An affable sense of humor and action pervades through Steve Wang’s 1997 martial arts actioner Drive, both in the technical craftsmanship on screen and the performances by the two leads, Kadeem Hardison and Mark Dacascos. Although this effort was shot on 35mm and destined for theatrical release, it went straight to video in the US and bowed theatrically in some international territories. 88 Films and MVD Entertainment Group collaborate to make good on that error by presenting the film here in a great 4K package that includes a stellar 4K transfer of the Director’s Cut, a handful of supplements carried over from MVD’s previous Blu-ray release of the film and a decent Dolby Atmos audio track that gives the sometimes-boisterous soundtrack some much-needed height. This release, marking the first 4K Blu-ray offering from both 88 Films and MVD, comes Recommended!
Way before actor, martial arts performer, and wisecracker Mark Dacascos signed up to kick John Wick’s ass in the third entry of the popular assassin movie series, he enlivened 1997’s Drive with his naïve, boyish charm and lethal fighting capabilities. Combine that with Steve Wang’s skill for fluid action on a smaller scale, as well as Kadeem Hardison’s capability to tap into the story’s dopey humor, and you have one of the more unique action entries to come out of the late 1990s. Not to mention that Drive elided the American buddy action movie formula with high-flying, Hong Kong-styled hijinks in a way we rarely (if ever) see.
The plot of Drive is rather simple; again trying to capitalize on the structural certainty of American road movies that were popular during that time, and it takes place right after the Chinese government took back control of Hong Kong. Special agent Toby Wong (Dacascos) is outfitted with some bio device that gives him superhuman powers, and Toby is worried that the Chinese government will want to exploit the device within him. So, he flees to San Francisco to sell the device to a company in Los Angeles. But after he meets Malik (Hardison), a bitter-yet-gregarious man on the outs with his wife, the duo team up. Or, rather, they’re forced to team up after a relentless assassin named Madison (John Pyper-Ferguson) is dispatched to retrieve the bio device.
At its core, Drive is a weirdly feel-good movie about a couple of dudes just being dudes, learning about each other’s differences and pains, then working together to process those feelings through kicking, punching, shooting, looting, and joking. Your mileage may vary depending on just how palatable that feel-good attitude comes off, but rest assured that the action sequences open the proceedings wide to the possibilities of grand-scale chaos. The 118-minute runtime is chock full of sequences that flex both Dacascos’ martial arts mastery and Steve Wang’s mastery of the montage cut. So much of American action filmmaking is dominated by master shots and reaction shots cut together to resemble something truly kinetic. In Drive, the choreography of the fighting and the camera movements are moving in unison, making the most of how bodies are moving through space.
That isn’t to say the film is without fault, of course. This is a 1997 production, complete with the kind of cheap sets and explosions you’d expect from the era, but the precision and weight of the action set it apart whenever you think artifice will fully take over. A drab motel room turns into a fully realized fighting area in one sequence, showing you the possibilities within that limited space. There are even a couple of fun and dated green screen shots where the villains look like they’re being devoured by the bad effects behind them. Seeing those in 4K was a distinct pleasure that I’m sure other people will enjoy.
Despite the lack of emotional drive (heh) from the script, Drive does everything but run on fumes. This is a sorely underseen gem that offers both familiar ‘90s-era tropes and fluid martial arts action in abundance. I can almost guarantee you’ll have a good time with this if anything above sounds up your alley.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Drive burns rubber and is ready to smash through screens everywhere in 4K with a single-disc Ultra HD edition. The UHD100 disc and included fold-out A3 poster (showcasing the new artwork by Sam Gilbey) are housed in a black Elite case that has reversible artwork. The reverse art looks to be a variation of the VHS art from what I can tell. The disc case is also housed in a limited-edition glossy slipcase. Not the sturdiest slipcase from 88 Films, but it’s a nice addition nonetheless.
Marking the first 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release from both MVD and 88 Films, Drive arrives in a new 4K transfer sourced from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. This looks to be the same transfer used on MVD’s previous Blu-ray release of the film, although this time the transfer is opened up to a 3840x2160 resolution aided by Dolby Vision HDR. Overall, this is the best the film has ever looked at home, pulling as much depth and clarity out of the source as possible. As mentioned previously, the aesthetic of the film can be a bit flat, with primaries usually looking muted and everything looking a bit soft. But the HEVC (H.265) codec handles it all capably, which is a delight to see from a debut 4K release.
This presentation may come off as revisionism to some, as the vibrancy is really turned up in key sequences, like the climactic neon-dominated battle. To this assessor, I think it aids greatly in achieving Steve Wang’s original vision for the film. Need we forget that the film was taken away from him upon its initial release?
One word of caution about this new presentation, though: I viewed some wear on some of the shots, most notably seen in the wider exterior sequences with blue skies in the background. It didn’t look like damage to the transfer or to the source material, but rather some generation loss that must have been inherent in the source they pulled from. A bit weird to see in a 4K scan of the negative, but not all that distracting and alarming throughout the presentation.
As for the Dolby Vision HDR layer, DV infuses the presentation with a rich palette that rewards the film’s rather-spare aesthetic. Close-ups and clothing are defined beautifully, and those dated ‘90s-era green screen effects look more foreign than ever before as bodies move awkwardly across the screen during those shots. When we get to the big action climax, the DV layer puts in incredible work making those neon lights pop but never look washed out. The definition surrounding their glow being the highlight for me during the sequence. It goes without saying that this is the best the film will probably ever look. (Dolby Vision HDR Rating: 75/100)
88 Films and MVD Entertainment Group bestowed this release with a decent Dolby Atmos track that gives some much-needed life to film’s many foley effects. Gunshots and explosions are given some decent height, plus the score gets a nice and commanding presence. Dialogue is clean and crisp, and there doesn’t seem to be any damage across the presentation. This isn’t some reference Atmos track to write home about, but it’s nice to hear some object-based enhancements made to this humble lower-budget action film from 1997. Both original uncompressed stereo and DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround audio tracks are included as well.
As for supplements, MVD has carried over all the features included on their 2021 Blu-ray of the film and a new interview with actor Jason Tobin has been added. In this new interview, Tobin describes how he ended up being an extra in the film and how his perception of Hollywood success has changed over the years. Although the lack of new extras may be disappointing to some, there’s a good chunk of archival interviews and featurettes included here that actually offer insight into the production. They’re not the kind of EPK interviews we see litter bigger studio releases.
If you’re looking for a good time that only ‘90s-era action cinema can provide, then Drive in this new 4K Blu-ray edition is just the ticket. MVD Entertainment Group and 88 Films have arrived on the 4K market with the kind of worthwhile, well-appointed release they’re both best known for. And while the new 4K presentation reveals some of the source limitations, the film has never looked better and is a worthwhile upgrade for fans. Recommended!