Monday, 4 October 2010

Drive (1997)

American martial arts movies very rarely get it right. Uusally the film suffers from poor choreography, uninspired camera work or an absolutely abysmal plot. Yet among all the crap, you will discover a gem that really makes you appreciate the art of martial arts movie making. Drive is one of those films. Released way back in 1997, Drive failed to make any sort of splash at the box office but like all movies of a cult nature Drive has gone on to have an incredibly strong fan following and has enjoyed numerous successful film festival showings as well as bagging some well deserved awards.

The plot revolves around Toby Wong (Mark Dacascos), a soldier on the run from the Red Chinese Army because he has a top secret prototype bio-engine heart that gives him increased speed, strength and agility. Along the way he enlists the help of struggling song writer Malik Brody (Kadeem Hardison) who agrees to help him in exchange for half the money Toby will get upon delivering the bio-engine to an American tech company, meanwhile they are pursued by a violent assassin Vic Madison (John Pyper-Ferguson) and his inept henchman Hedgehog (Tracey Walter)

Despite the plot, it's actually surprisingly well written, the characters all have nicely fleshed out personalities and the dialogue is pretty damn funny at times. It's obvious the cast were having a lot of fun making the movie and it definitely shows in their performances. Mark Dacascos is perfectly cast as Toby Wong. Decascos started learning martial arts at a very early age and got into the movie industry using his talent, he is an absolutely incredible screen fighter and he very rarely gets the opportunity to really show just what he's capable of. His stoic acting style and blistering kicking combinations make a really great mix and it's a shame Mark never really got to capitalize on the cult fame which Drive had given him. He plays off well his co-star Kadeem Hardison who gives a really funny performance. It's interesting as it pre-dates Rush Hour as portraying two minority actors in the leading roles (Dacascos is of Hawaiian/Japanese decent) and Rush Hour director Brett Ratner has gone on record to say if it wasn't for Drive, Rush Hour would never have been made. I don't know if that's true or not but it's a wonderful compliment to the film.

Every action movie needs a good villain and thankfully we're given one with John Pyper-Ferguson as Vic Madison, who chews the scenery with glee as he curses, shouts and shoots his way through the movie, his performance is absolutely hilarious and I've yet to see another movie with him where he's been allowed to really tap into that side of himself.

Yet the glue that really brings this film together is the action. Drive is a prime example of what I like to call kitchen sink film making. It's where the director throws in every idea they can think of and make it work to their advantage. Director Steve Wang really knows how to make a solid action movie, he knows how to film it, he knows how to edit it. It also helps that he has Koichi Sakamoto doing the fight choreography. Sakamoto has been working the movie industry for a number of years, he previously had worked with Wang on Guyver: Dark Hero, which is an excellent American adaptation of the Japanese manga/anime series. With it's combination of outrageous creature effects and intricate choreography, it made sense that these two would end up collaborating on another picture. Much like Yuen Woo-Ping, Sakamoto really knows how to bring out the best in the people he works with. He uses Dacascos to his full potential, allowing to show off his full repertoire of fighting moves.

The fighting itself is absolutely outstanding, you'll be hard pressed to find another American movie made around this time that has the same level of action Drive does. Each fight is expertly put together and each one has a definite Jackie Chan vibe to them with Dacascos leaping off the walls, jumping over tables and using whatever he can get his hands on to take down the bad guys. A real stand out scene happens in a small hotel room when Decascos uses a pair of rubber soled boots to deflect the attacks of electric shock rods and is a great way of showing the creative thinking behind the movie. Now, usually with this type of movie, they save the best for last and Drive is no exception. Taking place in a gaudy night club, the people who are after Toby's bio-engine show up and all hell breaks loose. At first Toby and Malik are trying their best to stop themselves from getting killed but then the rather stupidly named Advanced Model (Masaya Kato) shows up, he is called the advanced model because that's what he is, a faster, stronger, better fighter then Toby. These guys tear each other apart, it's like the finale of Drunken Master 2, it just keeps getting crazier and crazier and fighting just goes from strength to strength, it's one of the few movies outside of Hong Kong that will make make you go "Damn, did you see that!?"

Drive is one of the best martial arts movies to come out America, with it's combination of humour and excellent stunts and fight scenes, it is one of the greatest action movies of the 90's. Fans have been hoping for years that Steve Wang, Mark Dacascos and Kochi Sakamoto will reunite and set fire to the screen once again and it would seem their prayers have been answered with Dacascos making recent comments that he's gearing up to make another movie with him. If you haven't seen Drive yet then what are you doing wasting time reading my rambling excuse for a review for? get the DVD, sit back and enjoy the ride.

6 comments:

  1. Wow, I never heard of this before. I am definitely going to check it out!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Really> wow, you definitely gotta scope this one out, I can't recommend it enough.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Drive is a classic. I still can't believe how bad the US cut is.

    ReplyDelete
  4. So which version should I watch?

    ReplyDelete
  5. You should try and hunt down the UK R2 director's cut DVD, you might find it eBay or you could pay $30 on Amazon.

    ReplyDelete