Volume 2, Number 4 -- April, 1997
Double Team: Denis Rodman and Jean-Claude Van Damme... together? Directed by Tsui Hark??
by Tony Han
To you intrepid action-movie-goers out in Web-land, the American screens have been invaded by the third Hong Kong movie director: Tsui Hark. Who is this man and what makes him worthy to share screen time with us Americans? Well, like John Woo and Ringo Lam (no, not the Beatle), his directing credentials, long and impressive, make him one of the top Hong Kong action directors to have immigrated to the States. I'd definitely rate him among the top five. And I can hear my friends who are unfamiliar with the Hong Kong movie scene asking, so what's that really worth? Should James Cameron, John McTiernan, Michael Mann, or others be worried about their jobs? And how the heck do you actually pronounce his name? These questions and many more can be answered simply by back-tracking to the American films directed by John Woo (Hard Target & Broken Arrow), Ringo Lam (Maximum Risk) and the maiden American film by Tsui Hark, Double Team. I've left Jackie Chan out of these categories and this article because, though he's recently been releasing movies into the American mainstream like mad, the films were not American to begin with. Rumble in the Bronx, Supercop and First Strike are Hong Kong films re-released into American theaters. And he hasn't (and probably won't) have his Jean-Claude Van Damme initiation. I don't consider him in the same vein as Woo, Lam, and Hark. His phenomena will more closely follow Bruce Lee's career where he himself as a personality is more important than all of the acrobatic gun-slinging that is associated with Hong Kong action films. I mean, he's Jackie Chan. Anyway...
STATE TO BE IN WHILE ATTEMPTING TO FOLLOW THE PLOT OF THIS MOVIE: Heck, let's go drunk with this one. Either I'm too used to these crazy, over-blown action plots, where there are more sub-plots than in a soap opera, or I don't think that this plot was overtly complex. Besides, like many action film plots, it's doubtful that it'll take one of the nominations for Best Screenplay at the Oscars. (Oscar doesn't like action films). It's not that important if you lose track of what's going on. If you want it even simpler, as one reviewer mentioned, all you need to know is that Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman are the good guys and Mickey Rourke is the bad guy. The plot is basically about a counter-terrorist spy (Van Damme) who must stop the Ultimate Bad Guy (Rourke), but needs the help of the an arms dealer and overall expert in everything that'll help plug up holes in the plot guy (Rodman). Beyond that, there's not much more you'll need to think about while watching Double Team. Don't worry about physics, the laws of gravity, or start counting bullets -- just enjoy the action.
For those of you who take action movies more seriously (I take... well, everything seriously, but that's just me), you should keep your eye on Tsui Hark. Back in Hong Kong, he's collaborated with all of the Hong Kong directors/actors mentioned previously and much more. He was involved with projects such as A Better Tomorrow (the series) which is John Woo and Chow Yun Fat's more famous of works. Don't ask who Chow Yun Fat is. If you don't know now, just wait till he hits the American screens and then I'll talk about him. Also, Hark's worked with Jet Li, another don't-worry-about-it-if-you-don't-know, and Jackie Chan. [SIDE NOTE: I'm not being elitist by not sharing information, it's just that... here's the situation: If you like the earlier mentioned Hong Kong film people, just backtrack into their original Hong Kong works and you'll quickly run into the names of the people mentioned just above. If you don't care, I don't care to tell you.] Hark's quality style, or stylish quality, can easily be seen in this movie, and there are too many examples to go into. Besides, it was much more fun to see them first hand. Also, he has a sense of humor about the genre of film that's he's making. Every so often, he'll give a nod to Robert Rodriguez or John Woo or Jet Li. If I could only edit from the film all of the annoying basketball references, I'd rate this movie much higher... within the genre.
And what about the actors? Well, Rodman is just an over-extended cameo. He has the right build for the part that he plays, but... he can't act. Rourke is interesting as a bad guy. He's just so mellow most of the time, it's notably unique to the Bad Guy category. And Van Damme -- what is there to say? Yes, he's been the primary vehicle into to American action films for John Woo, Ringo Lam and now Tsui Hark. Coincidence? Either he knows good action films when he sees them or the directors like his look and style among the current pool of actioneers. I'd say it's a bit of both. Van Damme has definitely carved out a comfortable niche for himself. He's not an over-sized bully, he's a pretty good martial artist, and he looks good sporting a gun. He's just right. And I'll give him credit for recognizing quality action directors if he had a hand in the Hong Kong migration. For this, I'll give him a lot more credit than our other action heroes.
The trio of Hong Kong directors will be interesting to watch as time goes by and more and more of their movies pop up. Among the three, I originally admired the works of John Woo the most and you know what I mean if you've seen The Killer or Hard-Boiled. But his American movies have been quite lacking, especially compared to his Hong Kong movies. It's as if his transition to an American audience afforded him more "range", but he's too worried about using it and offending his viewers. Hard Target is definitely toned-down compared to The Killer or Hard-Boiled, but Broken Arrow goes even softer. Lam and Hark have come out of the chute very well, keeping many of the techniques and styles that made them popular back East, but are using American cinematographic technology and expertise to their advantage. All they need to do is improve their plots and understanding of American culture, the culture being the most critical missing element for their being better welcomed and appreciated in the States. All three of them are still plagued by an Asian sentimentality and (especially for Woo) concepts of loyalty. I mean, American action films are also not known for their cerebral plots, with exceptions, but the audience can relate simply to the cultural aspects. But, if the Hong Kong boys can master this concept, well, they'll definitely give America action films that'll give the current action-director regime something to think about.