Film review – Wake of Death (Phillipe Martinez, 2005)

I was recently enjoying a holiday in a Spanish beach resort. It was a great week, with brilliant weather and loads to do. One quirk of such holidays is the small selection of English-language television channels available. They’re always different and always extremely limited. This holiday was no different: BBC1, BBC2, BBC4 and ITV. And then there was movies4men.

Movies4men is a channel I steer clear of. Why? Because frankly it sounds like a pornography channel. It’s actually a terrible name for a fairly reasonable channel, with war and western genre films throughout the day and some action films in the evening. The name is, at best, a little sexist. But it sort of makes sense once you get used to it.

Anyway, if you turn it on at around 11pm on any night there is a fantastic chance you’re going to be stuck watching a poorly-executed Jean Claude Van Dämme film. And that’s where I was every night at 11pm. And that is how I came to watch Wake of Death.

It’s okay darling. It will be over soon.


“After his wife is brutally murdered, an ex-cop wages war against the Chinese triads,” reads the brief plot on IMDB. It tells you pretty much everything you need to know. It may well be one of the worst films I’ve ever watched.

The acting does nothing for a script written by a group of screenwriters – there were four – that probably knew that the script wasn’t particularly important for this film. Why? Because there would be no sequels. Because it had JCVD on the poster and the people who watch it will tend to only care about the action, fighting, martial arts, car chases and explosions. Because it’s hard to screenwrite “JCVD does typical JCVD stuff” without sounding nonchalant about the whole affair.

No matter what the result of the filmmaking process was, the audience would come. They would have been satisfied, albeit devoid of any kind of betterment.

They will have also been treated to a surprising number of JCVD sex scenes, which would probably have been more than they bargained for.

Van Damme has never been a great actor. Heck, he even used it as a defence in a lawsuit back in the 1996. Coincidentally, he has acted in 39 films since that comment from his lawyer was made. None of them appear to have really challenged the notion. 

The only time he tries to really act in ‘Wake of Death’ is a scene where he has to cry as he drunkenly remembers his dead wife. It’s as poorly-executed as that scene in one of the Taken films where Liam Neeson jumps over a fence, with about 10 different camera cuts along the traumatic rollercoaster ride. Someone is kind enough to throw water on Jean-Claude’s face between shots, but that’s still not enough to stop the director giving up and breaking the tension with a random Chinese triad bursting through the window and having a quick fight before running away.

If Van Damme has done some great cinema this millennium I am yet to see it. But his fans will seldom have been disappointed. 

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