Blu-ray Review: ‘Wake of Death’ (2004)

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Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Simon Yam, Phillip Tan
Director: Philippe Martinez 
Distributor: Kaleidoscope Entertainment

“The only thing you postpone in life is death.”

Just over a decade and a half after its original release, one of Van Damme’s best films from the early 2000s – Wake of Death – is in receipt of an action-packed, ultimate Special Edition Blu-ray release, courtesy of Kaleidoscope Entertainment. Also available on DVD and digital, the HD upgrade of Wake of Death continues the trend of direct-to-video Van Damme classics receiving Blu-ray releases in the UK. This is a great time for action fans and Van Damme loyalists. 

Wake of Death opens as one of those films that present the story ending, or thereabouts, at the beginning, leading to a subsequent and extraordinarily lengthy flashback. And it works! Van Damme, equipped with an unusually shaven haircut, features as Ben Archer, a tough as nails club/mob enforcer who also dresses like Benicio Del Toro in The Usual Suspects. Returning from Europe to spend more time in a normalised life with his family, Ben’s wife, Cynthia (Lisa King), is an INS (Immigration and Naturalisation Service) social worker, who happens to bring home a refugee, but one unlike any other: the runaway daughter of a Hong Kong crime boss.    

Fleeing Hong Kong having witnessed the murder of her mother at the hands of her criminal father, Kim (Valierie Tian) is just a young girl fearful for her life with little English to speak. However, her father, Sun Quan (Simon Yam) has corrupt links within the INS, and manages to pursue his estranged daughter and her exact whereabouts. With the likes of the deadly-fierce Han (Philip Tan) at his disposal, a hit is ordered on Cynthia Archer in retreat of Kim. Avenging the graphically tragic murder of his wife and her foster parents, Ben has to fight not only in the honour of his late wife, but to rescue and save the lives of both his son, Nicholas (Pierre Marais), and Kim.

Released in the post-Handover era, Wake of Death manages to convey nuances of Hong Kong action here and there, most likely a result of the temporary direction under Ringo Lam. Ultimately directed by Philippe Martinez, Van Damme manages to be represented as a humanitarian hardman. A compound of his character’s actions and the ways in which he is shot on camera, Van Damme’s performance as Ben Archer is one of his most intimate and powerful to date. His story arc, which resonates with that of revenge, does generically entail the tiresome trope of the Disposable Woman. For lack of a better word – thankfully – the gritty and grotesque nature within Ben’s quest of revenge manages to add layers of legitimacy in his passion and love for his late wife.  

Immaculately presented in high definition, Wake of Death looks better than ever. The Blu-ray upgrade manages to elevate the best visual features of the film, especially that of the rapidly edited car chase sequences and gunfire. Additionally, one of the most violent, notorious and intimidating torture scenes of all-time manages to appear even more frightful than it did previously. Elsewhere on the Blu-ray disc, an Original Making of Featurette is present – an essential for all fans.  

Beyond the disc itself, the Special Edition Blu-ray release entails an exclusive A3-size poster of the film. A gem for every collector whether it remains in the packaging or framed on the wall. Though not dripping with excessive bonus content or gifts, this Blu-ray release manages to excel where many fail, and simply exist as a good film without the unnecessary extras or unwanted items, overcomplicating and overcompensating for underwhelming upgrades. This is a Blu-ray done right. With only 3000 copies available, Wake of Death from Kaleidoscope Entertainment is an immediate essential for any fan of Van Damme. 

Wake of Death is available now on Special Edition Blu-ray, DVD, and digital. Many thanks to Witchfinder and Kaleidoscope Entertainment for the pleasure of this film.

4 Stars

Dom.

For John.


This article’s featured image: By Source, Kaleidoscope Entertainment, Fair Use 

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