Brandon Lee's penultimate film appearance before his untimely 1993 death, Dwight H. Little's Rapid Fire (1992) offers the most well-rounded and enjoyable showcase of his considerable talent. It's a well above-average action film whose story is more than just an excuse to string together fight scenes (imagine that!), while the lead role was written specifically with Lee in mind. And though the impressive, cleanly shot brawls still manage to outshine everything else by a comfortable margin, there's still more than enough substance to make Rapid Fire more "pleasure" than "guilty".
Our story follows student Jake Lo (Lee), who's majoring in fine arts -- and ass-kicking -- in Los Angeles after leaving China where his father was killed at the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Long since estranged from global politics, Jake flatly turns down an offer to speak at a Chinese pro-democracy fundraiser -- but he ends up going anyway, after being lured there by an attractive life study model (Brigitta Stenberg). Here's where it gets complicated: host Carl Chang (Michael Paul Chan) is murdered at the party by Chicago gangster Antonio Serrano (Nick Mancuso) for the actions of Chang's associate, Thai drug kingpin Kinman Tau (Tzi Ma). Jake, being one of the only surviving witnesses to Chang's murder, is placed in protective custody and moved to Chicago to testify against Serrano. There he meets detective Karla Withers (Kate Hodge) and her partner, Lieutenant Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe), who's been pursuing Tau for nearly a decade.
Anyway, the ass-kicking. After the setup, Rapid Fire is fueled by a torrent of twists, turns, and tussles along the way; once the back-room murder takes place, all bets are off as Rapid Fire's story unfolds. Hand-to-hand combat, exciting stunt work, Jackie Chan-style prop fighting, and the occasional shoot-out all appear at some point, and usually more than once. Corrupt cops, double-crosses, and frenetic escapes keep the pace relatively quick from start to finish, while a surprising amount of drama is created inside the triangle of Jake and his two new "friends" in Chicago. Even if you're still not convinced that Rapid Fire is any better than its contemporaries, it's further elevated by the raw presence of Brandon Lee: he turns in a well-rounded and charismatic performance here, all while pulling triple-duty by doing many of his own stunts and choreographing several of the fight scenes. With the underrated Showdown in Little Tokyo under his belt but before his fated turn in 1994's The Crow, it's here where we see the purest version of Lee's unique skill-set.
Although Rapid Fire seems like a black sheep in Twilight Time's family (Shout Factory or Kino would be a more obvious fit), they also released a Jackie Chan double feature last year so it's not completely unexpected. Unlike that release, however, this one's a slightly more well-rounded effort with a solid A/V presentation and at least one new supplement. I can't imagine that many fans were expecting Rapid Fire on Blu-ray anytime soon, so I'm glad it's here in any form.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Rapid Fire isn't perfect but it's likely derived from better source material than Fox's 2002 DVD. Image detail and textures are exceptionally good during outdoor scenes, while the color palette is evenly saturated and perfectly in-line with other films from the era. Black levels are often deep and convey a consistent amount of depth. Dirt and debris are basically absent from start to finish, as are other digital imperfections such as compression artifacts and excessive noise reduction (although I did notice what appeared to be small amounts of edge enhancement). Overall, Twilight Time's disc offers an extremely pleasing image and should satisfy fans who weren't even expecting to see Rapid Fire on Blu-ray. It's probably the best the film will ever look on home video.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
Not to be outdone is the film's DTS-HD 2.0 Surround Master Audio mix -- and while Fox's DVD apparently offered a 4.0 surround track, this is a perfectly capable substitute that sounds a lot better than I expected. It's an aggressive effort that, while obviously geared toward the front channels, frequently ventures into the rears during action sequences and music cues. Plenty of not-so-subtle panning effects liven up the experience considerably, whether it's by way of gunshots or hand-to-hand combat, while dialogue is always crisp and easy to understand. Optional English subtitles are included during the main feature, and all scenes with Chinese dialogue retain the original burned-in English subs.
The interface is plain but perfectly functional, with quick loading time and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. This one-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with striking cover artwork and a nice little Booklet with production stills, vintage promotional artwork, technical specifications, and a thoughtful essay penned by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo.
Aside from that Isolated Music Score mentioned earlier, the extras lead off with a new feature-length Audio Commentary featuring composer Christopher Young and Twilight Time's Nick Redman. Topics of discussion include the overall composing process, electronic vs. acoustic scores, spotting sessions, filming locations and landmarks, other collaborations with director Dwight Little, meeting Brandon Lee, Young's first years in LA, other composing projects, and a little bit of good old-fashioned technophobia. This commentary has its moments, but it's really for die-hard music fans only -- it probably would have been more appealing to "outsiders" as a shorter interview or featurette, as there's just not enough accessible, interesting material to justify a full commentary. (That, and it's rarely if ever scene-specific).
Returning from Fox's 2002 DVD are three extras: a Promotional Featurette, an "Introducing Brandon Lee" profile, and the film's original Theatrical Trailer, which are all so short they're over in less than 10 minutes total.
Dwight H. Little's Rapid Fire is a top-notch action film from the early 1990s and easily Brandon Lee's most well-rounded and enjoyable outing as a leading man. Featuring no shortage of great stunts, excellent fight choreography, memorable characters, and a few fun twists along the way, it was a fun ride in 1992 and still holds up well enough today. Had Lee not died tragically the following year, I'm sure we'd have gotten at least one sequel out of this one. Twilight Time's unexpected but entirely welcome Blu-ray should satisfy die-hard fans: I wasn't all that enamored with the new and exclusive audio commentary, but the A/V upgrade is certainly appreciated. Firmly Recommended to the right audience.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes, and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.