Knock Off (1998) 20 Years Later

Plot: Fashion designer Marcus Ray (Jean-Claude Van Damme) has been selling knockoff jeans in Hong Kong, but he’s about to get caught — and not just by his partner, Tommy (Rob Schneider), who’s an undercover CIA agent. Marcus’ boss, Karen (Lela Rochon), also CIA, is threatening to throw the book at him too if he doesn’t prove he’s gone straight. But nothing is what it seems, and other forces are conspiring against the fashion designer, including KGB operatives and Russian double agents.

Jean-Claude Van Damme re-teams with director Tsui Hark (Double Team) in this rather bizarre film which turns 20 this week; when it first came out I found Rob Schneider to be his usual annoying self however, after giving it a watch the other day he actually wasn’t too bad and was almost entertaining. His role starts off comedic but gets more serious as the story progresses and he even gets involved in some action scenes. I met him on Saturday in Toronto and he’s actually a super nice guy in real life so I am now more positively disposed to him in movies.

Tsui Hark wanted to go back to Hong Kong to make this film after working in Europe and Knock Off was apparently the only Western film allowed to be filmed there during the handover between Britain and China.

The film wastes no time getting going and moves along at a breakneck pace feeling more like an Asian action film rather than a Hollywood movie. There are some imaginative kills with bad guys being disposed of in fun ways with one getting impaled on a pipe being a particular favourite.

Some of it appears to be dubbed so there is no swearing… and yet seeing people impaled on pipes seems to be fine. It gets quite distracting at times and I’m not sure what the reasoning was behind it.

Some of the action was done by the great Sammo Hung but a lot of fight scenes were edited down so there is very little in the way of martial arts which is a shame. I would love to see a director’s cut as it feels like this movie was shredded by the studio (or someone else) and that a better film is out there somewhere. There are some entertaining set-pieces and I think watching Marcus slide back and fourth on the wet ship floor shooting and fighting goons is the action highlight.

I’m not sure why there are green explosions but they tend to look truly awful and there is some baffling editing as well. This was during JCVD’s “dark” period so he doesn’t quite seem himself but he still gets to showcase some moves and manages to take his shirt off about 5 times during the film’s runtime (you’re welcome, ladies).

Paul Sorvino is the CIA boss (turned villain) who is always watchable but I find he never really got to do very much in this movie; it’s a shame as he can come across as incredibly intimidating when he’s a villain so it’s too bad he is wasted in a rather thankless role.

Michael Wong is one of my favourite (and underrated) actors who never ceases to be cool; in Knock Off he plays Han, a cop trying to stop people’s trousers from exploding (I think) which is a noble cause to be sure. He teams up with JCVD’s Marcus Ray to take town the trouser terrorists once and for all. Lela Rochon plays Karen Lee who is also upset with people’s trousers exploding and decides enough is enough so she also joins the team while allowing Rob Schneider to ogle her breasts.

It’s all complete nonsense with a bonkers storyline but I find watching the movie with a few beers the best way to enjoy it. You’ll not get emotionally involved with any of the characters but it’s still a fun ride despite the flaws.