This review contains spoilers!
Drive (1997) is an American made straight-to-video martial-arts/action movie which surprised critics and wooed viewers around the world. It was hailed at the time as the finest action film never made in Hong Kong and one of the best action movies B-grade or major studio.
Mark Dacascos plays Toby Wong, a prototype model of the perfect assassin, Kadeem Hardison plays Malik Brody, Toby’s hilarious hostage and road-buddy, John Pyper-Ferguson plays Madison, and Tracey Walter plays Hedgehog, Madison’s buddy, both disgruntled, bungling cowboy-hitmen.
Brittany Murphy (R.I.P) plays Deliverance Bodine, a young, wacky wildflower daughter of her motel owner parents, James Shigeta plays the sinister Mr. Lau, president of the Leung Corporation. Masaya Kato plays the Advanced Model assassin sent to hunt down Toby and bring him back to Hong Kong. Directed by Steve Wang, stunt choreography is handled care of Koichi Sakamoto and his Alpha Stunt Team.
Toby who previously worked for the Red Chinese is on the run when he finds out what it’s really like working for the government (they killed his girlfriend). He realizes he is an experimental prototype of what they want to turn him into: the perfect assassination weapon. He has a special implant in his chest called a bio engine (Biological Energy Module) which increases strength, reaction time and keeps adrenalin pumping at high levels.
Toby finds out that a company in Los Angeles are prepared to pay him $5 million for the implant. This bio engine is equipped with a tracking signal which is traceable by the bad guys, hence why they are always hot on his tail and able to locate him. So, our turbo-driven “hero”, fresh off a Chinese cargo ship docking in the U.S fights off a group of corporate-looking villains and makes a pirouettic escape off the ship!
Soon after, he enters a bar and gets attacked again by the unrelenting goons. After an intense fight where he disposes of them again, he kidnaps a distressed, down-on-his-luck brooder (Malik Brody) that he finds at the bar and demands to be driven to Los Angeles. Quite a lot of unwillingness, resistance, outrageous, funny gags and colourful one-liners later (and Malik, the ‘kidnapee’, learning that he will get half the money for his help) the relationship cements on somewhat firmer foundations and they go on their way to L.A. Drive is all about the journey, the adventures and hijinks that happen along the way!
All the fight scenes are creative, distinctive and interesting with that raw rollercoaster-ride quality of action only usually featured in Hong Kong movies. Yes, there is plenty to keep martial-arts and action enthusiasts reaching for the slow-mo or review key on their DVD players here. Some favourite scenes include the one at the quarry, where Toby, handcuffed to Malik, fights off Madison and company. He uses a combination of acrobatics, agilty, punches and graceful kicks. It’s an entertaining and fun scene reminiscent of Jackie Chan’s inventive environmental-fu using everything in close proximity, to your advantage!
The motel/garage scene is excellent. Toby does some more acrobatic moves, gymnastic flips, furniture-fu (using close-at-hand objects), close- quarter unarmed combat against tasar-wielding baddies and displays a diverse repertoire of kicks.
The end fight scene against the Advanced Model prototype, played by Masaya Kato, is a frenetic showdown where Toby goes all-out demonstrating great energy, flair, style and speed. That Toby (Mark Dacascos) actually did most of his own stunts in the movie without overuse of wires, except for the impossible dramatic moves of course, is testament to his true talent and lifelong training as a dedicated martial artist.
Drive (along with Only The Strong) were among the first Dacascos movies we saw. To say he is underrated as an actor even in the world of bigger budget kung-fu movies would be a huge understatement and a curious one as he’s up there with the world’s best martial arts performers. It’s a fast-paced, martial-arts action-comedy with thrills, spills and stunts galore right to the end.
If there’s no action on the screen then its verbal antics, sometimes bizarre humour and exaggerated expressions (care of Kadeem Hardison!) take the stage and are played out with glee. In all fairness this is done surprisingly well, and many times it was a case of ad-libbing off script, resulting in a spontaneous, fun and lively dialogue.
For action fans, Drive is an entertaining blast, for kung-fu and Mark Dacascos fans, a must see! Treat yourself to the Director’s Cut release if you can as it features interviews and a host of other extras giving an insight into what it took to make this entertaining movie a winner.
Mark Dacascos on the final outcome of Drive
“When I’ve seen my work in other movies, you know when it comes to the fight scenes, in my mind I’ll start picking it apart, “Oh that was a bad angle for this or I should have done this or that. When I went to Drive and saw the screening of it, I was so happy because everything flowed and was in context and when it got to the fight sequences, man! I just thought, Koichi’s fight choreography was awesome! Steve shot it so, so well! I mean it just captured the movement and the moment not just in the action but in the emotion you know, I loved it, I really loved it and I had a great time working on the movie. I mean all the elements together, I just think we had chemistry and once in a great while a bunch of people come together and do something very special and to me Drive is very special. I think it works on an acting level and as an action picture, for me.”
- Koichi Sakamoto and the Alpha Stunt Team who did the stunts for Drive, trained under Yasuaki Kurata, a Japanese veteran martial-arts actor and choreographer with a long list of movies to his credit. They include such classics as Fist of Legend with Jet Li, Legend of a Fighter, Shanghai Express with Sammo Hung, and more recently Shinjuku Incident with Jackie Chan. He is a contemporary of legendary martial arts star Sonny Chiba (Kill Bill, The Streetfighter, 1974).
- Mark Dacascos was slightly injured in the making of Drive and had to have stitches over his right eye.
- In the movie Mark’s character when questioned by corrupt police what his name was, replied, “Sammo Hung”. (Mark at that time had recently finished filming on Martial Law, the American TV series, with Sammo Hung.) Sammo Hung picked up on this when he watched the movie and said to Mark, “You said you me!”
FILM RATING: 8/10
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