Hong Kong Cinema

Cradle 2 the Grave

  • Made: 2002
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: /
  • Release Date: /
  • Company: Warner Bros
  • Length: 101
  • Picture: Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Extras: /
  • Classification: R


Andrzej Bartkowiak


Jet Li, DMX, Anthony Anderson, Kelly Hu, Tom Arnold, Mark Dacascos, Gabrielle Union, Drag-On, Ron Yuan, Woon Young Park

Cradle 2 the Grave is Jet Li's most recent venture into the US Hip/Hop martial arts genre. It generated respectable returns at the US and UK box office, managing to top the US charts and gross over US $31,000,000. Once again Jet teams up with the little known and inexperienced director Andrzej Bartkowiak, and producer Joel Silver, both responsible for the lacklustre Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds (Steven Seagal). In fact, the whole cast of Exit Wounds / Romeo Must Die once again re-emerge in this gangland action flick such as Anthony Anderson and DMX. Roseanne's Tom Arnold (also Exit Wounds) gets to play the funny / fat white guy and the other cast elements have been largely plundered from Drive, including the Hawaiian martial artist Mark Dacascos, Ron Yuan and Wong Young Park. The eye candy is supplied by Kelly Hu (Martial Law) and Gabrielle Union (Dr. Courtney Ellis in TV's City of Angels).


You may have already noticed the rather pedestrian casting and incestuous nature of the Hollywood action flick. Similarly the plot seems to have been assembled by randomly borrowing elements from Rush Hour, Romeo Must Die and Kiss the Dragon. This time everyone is trying to get their hands on some black diamonds, including Jet Li (Su), Mark Dacascos (Ling) and DMX. However, once DMX manages to get his hands on the diamonds the evil Ling kidnaps his daughter (see Rush Hour). Jet Li offers to help DMX get his daughter back as long as he can get the diamonds. Oh, and Jet Li is an Asian intelligence officer (see Kiss the Dragon).

The story flows through various underground haunts including an bare knuckle ultimate warrior competition and climaxes with Jet Li fighting Mark Dacascos in a 'ring of fire' (see Romeo Must Die). The only person who even vaguely earns their salt in this movie is once again reserved for Anthony Anderson, who is certainly capable of raising a chuckle if nothing else. Before I forget to mention, Kelly Hu plays the baddie eye candy (exactly the same character as Zhang Ziyi in Rush Hour 2), and Gabrielle Union plays the goodie eye candy.


The only element that could raise any hope would be Corey Yuen once again working with Jet as action choreographer and hopefully improving on his previous showings. The only time Jet and Corey seem to have produced any level of success was in Kiss of the Dragon, and I largely suspect this was due to the absence of an interfering and inexperienced US production team. Sadly, the action in this movie has a lot more in common with Romeo Must Die and is another wasted opportunity for Jet to show his true fighting potential. This is never helped by Jet's character being reduced to a paper-thin 'quiet but deadly' Chinaman who is only one level up from a mute. DMX plays his role capably, but once again I suspect this is because his role was an entirely characterless 'bad-ass dog'. I'm not sure I managed even the slightest amount of interest or empathy with a single character and there must have been some competition going on behind the camera to see who could be the most wooden, uninspiring, formulaic caricature on set. I think the award would probably go to Mark Dacascos, but to be fair he only had a handful of lines to try and be anything but a 'bad-guy who wears shades'.

I have absolutely no problem with directors using camera tricks / CGI / fast-editing / under-cranking / wires to make people such as Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Steven Seagal, Ben Affleck look like martial arts superstars, they clearly need such enhancements. But is it really necessary for one of the most talented performers of his generation, namely Jet Li? I would point out films such as Fist of Legend / Once Upon a Time in China etc as reference points for these claims, but most US directors at best have seen the butchered versions that are currently being churned out by Dimension. I had extremely high hopes for an encounter between Jet and Dacascos, as both are talented on screen performers, but by the time we had reached the final fight I already knew I was going to be hugely disappointed. Every single fight during this movie is entirely forgettable including the fight in the ultimate warrior ring (hugely inferior to the tonfa sequence in Kiss the Dragon) and the only interesting action is provided by a quad-bike chase across downtown LA. Sadly, this is also over-edited but this does not fully mask some quite original Bond-esque moments.

I'm not sure if I have the mental energy to run the entire final fight through my head again, but I will try my best and please forgive me should I fail. First of all Tom Arnold (Archie) manages to drive a tank (unnoticed) to an airfield hangar where all the baddies are trying to sell the diamonds. I may have forgotten to mention that the diamonds turn out to be stabilised weapons grade plutonium produced by the Taiwanese?! There we see Jet take on Dacascos in a 'ring of fire', Kelly Hu fight Gabrielle Union and DMX fight Woon Young Park. Watching these three fights in tandem is excruciating, each seems to get worse every time you cut between fights. For a start, Gabrielle Union (who at no point fights during the film) manages to beat up Kelly Hu even though Kelly Hu plays a kung fu expert? And the fight between DMX and Park is straight from the Lethal Weapon archives. Most distressing of all is seeing Jet and Dacascos wasted in the final encounter. I think on average each punch comprised about 3 different edits and it is neither compelling nor engaging, but rather a poor excuse for real fighting. It is impossible to enjoy the encounter and I would probably have preferred to watch an American Ninja movie instead of seeing Jet being wasted in this way.


Awaiting DVD release


A slight improvement on Romeo Must Die, but once again way too similar. I don't really have time for these paper-thin ghetto action movies. Although the works of Singleton (Boyz in the Hood) and Van Peebles (New Jack City) provided an exhilarating platform for ghetto-based film-making in the 90's, these films are a complete regression. Throwing in (and completely misusing) a token kung fu expert does not get anywhere near saving this film. The plot, the characters and the action sum up the Joel Silver method, creating a forgettable and insipid guns-and-girls action formula for the Pepsi generation. I still cannot believe that Corey and Jet cannot recapture some of their magic from the early 90's, but watching Jet being wasted in these limp movies is a bit like watching some enjoy a classic Beaujolais with a packet of Pringles.