesome knife-fight which is thoroughly satisfying.

Simon Yam is on villain duties as Sun Quan, a triad who comes to America in search of his daughter who ran away after she saw him murder her mother. It’s a bit of a wasted opportunity as it would have been more interesting for him to have been at least a little sympathetic; then we would have a bit more emotional conflict and character development.

Instead he’s just a nasty piece of work who stops at nothing to find his daughter. Yam is brilliant as always though and I have to say that the acting in general is decent too.

JCVD gives a tortured performance and it’s definitely one of his darkest roles and his character Ben Archer really goes through the ringer. You can very much tell the European influence in this film too as it just doesn’t feel like a Hollywood-esque storyline and the stylized action feels more like a Hong Kong movie.

Interestingly enough, Ringo Lam was apparently the original director, but he left the project after a few weeks of filming in Canada. Our friend John Fallon was meant to shoot some fight scenes with Van Damme but sadly didn’t get the opportunity as the film was shot elsewhere. It was eventually released direct to video in America in 2004.

Wake of Death has a fabulous music score which really adds a lot of atmosphere to the nicely shot action scenes; it gives the movie the feeling of an operatic tragedy with a rather hummable theme tune as well.

There is the odd pacing issue with a bit too much focus on the style rather than moving the story along; instead of the artsy shots like I said, a bit more character development on either Archer or Sun Quan would have been cool.

Overall, Wake of Death is one of JCVD’s most serious action movies that pulls no punches and delivers the goods action-wise. A few elements could have been changed to make the story more gripping but for straightforward action thrills and Van Dammage galore, you can do a lot worse.


About the Author

Eoin Friel
Eoin Friel
I grew up watching JCVD, Sly and Arnold destroy bad guys, blow things up and spew one-liners like it's a fashion statement. Action is everything I go to the movies for and the reason I came up with this site is to share my love for the genre with everyone.