Marcus Ray is a Hong Kong counterfeiter trying to go legit in the fashion world. But when a plot to use knock off products as bombs puts him in the crosshairs of his business partner/CIA operative Tommy he finds himself wrapped up in trying to stop the scheme. Can he stop the scheme (and perhaps uncover a larger conspiracy) before it’s too late? Find out in… Knock Off.
How?! Everyone loves Marcus. He’s super cool and got muscles and stuff. So he sees a way to use this charm to get out of the illegal business of counterfeiting and straight into the business of high fashion (a.k.a. jeans). But when some of his fellow counterfeiters are getting knocked off, he comes to find out that his business partner Tommy is actually a CIA agent trying to stop a dangerous international terrorist plot. Teaming up they use all of Marcus’ underworld contacts to start piecing together what’s going on… which is… uh… I guess that there are bombs and stuff in these knock off products and also everyone is getting killed and Marcus has to kick and punch people. Honestly it’s a little vague. At this point they find that their fashion world contact, Karen, is also CIA (is anyone actually working in fashion? Who is designing these dope jeans?!) and it’s revealed that the Russian mob is orchestrating the plot (or are they?). The mob kidnaps Tommy and Karen and Marcus has to go rescue them. It’s revealed that Tommy’s handler at the CIA is actually the puppetmaster pulling all the strings on the plot and Marcus and Tommy are like “what a twist?!” A big fight ensues and I mean, come on… It’s JCVD. He wins. THE END.
Why?! In a weird turn of events the good guy, JCVD, actually has somewhat interesting motivation. That’s because he just wants to be a legit fashion mogul and sell jeans to all the dope tweens of the world. Unfortunately a terrorist plot is getting in the way. As for the bad guy, why would a CIA operative turn around and orchestrate a terrorist plot. That sweet green, baby. He wants to have all these products with bombs in them distributed around the world so that then he can threaten governments with blowing them all up if they don’t pay him a ransom. “Crime pays” is almost a default motivation for every bad action film that needs a twist.
Who?! You would think that Rob Schneider would be a Planchet here. He certainly fits the bill, but not nearly to the extent that I would like. They barely make fun of him for doing a merely OK job in the investigation… you gotta really ramp up those Planchet vibes when you got a Planchet talent like Rob Schneider on hand.
What?! I do enjoy a fake product here and there. This one has a number of them, since it deals with knock off products (some real, some not). For example during the very exciting rickshaw race JCVD dons a pair of Pumma running shoes. The extra ‘m’ gives away the fact that those shoes explode off his feet midrace. We also have their main company, V-Six jeans, which apparently markets itself as jeans that specifically won’t fall apart… the knock offs obviously do.
Where?! Exclusively Hong Kong. It’s actually less common than you’d think that we get a film set entirely in one city. Usually we have people jet-setting around or schemes being concocted in remote locations. Not here. Just Hong Kong. It also plays a role in the plot due to the prevalence of knock off merchandise in the city. A.
When?! Not So Secret Holiday Film Alert. It’s not even a subtle point that the events of the film are leading up to the handing over of Hong Kong to China on July 1st, 1997. Images are shown of the event and it’s talked about a lot, but it pretty much just functions as a backdrop for the events of the film… I honestly can’t remember if it plays a role in the plot beyond that. A-.
As you can tell from the brief plot description this film seems like it was mostly written on a napkin. The parts that make sense are just standard action fare, while the rest is so incomprehensible that it slips right off your brain. It left an impression that I watched a film, but my brain assures me I did not. It really is like you’re watching a movie in an entirely different language… and yet it’s in english. I think there is a temptation to forgive a lot of this craziness on my own inexperience with Hong Kong cinema. There were moments where I had to stop and think “is this bad or do I just think this is bad because it’s different than what I’ve come to expect.” By the end I came to the conclusion that it was just bad… but I’m not sure where and how it actually went wrong. Maybe everything. Patrick?
‘Ello everyone! Knock Off? More like Knock It Off! Amirite? We watched … well I think it was a movie. Jean Claude Van Damme was in it, so I assume it was a movie. Let’s go!
P’s View on the Preview – I didn’t know very much about this beyond that it was a classic team up of *checks notes* Jean Claude Van Damme and Rob Schnieder? Oooof, that can’t end well. Anyways, during the prep I found out it takes place in Hong Kong and specifically during the handover to China on July 1, 1997. The Hong Kong director was also intriguing as I hadn’t seen much Hong Kong cinema (unless you count like … Hard Target or Face/Off, but I don’t). What were my expectations? I guess a Hong Kong martial arts film? Whenever there is a heavily asian cinema inspired film (see Ecks vs. Sever) there can be a bit lost in translation, so I was really hoping it was just bonkers direction instead of a rote Hong Kong action film with bad acting.
The Good – Oh man, I mean … nothing? This film is a complete mess. It is such a mess it made me wonder whether there were even people on set who could give direction to the main three leads of the film. Alright, calm down Patrick, you have to say something nice about the film, that’s the rules. … Jean Claude Van Damme kick boxes and isn’t the worst actor in the film. They use Hong Kong well I think, playing up a bunch of different aspects of the city and the transition that was happening at the time. And I think the B-story of the jean company is hilarious. At least two of those things are genuinely good things.
The Bad – Ah back in my element. Here’s the thing, the film is directed insanely. Which, after watching A Better Tomorrow which I’ll discuss below, is very odd because Hark is a titan of HK cinema. It makes me think that some Hollywood exec gave him complete control over the film, to the extent that JCVD just had to fly to Hong Kong, and the production was probably run via a multi-lingual crew, and … then some Hollywood guy got this film back and was like “Oh no, I don’t know how we are going to edit this into a releasable product.” Spoiler alert, it isn’t releasable. This film is crazy. There are like insets at one point, you’re flying through CGI shoes and computers and stuff, there’s a rickshaw race, everyone is a CIA agent by the time the film ends … what is happening!? Reminds me of Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever in the end.
The BMT – I think this film is incredibly amusing. For a JCVD night? I would definitely think of throwing this on. As a matter of fact, a line up of Universal Soldier (Emmerich), Hard Target (Woo) and this (Hark) would be pretty funny. And close out with The Quest which was directed by JCVD himself. It was basically the last major release for JCVD prior to him occasionally showing up for smaller parts like The Expendables. It has a lot of cache and is so so weird. Did it meet my expectations? Yes, I think it exceeded them in the end. I cannot overstate how weird the direction is. It was a different time in US cinema, at the tail end of a decade where any martial artist could get at least a straight-to-video release under their belt. And this really closed that era out with a bang leaving basically just Jackie Chan standing.
Roast-radamus – Who What Where When Why How – I certainly think Rob Schneider’s character fits in as a Planchet (Who?) which is fun. There is also a strong argument for Product Placement (What?) for Puma which gets mentioned multiple times via a counterfeit version of the shoe called Pumma. Obviously an amazing Setting as a Character (Where?) for Hong Kong, which dovetails nicely with a Temporal Setting / Not-so-Secret Holiday Film (When?) for the entire film taking place during the week of the handover of Hong Kong from British control to China on July 1, 1997. There is a strong MacGuffin (Why?) for the search for an elusive set of counterfeit jeans fitted with explosives. And then a solid Worst Twist (How?) with the “reveal” that the higher up CIA character played by Paul Sorvino was the bad guy all along (for reasons …). And then it will get consideration for BMT as well … wait, was this a clean sweep?! This film qualifies for all the potential awards. I think that is just a testament to how badly this film is written, it is just one giant cliche.
StreetCreditReport.com – Once again, despite all of the potential cred described above, this film is the kind of film which would have flew under the radar of critics and audiences alike. It seems to rarely get mentioned as even a bad Van Damme film, or a bad martial arts film. I think all of the cred just comes from it being a Van Damme film, and hopefully once Bad Movie Twins goes global we’ll be able to give it the recognition it deserves.
You Just Got Schooled – I have to admit, I’m just really not that familiar with Hong Kong cinema. The closest I’ve come is that I have seen Drunken Master with Jackie Chan. So what better time to familiarize myself with a true classic: A Better Tomorrow. Directed by John Woo, and starring Chow Yun-Fat, the film tells the story of two brothers on opposite sides of the law, both fighting against the criminal underworld that threatens to overwhelm their lives. This film is a bit of a revelation. It is no wonder Woo would find success in Hollywood, as this film draws from the greats of both Hong Kong cinema and US cinema to create a pretty compelling blend of both. A kind of western film set in the criminal underworld of Hong Kong. Weirdly apropos as both Knock Off and this deal with the counterfeiting criminal underworld of Hong Kong. But then the director of Knock Off produced A Better Tomorrow, and ultimately directed the poorly received A Better Tomorrow 3 and failed miserably to kick off his US career. Hark is objectively a good director, he has five films on a list of the 100 best Hong Kong films ever … perhaps Woo was just better at absorbing and reproducing elements of western cinema in his work, and that’s why things like Face/Off work so well. I don’t know, I’ve seen a grand total of three films made in Hong Kong, so I’m far from an expert. Maybe I’ll watch Police Story next though. A. An extremely good film I would recommend to anyone interested in Hong Kong cinema or gangster films like The Departed.