Top critical review
A good de Souza script botched up by chaotic camerawork
on October 29, 2000
"Great film. Lots of action... Lots of... what else?" - Jean-Claude Van Damme
Hong Kong movies often have impressive stunts and fighting scenes, and the better sort (e.g. Jackie Chan's *Rumble in the Bronx*) sometimes even have good camerawork and photography. What they almost never have, however, is a really good script.
*Knock Off* is precisely the opposite: it was written by one of Hollywood's best action screenwriters, Steven E. de Souza, the author of the first two *Die Hard*, among other classics. De Souza knows what drama is about, and if you try to abstract from what you see to what the original script must originally have looked like, you'll realize that behind *Knock Off* is a really good story involving fake designer jeans, Russian nanobombs, a CIA traitor, Hong Kong cops and enough twists and turns to make a highly entertaining story, livened up by a wacky, tongue-in-cheek attitude reminiscent of the author's *Hudson Hawk*.
However, seeing that might require much more effort than the ordinary movie-goer is capable of, for visually, the movie is completely spoiled by its director, Tsui Hark, who had done a much more decent job on the *Once Upon a Time in China* series. In the making of, actor Michael Fitzgerald Wong says of Tsui Hark that he "loves chaos". As for Tsui Hark himself, he explains he "tried to make the camera as free as possible", so as to give the impression of a "lunatic rushing through everything". This gives you an idea of his style, which is so epileptic and full of mannerisms that the action often becomes virtually incomprehensible, and that it is sometimes hard to understand who is doing what to whom where.
Moreover, the actors obviously lack proper direction, and if Rob Schneider and Paul Sorvino have enough experience to compensate for it, a less trained actor like Van Damme, left to his own devices, becomes a caricature of himself (though, admittedly, this is partly intentional.) Moreover, since the last twenty minutes are just a mindless, uninterrupted Tsui Hark action scene, the film is very likely to leave you with a bad impression, as most of the plot is resolved by the time it begins, and all that is left is for the good guys is to shoot (or blast or crush or dissolve in acid) the bad guys.
In my opinion, *Time Cop* remains Van Damme's best movie to this date. But with a better director, *Knock Off* would not have been far behind. I just hope Hollywood will not blame de Souza for the failure.
(Hong Kong movie-buffs might be interested to know that the second-unit director on this movie was Sammo Hung and that apart from Michael Wong, there's also a small role for Jeff Joseph Wolfe, who played a sympathetic cowboy in the Dr. Wong movie set in America.)