Drive (1997)

Rating: ***(*)
Director: Steve Wang
Stunts: Alpha Stunts
Cast: Mark Dacascos, Kadeem Hardison, Brittany Murphy, Masaya Kato, cameo by David Hayter

Wow! B-movie director extraordinaire Steve Wang delivers the most exciting American action film in years, highlighted by quite possibly the best martial arts ever featured in an American film. The plot is really dumb and pointless, but the action is superb. Toby Wong (martial arts expert Mark Dacascos) has a bio-energy module planted in his chest that gives him super-human fighting abilities. He's trying to get to L.A. in order to have it removed and kidnaps bar-fly Kadeem Hardison for comedic relief and to drive him there (it's unclear why he can't drive himself). But there are some nasty people who don't want Toby to get away, including next year's model played with delicious villainy by Masaya Kato (Dacascos and Kato squared off in the excellent "Crying Freeman" the year before). Teeny-bopping Brittany Murphy gets involved briefly to saturate the screen with awkward and uncomfortably exciting teenage lust, and her performance hovers somewhere between wildly erotic and downright annoying (just like real teenage girls). Our heroes finally blow up everything in sight, kill everybody, and go on their merry way, but the main bad guy has plenty more goons to throw at them in the future... Mark Dacascos turns in the physical performance of his career and his martial arts prowess is mind blowing. Thankfully, Steve Wang knows how to shoot martial arts action sequences and gives the audience exactly what they want to see - which is everything. Steve once again used Alpha Stunts from his previous film, "Guyver 2: Dark Hero" (1994), and they perform brilliantly. Why none of these filmmakers have hit the big time yet totally baffles me. Apart from the cheesy plot, this film easily tears apart nearly every Hollywood action film that you put beside it. Highly recommended for all martial arts and action film fans.

Notes on the director's cut: The director's cut of this film restores sixteen minutes of crucial story development and continuity footage that was inexplicably cut out of the initial release. It also replaces the annoying rap/rock soundtrack with the original music score, which is more dramatic and much more appropriate. Whereas the original cut was often confusing and uneven, the director's cut fills in all of the holes and makes the film work on a dramatic and emotional level. The original cut also featured a lot of punchlines for non-existent jokes, and the director's cut restores all of the dialog so that it flows better and actually makes sense. Seeing the director's cut of this fantastic film only infuriates me that the other version even exists. I can only imagine that the goal of the original cut was to sabotage the film (and possibly Steve Wang's reputation) and make it as unintelligible as possible. The only real complaint I have about the director's cut of the film is the ridiculous marketing which calls it "a combination of The Matrix and Rush Hour." Not only is this stupid and completely inaccurate, but it's also insulting because the film was made at least a year or two before either of those movies. If anything, it most closely resembles the likes of Jackie Chan's "Police Story" (1985).