Knock-Off (1998)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 9/4/98
Director: Tsui Hark
Second Unit Director: Samo Hung
Cast: Jean Claude Van Damme, Rob Schneider, Lela Rochon, Michael Wong, Carmen Lee

What a crazy film this is! I haven't seen something this insane in a long time, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. Jean Claude Van Damme once again teams up with Tsui Hark to deliver a Hong Kong style action comedy that actually works. Everything about the movie is silly and over-the-top, and all of the characters handle their roles with tongue-in-cheek conviction. A more humbled Van Damme actually shows a capacity for quirky comedy, and Rob Schneider is in his element (and he's not bad, either!). Tough and sexy Lela Rochon kicks some serious ass and I was extremely pleased with the treatment and presentation of her character. Hong Kong veterans Michael Wong and beautiful Carmen Lee show up peripherally, but unfortunately don't get to do much (although Ms. Lee gets into a really nice scrap with Van Damme in the beginning). Where the film shines most brightly and also falls apart is in the camerawork and editing. Tsui Hark's unconventional camerawork is exotic and inventive, but overly tight and claustrophobic, obscuring a lot of the frenzied action that's taking place. Adding to the confusion is second unit director Samo Hung's tendency to shoot action scenes in blurred and choppy slow motion (lovingly referred to as "Samo Vision"), making it nearly impossible to tell what's going on. The crazy story is so dumb that I won't even bother recounting it (fortunately, the filmmakers also realize this), but it has something to do with micro-miniature explosive devices getting into the wrong hands in Hong Kong during the 1997 handover. Definitely a strange experience, but one worth having if you're looking for non-stop craziness and nail-biting action.