It doesn’t get more ultimate (or fun) than Brandon Lee in Rapid Fire (1992).
Brandon Lee was destined to be the next action superstar, but died tragically while filming The Crow. He left actions fans a small legacy of ultimate classics, though. After landing a slam dunk with Showdown in Little Tokyo in 1991, he cranked up the action dial to the absolute maximum with Rapid Fire one year later, so let’s have a look!
Art student Jake (Lee) becomes witness to the murder of a drug baron by the local Chicago mafia. He is coerced by the police to support them in crushing the drug business, and his superior martial arts skills turn out to be an unexpected boon for the operation. An art student who happens to be martial arts and firearms master is forced by the police to be their undercover bait, admittedly this is an unlikely scenario but it’s not impossible! The simple plot is told without flaws and moves swiftly.
Why don’t you take your fists of fury and get out of here?
In between the many great action set pieces the film fully embraces its cliched police thriller backdrop with sleazy villains and hard-ass cops. Rapid Fire also has that sweet early 1990s actioner vibe, not being too serious nor too complex, and fully focused on its main task to create as much spectacle and fun as possible for the audience. Director Dwight H. Little of Marked for Death renown is the perfect man for the job, and creates a swelter urban cityscape with glossy visuals, a touch of noir, and cheesy rock music.
Turning our attention to the characters we notice that it’s macho-time, all the time with an impressive assembly of alpha-males on all sides. Nick Mancuso delivers a charmingly exaggerated take on a sadistic mobster boss, with someone dying or beaten to a pulp whenever he shows up. The great and late Powers Boothe is not given a demanding or even interesting role as police lieutenant, but he plays his one-dimensional character with lots of verve and also hams it up appropriately.
I’ll break your hands, then I’ll break your ribs, and then I’ll break your legs
But the center of gravity undoubtedly is Lee, who is just incredibly energetic and charismatic, and who shows us why he was the only actor at the time who could combine top level martial arts prowess with good acting skills. Together with Jeff Imada, Lee also developed the fight choreography, and what they came up with is on the high end of the scale for a 1990s US martial arts flick. Thanks to a relatively modest production budget there also was less need for a compromise to appeal to a wide audience, a very good prerequisite for an all-out action assault!
Lee does it all, Gun Fu, round-housing, and impaling goons with his motorcycle. He delivers a bunch of excellent fights that include some impressive stunts as well. Whenever there is mayhem the action crew just doesn’t know when to stop, the action just keeps coming until the whole set is torn to shreds. The shootouts are incredibly brutal with an enormous count of blood squibs. And thanks to a fine camerawork that avoids hectic cuts we get to enjoy each excess of violence in its full grandeur.
Rapid Fire is an epitome of 1990s action, a goodie bag filled with bullets, blood, and beatdowns! It is one of the best actioners the decade had to offer, and an essential part of Lee’s ultimate legacy to the genre.