11 April 2011


Here, sit on this milk-crate and look mad, we'll Photoshop the car in later.

United States - 1997
Director - Steve Wang
A-Pix Entertainment, 1998, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 39 minutes

Historically, by dint of preference I haven’t exposed myself to very many action films outside of classic Chinese kung-fu, but if the junk turning up in my in-box is any indication, that all seems to be changing, I'm learning to enjoy the absurdity of it all. Here in Drive Mark Dacascos (Brotherhood of the Wolf) plays Toby Wong, a Chinese national on the run in the U.S. from the Chinese mafia who are trying to prevent him from revealing the techno-secret of his super robot-heart to a rival corporation. Even if a bit silly, the story seems intriguing, even suspenseful at first. That is, until you remember halfway through the film that you’re an whiny leftist and something about this movie seems a little uncool man. That’s when you realize that Wong is just selling stolen military technology (likely funded with government grants paid for by taxpayers) to a rival corporation. The promise of money that Wong has been offered for delivery of said robo-heart represents not some high-minded reward for social justice rendered, but only a fraction of potential government contract money to produce legions of super warriors to oppress third world nations for access to the raw materials and cheap labor required to manufacture robo-heart components. Or, the reward money might be an easy excuse for writing another character into the script.

Enter Malik (Kadeem Hardison), an innocent bystander Wong picks up on the run. I initially thought that Malik’s predictable stereotyped clowning was there to relieve Dacascos’ wooden acting and complete the buddy-cop act (cleverly disguised as buddy-fugitives.) But wait, ridiculous and mostly unused robo-heart angle aside (oh yeah, that) the dialogue throughout is actually quite snappy and amusing and in the final scene Dacascos belts out a karaoke song revealing that even the golem can muster a sense of absurdist humor. Channeling Axel Foley, Malik’s two-dimensionality is just an inexplicable and practically criminal laziness on the part of the writer and director whom, judging by the relative quality of the rest of the film, are clearly capable of better. One can only assume that this perplexing and disappointing cultural-spectre must serve to add something “familiar” or “relatable”. Maybe the old eye-popping, shuckin-n-jivin’ coon act is meant to help us “suspend disbelief.” Brittany Murphy appears as a deranged/strung-out hotel receptionist who repeatedly throws herself at Malik. But don’t worry, the Hollywood taboo against sullying white female purity with black male sex will not be broken in Drive. Malik may act stupid, but he isn’t. Sometimes even if you’re the most capable actor, with the best lines in the film, you still play along to get along.

I would like to think that a director’s cut version of the film which runs at least 15 minutes longer is better. And despite my waning aversion to macho violence outside of a dojo, yes, more of Dacascos awesome quadruple-discipline martial arts skills would be great. From what I’ve seen in Drive this guy doesn’t get the recognition or roles he deserves, and neither does Kadeem Hardison. Let’s hope that that changes without more of the same tired old song and dance.


Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I got this one on DVD from a reader a while back. I really liked the martial arts quotient, which usually isn't that high for a film of this caliber.

The Goodkind said...

Yeah, for a cheesy movie the action is pretty good. Like I said, Dacascos is really talented and reminds me of some of the great Chinese opera fighters we know so well. Too bad he hasn't gone on to much more.

Ty said...

Loved Drive! Dacascos at his best. Also Sabotage is a great Dacascos film.