Tough Talk: "Now take your pig-stick and your boyfriend - and find a bus to catch."
Jean-Claude Van Damme was the first guy to introduce me to the glorious world of martial arts action movies. Sure, I would go on to watch some of the masters at work, indulging in the likes of Eastern megastars Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Sammo Hung and Yuen Bio. But it was a late night screening of Van Damme's 1989 smack-classic Kickboxer to get my high-kicking, judo throwing addiction of to a hard-hitting start. This guy was incredible when I was 12 and fitted right into my burgeoning love of action movies. Heavy European accent? Check. Weak line delivery? Check. Muscled up to the wazoo? Check! The hard hitting training sequences (wait till I got to Jackie Chan!), the patented splits move, the flying roundhouse kick with a contorted look of pained aggression! I loved every sweat-beaded minute!
Van Damme was probably the biggest star of the Deadly 3 on my list. He got to play with some pretty hefty budgets in the mid-90s, with the likes of Timecop, Sudden Death and Street Fighter (let's forget about that one!). But the two movies I have chosen showcase the two different types of action movie that Van Damme specialized in at the early parts of his career - the martial arts contest movie and the gun-toting action movie (with a bit of martial arts thrown in). Just watching them again has got my childhood memories racing back to me... Once I managed to stop laughing so hard!
"Aren't you a little old to be playing videogames?"
Director: Newt Arnold
Tagline: The true story of an American Ninja
Plot: American (with a Belgian accent) goes AWOL from the Army and travels to Hong Kong, to compete in the Kumite - a secret underground martial arts contest where fighters from all countries with all styles duke it out to be the ultimate warrior. American wishes to honor his Japanese father (!!!) and become the 1st Westerner to reign supreme!
How have I never seen this one all the way through before? I had seen bits and bobs when it was broadcast on the box, but the DVD has been sitting in my collection, lying dormant, waiting for its time to strike... And what a movie it is! Everything you could love about Van Damme is laid out in all its glory here. Frank Dux is the first in a long line of foreign-accented American heroes that JCVD would portray throughout his career. But here we have him in one of his earliest leading roles - still a little green, and with his boyish good looks at their prettiest. Anyone who says the man cannot act... Well, they may be right, but there is no arguing that he has certainly improved to some degree at least. But despite this, there is never any doubt about Van Damme's star power here - especially when he makes his physical presence felt with tendon-stretching training montages and brick breaking martial arts skills that defy the laws of physics! Kumite! Kumite!
Van Damme has it all in this movie. He beds the hot journalist (wasn't she Marcia Brady??) within minutes of meeting her - a token JCVD butt shot for the ladies. He leads the pursuing FBI agents (wow, that's Forest Whittaker!) on a Benny Hill-style foot chase to a cheesy 80s power ballad. He befriends a dumb-ass brawler who is put in hospital by the Big Bad of the film (he even gives him a kiss to help him feel better!) before taking on the aforementioned Big Bad in the final fight to end them all! I was crying with laughter all the way through the movie. Van Damme's wide-eyed hero makes for a likeable hero, but you can only be as good as your baddie - and here we have the great Bolo Yeung dusting off against our champion ("You break my record... Now I break you, like I break your friend!"). The cheating scumbag uses every trick he can to gain the upper hand - even throw pixie dust or some shit our hero's eyes. But Van Damme doesn't need sight - he has trained all his other senses to near-superhero level. And now he will bring on the PAIN!
Of all of Van Damme's martial arts contest movies, this really takes the biscuit. Sure, Kickboxer
has the infamous Glass-and-Nails glove fight, but this is way more fun that that! And here we see the physical skills and abilities of Van Damme in full force... All of which promised that some fabulous movies were about to head our way!
END CREDITS POWER BALLAD: Fight to Survive (Stan Bush)
Double Impact (1991)
"Maybe I'm drunk - tomorrow I'll be sober... BUT YOU WILL ALWAYS BE A FAGGOT!"
Director: Sheldon Lettich
Tagline: One packs a punch... One packs a piece... Together they deliver!
Plot: Separated at birth after the death of their British parents, one grows up in LA (with a Belgian accent) while the other grows up in Hong Kong (with a Belgian accent). They meet, fight, fall out and then join up to take down the awful Triad gangsters and corporate traitors to avenge their folks & get back their tunnel-building legacy!
So I follow up Bloodsport with a different kettle of fish from Van Damme. Here is a good example of the type of action movie that all of the Deadly 3 would produce - only JCVD really did the whole martial arts contest thing. But here we have a straight up actioner with a wonderful added bonus... TWO VAN DAMMES FOR THE PRICE OF ONE! This was a real VHS favorite in our household (well, at least for me!) and I would always put this forward as an introduction to Van Damme to my Muscles From Brussels virgin mates. Double Impact is the first of many collaborations with Sheldon Lettich, but for my money this is still the best. You gotta love JCVD for trying the dual role thing here - his limited acting range means the only real difference between the twin heroes Chad and Alex is that one wears black silk underwear and the other slicks back his hair with motor oil (or some other tough guy hair product). But hey! We are not here to criticize our man's acting chops... We just wanna see him kicking chops - repeatedly. And we get that & then some, thanks to one brother's penchant for punches and the other's predilection for firearms. "Didn't I beat you last time?"
This movie is just awesome! Some of the editing choices are really dodgy and they make for excellent entertainment. I mean, nearly every action sequence is shot in slow motion... Completely! That is fine when you are John Woo, but when you are Sheldon Lettich it means your movie is probably 15 minutes longer than it needs to be thanks to all the slo-mo... Although watching Van Damme smash a glass of cognac with his hands in slow motion does make him ten times more manly! There is also one of the GREATEST sex scenes in the movies of all time, with Van Damme and pneumatic love interest Alonna Shaw gyrating in exquisite blue-lit soft focus (this is a fantasy sex scene, naturally) to jungle drum music on a boat - JCVD grunts and moans like a constipated hippo as he thrusts in SLOW MOTION and she just breathes heavily in his direction. Poetry - pure poetry in motion.
Anyway, back to the action - and time to talk about the Big Bads. In Double Impact
we have villains coming out of our ears here. We have our main baddies in Griffith the treacherous financier that took out the hit on our heroes' beloved parents and Zhang the Triad mobster who buys bootleg cognac off Alex and carries a blade in his walking stick (that old chestnut!). Philip Chan makes a welcome return after a bit part in Bloodsport here, but he isn't the only one to return from the previous film... Yep, Bolo Yeung is back baby! Here he has a beautiful scar and a single blue eye contact to really Bond-villain him up, and if anything he has gotten even bigger! There is a fabulous dust-up between Bolo (or Moon, as he is so lamely called here) and Chad - mostly featuring Bolo trying to crush Chad with an oil drum and Chad returning the favour with some non-stop roundhouse kicks! Then there is the guy who only knows how to do a roundhouse kick - but he always wears spurs, making his heels true instruments of death!
But the real baddie highlight for me was Cory Everson as Kara, Griffith's muscular lesbian bodyguard. In truth I have never had a thing for muscle women but Cory could have smacked me down any day! Dressed in tight bondage leather and sporting dark red hair, this villainous bitch has the nerve to touch up our hero's girl and then offer her body to her in return! I was so jealous when I was 13! And don't get me started on the bit where she wraps her legs around Van Damme's head in a choke hold - that would be a real way to die like a man!Double Impact
was a significant success for Van Damme (he is even credited as co-screenwriter!) and his budgets only got bigger throughout the 90s. But I never forgot this movie and it remained a repeat performer on our TV for many years afterwards!
END CREDITS POWER BALLAD: Feel the Impact (Gen)