Looking for a super underrated 1990s martial arts film that never even got a theatrical release? Then you should check out the criminally underseen 1997 film Drive on Amazon’s Freevee platform. Although the film never got a ton of attention after its release, it has steadily been growing a cult following throughout the year.
Not to be confused with the Ryan Gosling movie of the same name, Drive is a hidden gem directed by Steve Wang. It stars Mark Dacascos as a Hong Kong special agent named Toby Wong. Wong has an advanced bio-weapon installed in his body that gives him superhuman abilities, but he decides to go on the run to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Also, since the people after him want the device, he has a tactical advantage because they can’t just shoot and kill him if they want to keep the device working.
Of course, this creative little caveat means that we get to see Mark Dacascos put his martial arts skills to good use. Drive is absolutely packed with action, and all of the scenes are kinetic, creative, and tons of fun to watch. Like all great action films, there is also a character-driven narrative that keeps you invested in Dacascos’s Wong, along with other characters played by Kadeem Hardison, Tracey Walter, John Pyper-Ferguson, Brittany Murphy, and Masaya Kato.
Mark Dacascos’ performance in this film is especially beloved, giving a compelling lead performance while performing many of his own stunts and fight scenes. Kadeem Hardison also gives a great performance as Toby’s unlikely ally, a songwriter who unwittingly finds himself wrapped up in Wong’s escape. Also, Brittany Murphy’s performance as the insane Deliverance Bodine steals the few scenes that she’s in.
While Drive may not have had a blockbuster budget, you wouldn’t know it watching the film. From the intense hand-to-hand combat to the rest of the well-choreographed action scenes by stunt coordinator and fight choreographer Koichi Sakamoto, this film has all the hallmarks of an action classic. It’s a shame that the film didn’t find more of an audience, but fortunately, it’s very easy to find and stream it today. Apparently, the producers even recognized it was a great film at the time because there was initially talk of releasing the film theatrically if the film performed well in the markets.
Unfortunately, the film didn’t meet expectations, and a theatrical release of Drive never came to fruition. Instead, the film premiered on HBO and was eventually released straight-to-video. Despite its undeniable quality, “Drive” never achieved the mainstream recognition it deserves. But, as mentioned, its cult following has grown steadily over the years, and action enthusiasts have been championing this hidden gem for years now.
While the independent movie scene is bigger than ever these days, Drive shows that independent action filmmaking was alive and well decades ago, too. It’s amazing that this film can still resonate with audiences so long after its release, and it’s well worth giving a try if you’ve never seen it. Make sure to check out the film for free on Freevee while you can.
If you’d like to do a deep dive into Drive, check out the recent GenreVision podcast on the film.