It seems that as Jean-Claude Van Damme continues to re-invent himself by working with Tsui Hark, the director is busy exploring new frontiers of digital effects and cinematography. Cameras shoot down and through gun sights. One shot takes the POV of a foot entering a shoe! He is stepframing action shots and entire sequences. Many of the visual delights that he showed us in the vastly underrated Double Team last year are carried to some extreme effects in Knock Off.
This time Hark is working from a better script that was written by Hollywood action veteran Steven E. deSouza. Van Damme is cast as a "king of knock offs" living and working in Hong Kong. A "knock off" is a counterfeit, or copy, of any kind of legit merchandise, e.g., all types of clothing, toys, handbags, watches, sneakers. Beyond that premise, the plot is very convoluted, involving CIA, Russian Mafia, HK Police, local Triad bosses , and British Navy! If you are thinking to yourself that this sounds like dozens of mainstream HK films you have seen, you would be right. In this movie, nothing is as it seems.
With Van Damme, you must realize his limitations and this viewer accepts it at face value. He is no Lawrence Olivier. As for the supporting cast, whoever decided Rob Schnieder should be in this motion picture should be punished with "extreme prejudice". It is my opinion that HE ruins what otherwise would have been a wildly entertaining film. Michael Wong is in the film as a hardnosed HK cop but I got the sense that a lot of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. Paul Sorvino is cast as a renegade CIA chief and does a great job as one nasty S.O.B.
Knock Off has 2 tour-de-force action sequences that stand out in a film that really is a non-stop action thriller. The first is a rickshaw pulling race that involves a whole bunch of crazy twists and turns. VD is running in the race in a pair a knock-off Puma's so badly made they fall apart as he runs. The 2nd sequence takes place on a huge barge, full of shipping containers, as it runs out of control in HK harbor. The containers are full of [you guessed it!] knock-offs which have been fitted with miniature explosive devices. All of this taking place as the British are handing over the former colony to the Chinese.
What made this film interesting to me is the way the director treats the background story. Hong Kong is such an interesting piece of real estate that is filled with so many exciting visuals. Hark photographs the people of the streets[and the actor's who he blends in so remarkablely]and the city itself with a dignity that is astounding. His eyes are on fire as he paints with his camera, capturing the city at this important time in its history.Copyright © 1998 J. Crawford