Friday, August 21, 2020

Summer '92 Redux - August 21, 1992: RAPID FIRE

by Adam Riske and Patrick Bromley
Do you remember where you were when Jake Lo visited Chicago?

Adam: Welcome back to Summer ‘92 Redux, our revisit of the Summer 1992 movie season. Our penultimate entry is Dwight H. Little’s rock solid action flick Rapid Fire, starring Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, Nick Mancuso, Raymond J. Barry, Kate Hodge, and Tzi Ma. Brandon Lee plays Jake Lo, an L.A. based art student and son of a fallen Chinese pro-democracy activist, who becomes entangled in a war between two crime kingpins (played by Nick Macuso and Tzi Ma). After witnessing an execution, Jake is moved to Chicago to testify but soon falls into the hands of both corrupt FBI agents (Barry) and honest cops (Boothe, Hodge) who are not on the take and want to protect Jake. Eventually the cops just let Jake take over and fix the entire thing himself one kick and punch at a time.

The Crow (the film where Brandon Lee was tragically killed in an on set accident during production) has gone down as Brandon Lee’s legacy project which makes perfect sense. My favorite movie of his, however, is Rapid Fire because it works as a great star vehicle for him and doesn’t have the added baggage of The Crow. Lee is an immediately charismatic action star who’s both funny and charming in an everyman way, but also has a charisma and action prowess that makes you sit up and take notice. He really was the whole package and it’s a shame that Rapid Fire is one of the only movies displaying the special qualities he had on screen. This movie also has some great work from Powers Boothe, who is about as good as it gets as a #2 backing up the lead guy. There’s a thread in the movie that Boothe and Lee build a surrogate son-father dynamic, which doesn’t entirely fall into place for me but is interesting and unusual for an action movie. It gives the proceedings some heart it might otherwise not have had. I love how much the cops in this movie are in the bag for Jake Lo where they basically make him into an unpaid intern for the Chicago Police Department. It makes sense. Jake is like when a sports team has a rookie that you know is going to take the franchise to the promised land and all the veterans are like “Anything for him!”

What do you think of Rapid Fire? Is this among (your boy) Dwight H. Little’s best? Have you watched his follow-up to Rapid Fire (Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home) yet? If this is 1992 Chicago, why is no one wearing Bulls merch?
Patrick: It’s well documented on this site and in my life that I looove Rapid Fire. It’s one of my all-time favorite action movies and, I think, one of the best action movies of the 1990s. I’m glad you already brought up The Crow, because I like that movie and I know it has legions of devoted fans, but this really is the definitive Brandon Lee movie for me. (Actually, the trilogy of Showdown in Little Tokyo, Rapid Fire, and The Crow from a kind of meta-biographical narrative about Brandon Lee as an actor: first, he’s partnered up with a bigger star and has to prove himself, then he takes center stage but still lives in the shadow of his father’s legacy, and finally faces an untimely and tragic demise. I haven’t worked it all out yet.) As much as I love Halloween 4, this is my favorite Dwight H. Little (you my boy) movie. He’d learned a lot since his first feature, and working with Steven Seagal on Marked for Death gave him some chops for how to stage and shoot effective action. I think it’s a better made movie than Halloween 4, which gives it the advantage. I still haven’t seen any of the Free Willy movies, which I’m hoping doesn’t call our friendship into question for you. I know you’re a fan.

Adam: It’s fine. I just think they’re beautiful movies that are key to helping you understand me. Maybe not Free Willy 2, but the original and the third one are all heart and I love them.

Patrick: I’m just so sad about the loss of Brandon Lee when I watch this movie. He’s so likable and engaging, which is kind of rare for an action star. I love that beat where he runs ahead and opens the door for the woman -- it’s just this little touch that tells us so much about him as a person.

Adam: I’ve seen this movie at least five times and every viewing I think Brandon Lee is going to have the date with her and I’m just as surprised as he is when she takes him to an activist benefit as part of a bait & switch. I want to see the movie where they go through with the date, dammit.
Patrick: I love that he’s not ex-special forces or some shit, just a nice college kid who happens to be a badass fighter. The whole supporting cast is good -- you already mentioned Powers Boothe, who’s great, but I also really like Kate Hodge as the female lead (“Caaaaan’t find my waaaaay”), Nick Mancuso as a scumbag mobster, Raymond Barry as a corrupt agent, and Tzi Ma as the big bad. Even Al Leong shows up! Dwight Little is really good about building out the cast and giving everyone space to create a character, which is just good storytelling but also might have been a conscious decision to take some of the weight off of Brandon Lee’s shoulders since it was his first time carrying a big studio movie. He’s the whole show, though, and he’s the best.

This movie does commit the unforgivable sin of having the main bad guy suddenly be an even physical match for the hero even though he has not demonstrated any comparable fighting ability prior to this moment. Don’t you hate when action movies do that?

Adam: Wait...Tzi Ma does that demonstration with the sticks at the beginning when Nick Mancuso threatens him. Am I misremembering the opening scene? But yes, to answer your question, I’m not a fan of that in action movies. I like it even less when the main villain is a tech guy or something and thus not even an option to be a physical match for the hero.

I might be reading too much into Rapid Fire, but I get kind of choked up at the end of the movie when the ambulance driver asks if Brandon Lee is “in” or not. I’m just happy for Jake at that point. He’s decided to be active and involved and not sit on the sidelines being sad. It feels like a real victory that will enhance his life and even better because he makes that choice when he’s still a young guy. It’s a nice little touch that elevates Rapid Fire from just being a good action movie to being a satisfying character study in a way. Plus, that end credits song is a banger.

Do you think this is a good “Chicago movie”? How did Powers Boothe’s unit end up taking over Fireside Bowl? Did the C.P.D. run out of office space and let them work remote? If a customer wanted to bowl, could they? Do the cops have to retrieve the pins? Are they squatting? I need to know the logistics of this endeavor.

Patrick: What the movie doesn’t mention is that Powers Boothe also moonlights as the roadie for Screeching Weasal, who were doing a whole week of shows at the Fireside at the time. It just made sense for him to set up shop there.

This is such an unassuming action movie, which is part of what I love about it. There’s no overkill, no bombast. That’s true of Dwight H. Little’s filmography overall, which is what makes him one of my favorite “that guy” directors, but I love how modest Rapid Fire is. That’s not to say it fails to deliver the goods, because there are a number of great fight scenes and set pieces in the movie, and Brandon Lee is so much fun to watch because he’s so believable. He combines the grace and athleticism of his father with the semi-apologetic, I’d-rather-not-fight style of someone like Jackie Chan. I miss the reliance on practical stunts in movies like this. I know there has been a return to real stunts in action movies thanks to people like Chad Stahelski and Gareth Evans, but sometimes those movies emphasize speed and elaborate choreography over simple action delivery. Rapid Fire is from the Golden Age of action.

I don’t want to speculate about what else we would like to have seen Brandon Lee do (or if there could have been a Rapid Fire 2) because it makes me sad and feels a little ghastly, so I’ll ask you what are your other favorite action movies from this time period? Am I right in thinking 1990-1994 was a real sweet spot for action? I’ll always love a lot of stuff from the ‘80s, but most of the big stars -- save maybe for Stallone -- were doing some of their best stuff around this time.

Adam: You’re speaking my language. In 1990-1994 you could really see the scale (i.e. budgets) expand for most of the action stars that built their brands during the 1980s. I came of age during this period of action movies. After I saw Terminator 2: Judgement Day, my parents gave up and let me watch almost any action movie, so my formative ones mostly came from 1991 through the end of the decade.

Some of my favorites from 1990 to 1994 are: Die Hard 2, Predator 2, Lionheart, Terminator 2, Point Break, The Last Boy Scout, Under Siege, Passenger 57, Rapid Fire, Demolition Man, Hard Target, Nowhere to Run, Cliffhanger, Only the Strong, Speed, and Drop Zone to name a few. I could go on and on. We really need to do another Heavy Action episode and pick one year to explore.

Patrick: Yes, let’s do that! What an insane list of titles. I won’t say I love Rapid Fire more than all of those, but it’s way, way up there.
Adam: Also opening this week in 1992 were a few smaller, obscure entries. I watched Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland for the first time after being obsessed with it for 28 years based on the title (I like sleep) and Siskel & Ebert’s review on their show. It’s a Japanese animated film from 1989 that was dubbed and released in the U.S. in 1992. It’s crazy. Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Brad Bird, Hayao Miyazaki, and George Lucas all had their hands in this movie at one point. Because of that, it’s always interesting to look at except when the character voiced by Mickey Rooney is on screen because it’s shockingly racist. This is the type of movie whose poster would stop me in my tracks when I saw it displayed at the Woodfield Mall. I also watched the Paul Schrader drug dealer drama Light Sleeper, which stars Willem Dafoe and Susan Sarandon. It’s pretty good, mainly for the acting. Last and certainly least, I watched a Penelope Ann Miller comedy called The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag. That movie’s terrible. It might be the worst movie I’ve seen from the Summer 1992 slate. I’m nostalgic for Touchstone/Hollywood Pictures comedies, but there’s also nothing worse than a bad Touchstone/Hollywood Pictures comedy.

Have you seen any of these?

Patrick: Mickey Rooney and racism? Fetch me my fainting couch.

The only movie of that group that I’ve seen -- and it sounds like I can skip at least one of them -- is Light Sleeper, which was an early divorce movie that I rented when spending the night at my dad’s apartment for the first time in 1992 or early ‘93. I remember it being a super fun sleepover movie.

Adam: Next week is the final week of Summer ‘92 Redux! Our choices are Honeymoon in Vegas, Pet Sematary II, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and a British animated film about a James Bond frog (I’m not kidding) called Freddie as F.R.O.7. What a title! I live for late summer animated films that no one paid to see.

Patrick: Since I know you’re going to see Freddie as F.R.O.7 no matter what, it really takes the pressure off of me to pick it. I’m down for Honeymoon in Vegas because Cage or Pet Sematary II, which is a really, really mean movie. Your move! How do we close this thing out?

Adam: Oh, Mylanta. Let’s go for Pet Sematary II! I got in trouble watching that movie…twice! I’ll tell you all about it. See you next time!


  1. Honest question...Rapid Fire vs Speed. Oh, and Draft Day. The sheer amount of things you talked about that I love made me downright giddy. Thank you!

    1. Speed is my favorite of the three. It's my pick for best action movie of the 90s.

  2. I love Rapid Fire so much. It's probably better than Showdown in Little Tokyo, but I watched both of them a crazy amount of times.