Van Damme was on a roll in the late eighties and early nineties, making some of the most fun, simple action movies of the era. His ability to get a laugh while being renowned for his nice-guy qualities have ensured his continued success, even if most of his movies now are straight-to-DVD capers.
In Nowhere to Run, a mid echelon movie in terms of his output, he stars with an established cast as another misunderstood nice guy – an escaped convict who decides to help a young widow and her family who are struggling against a local developer who is forcing them out of their home. There is plenty of action, some strong performances, and some very funny moments. Van Damme plays Sam, a mysterious convict who has escaped from prison. He sleeps in a tent outside a small town where two local young kids find and befriend him. Eventually their mother Clydie, played by Rosanna Arquette, finds out and invites him into their home cautiously. Of course they fall for each other, much to the distaste of local Sheriff and love interest Lonnie, who decides to look into Sam’s background. Franklin Hale, played with typical malevolent relish by Joss Ackland, is the main bad guy, but his side-arm Levine is the main threat. Sam helps the family, foiling Hale at every turn, but all the while his own unspoken past is catching up to him…
Arquette, Culkin, Levine, and Taubman as the daughter are particularly good, and the story tries to be light-hearted yet moral. It’s another attempt to achieve a wider audience for Van Damme, and it is definitely one of his most accessible thanks to the good cast and humour. The various discussions on Van Damme’s naked body are always humorous. Overall another good Van Damme film which will please fans, and may interest a few others.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Nowhere To Run!
Another of Van Damme’s best before he hit the big time, AWOL features a story written by the man himself. Again we have a revenge plot, but this time there is more depth as Van Damme’s character Lyon is trying to help his brother, and his brother’s wife and daughter from eviction. When he hears of his brother’s problems he flees the Foreign Legion, a rather large crime, and goes to America to help. Of course, the Legion sends some tough guys after him who he must constantly evade. In order to earn money for his new family he becomes an underground fighter, managed by a likable bum called Joshua. Lyon and Joshua become close friends and Lyon gains recognition as a talented fighter, rising through the underground ranks. The money is never enough though, and he keeps his way of income a secret. Before long, a rich promoter called Cynthia has noticed his talents and decides to take arrange fights for him, meaning his money increases. Cynthia is ,of course, evil and only in the game for her herself. She pits Lyon against Atilla, the most fierce fighter there is, but she fixes the fight so that all bets will go to her. Lyon must defeat Atilla, but he may lose all his money in doing so.
The fights here are good, well staged and filmed, and there are some good performances. Van Damme is his usual self, but Harrison Page and Deborah Rennard add some skill to the proceedings, raising it above the average 80s martial arts movie. Lisa Pelikan gets our sympathy as the young wife, and Ashley Johnson is okay as the daughter. There are enough simple twists to keep us involved and the plot has its cheesy charm. There is also some good dialogue which will get a few laughs. Another must for Van Damme fans, this one will appeal to a wider action movie audience, but it’s never going to win any awards.
Enjoying my older reviews? Me neither! Let us know in the comments what you thought of Lionheart/AWOL!
Probably the most famous of Van Damme’s early work, Kickboxer is another simple story of revenge and a showcase for his skills as a martial artist. It has some good fights, and some interesting moments showing the arduous difficulty of training and trying to achieve your best while not losing your focus. Although it suffers from some cheesy acting, dialogue, music, and a highly disturbing dance scene, this is a must for Van Damme fans, and those with an interest in martial arts movies who don’t want to stray too far from the West.
Van Damme stars as Kurt Sloane, the younger brother of a flashy American Kickboxer. They train together, but his brother Eric seems to be more interested in looking like a good fighter than actually finding the ability and skill to be one. Eric takes part in a fighting competition and is crippled and almost killed by Tong Po – a fearsome Kickboxer with a great rage and discipline. Kurt decides to avenge his brother, but no-one will train him as they believe Tong Po is too popular and strong. Eventually he finds a wizened old trainer in the middle of nowhere who teaches him to reach his full potential and push through barriers which he never though he could surpass. He also meets Winston Tyler who provides some laughs, and Mylee who provides a potential love interest. Of course it is the fights that matter, and the revenge plot is safe enough to give the fights reason. Rather than cheap montages, we see the tough training regime Kurt goes through, and see Tong Po kicking a cement wall to build up the strength and invulnerability of his foot. Sounds odd yes, but how else would we know he’s a hard lad? Throw in a sub-plot about gangsters and kidnapping and it all builds to a thrilling in ring climax. A good film for fight fans, light-hearted, fast, and worth watching.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Kickboxer – just another crappy action movie or one of Van Damme’s better films?
Yes, now we’re into the realms of classic masterpieces! One of John Claud Van Damne’s early films, Kickboxer has it all- fighting. Jean Cloud stars as Luc ‘kickboxer’ Deveroux, a fighter who wants to travel to China and enter a deadly Marshall Arts contest. His brother, Luke Deveroux was meant to go but as he was an unknown actor they decided to send Vin Darn instead. Off he goes, wearing nothing as always to make sure the female, gay, and curious portion of the audience get to drool over his well oiled, muscular and inviting buttocks. Soon he is being trained by a wizened old genius in the ways of kick boxing. He kicks empty cardboard boxes, flat packs, dodges boxes filled with ripe fruit and veg, and eats cardboard all day. The middle section of the film is simply various montages of this type of behaviour, showing his skills improving until he can do the splits balancing on top of a hundred stacked milk cartons. We also see him shaking his thang at a local bar, entrancing the local woman and igniting them into a sexual frenzy. Luckily when they approach he snaps their necks with swift roundhouse kicks. Thus he is ready for the tournament. Many fighters from around the globe and beyond have come to fight and win. We have Bolo from China, a sumo wrestler from Japan, a Viking from Norway, a funny little crab like creature from Africa, and various others, each with a unique fighting style. Shaun Claw Damn Van progresses through each round, beating everyone easily. In the final he has to fight a hard looking transvestite who trains by kicking holes in car doors and eating concrete. JCVCDVD beats him after a gruelling ten rounds by punching him in the nuts so hard that she/he becomes a he/she. We celebrate with a fist pumping 80s power ballad, possibly called ‘Don’t Let The Cardboard Box You In (Keep Believing, Little Boy)!’
Best Scene: When the Sumo sits on the little crab man and laughs, and you see all the arms and limbs underneath frantically flailing around, then stretching climactically, then trembling softly, then stopping. Always stopping.
One of Van Damme’s best, and the first in many ‘dual roles’, Double Impact has strong martial arts scenes mixed with some old style gun action, some good performances, and a typical story which works well. With a bigger budget Van Damme was able to hire better writers, directors, and actors, and here it shows. Still, there is nothing new story-wise but it is exciting, explosive, and should definitely be seen by those even with a passing interest in the action genre.
Van Damme plays two twins separated at birth after their parents were brutally murdered by a gang-lord. Chad is raised in Paris by Frank- a friend of his parents, and his old bodyguard, and he has had a quiet, safe life where he is a fitness instructor and martial artist. His lost twin is a small time hood called Alex who lives with his girlfriend in Hong Kong. Alex has been raised alone and has had a difficult life where he has learnt to become street smart, tough, and wary of outsiders. When Chad finds out about his brother he travels to Hong Kong to find him. Alex doesn’t care, especially as Chad is so damn nice and naive, but he becomes paranoid about his Chad’s relationship with his girlfriend Danielle. They find out that the group that killed their parents is in town for a major deal, and soon prepare for revenge. However, the bad guy Griffith has an army of defenders including femme fatale Kara, Raymond Zang, and good old Bolo Yeung (whose appearance at the age of 50 is quite frankly shocking!). The brothers must confront their differences if they are to avenge their parents.
The story and characters are basic, but Van Damme does a good job in portraying the two in a different manner, and is helped by a fine supporting cast. Some of the dialogue is of course funny like most in the genre, and if you are not a fan of the genre you will probably not ever see this. However it has many good fights and strong action, and the actors are likable enough so if you are not a fan you should give it a try before any of Van Damme’s earlier movies. This was a step towards action and away from pure martial arts for Van Damme, and it was his best film so far.
As always, feel free to comment on the movie and review. Is this the best of the dual JCVD films?
What was oddly supposed to be a sequel to Dolph Lungren’s Masters of the Universe, Cyborg bares no relation to He-Man, Skeletor and Co. and is a strange mix of sci-fi, martial arts, and chase movie. The film is set in a desolate wasteland of the future where bandits travel the land rampaging and killing. Scientists are close to finding a cure for the disease which has almost wiped out every human. Nady Simmons holds the key and she must get to the scientists at Atlanta if there is to be any hope. However, a maniacal group of warriors is after her. She enlists the help of a strong drifter who happens to be a martial arts expert- Gibson, and who has motives of his own for helping her. For some reason all the main characters are named after guitars or parts of guitars- the main bad guy Fender Tremelo seems to be invincible and chases Nady and Gibson everywhere. It is up to him to protect her from the evil forces and get her to Atlanta safely. This is cheap looking, has poor acting, and some average fight scenes. However, it is still enjoyable, funny in parts, and has an interesting look to it. Maybe if it had had more money thrown at it, and a stronger cast it could have been more successful. The plot is simple but throws up a few ‘surprises’, and there are a few good fights and set pieces. Probably one for Van Damme fans only.
Feel free to leave any comments on the movie- did I get it wrong and is it an underrated classic?
Although it has aged quite badly (as most films of this type from the eighties have), Blood Sport is a favourite from my youth and is one of Van Damme’s best early efforts. There are no strings and no CG here so the fights are all the more impressive, and it is always refreshing to return to those days. The plot and characters may be simple, some of the acting may be amateurish, and the music may be dodgy but Bloodsport remains an enjoyable no-brainer for fans of the star or genre. Van Damme stars as Frank Dux, a soldier in the US Army. He has been trained by Tanaka all his life in martial arts, and wishes to travel to the infamous Kumite tournament in Hong Kong to avenge his friend’s death. The Kumite is a tournament which attracts the best and most vicious fighters from around the world, many of whom are seriously injured or killed while taking part. Dux breaks orders and travels to Hong Kong, but two soldiers follow him in an attempt to bring him back. There he meets Ray Jackson, a fellow fighter and Janice Kent, a reporter trying to get an inside scoop on the tournament. From there we see many fights as Dux progresses in the tournament whose defending Champion Chong Li (Bolo Leung-50 years old and looking awesome) is a deadly killer. Naturally they meet in the final. Once the plot devices of revenge and honour are put in place all we have to do is sit back and watch the fights. They are well-staged, there is a fair amount of violence, some humour, and the main cast do as well as could be expected. This is a must for Van Damme fans, but there will be little for anyone who does not watch martial arts movies.
Feel free to leave any comments on the movie- is this one of Van Damme’s best?
Notable mainly for being John Woo’s first Western film after his massive success and excellent films in China. All his trademarks are here- slow motion action, stylish violence, tough but quiet male characters, and a ruthless bad guy. It is not up the standards of his early work, or as good as Broken Arrow, but with a strong cast it remains a solid action movie and very entertaining for people who like this sort of thing. Like me.
Van Damme stars as Chance, a tough drifter looking for some work. He sees a young woman being mugged by a gang of crooks and wades in, destroys them without breaking a sweat, and leaves. The young woman, Natasha, played by Yancy Butler is in town trying to find her father who has disappeared. She decides to hire Chance as a protector and help her find her father. They find out that he was homeless and in an attempt to gain some quick cash entered himself in a deadly game run by local sadist Emil Fouchan- Lance Henricksen. He has a team of criminals who are taking advantage of the lax policing in the area, and they hunt helpless humans for sport. He gives his victim the chance to get to a certain point in the city while he chases them with a gun. This is what happened to Natasha’s father, and when Chance becomes involved we know there is going to be fireworks.
Henriksen here hams everything as the bad guy but is still very good and enjoyable to watch. Van Damme tries to be more cool than any of his previous roles and Woo certainly gets good results from him. Butler is excellent as Natasha and steals most scenes, and the rest of the cast is adequate. The action is not as stylish as other Woo films, and we get the sense he is easing his way onto the Western audience. There are some wonderfully over-the-top scenes though, and everything works well. The simple story is also effective, leaving room for the main draw- guns, kicks, explosions, and killings. One of Van Damme’s best.
The DVD, apart from a trailer and cast notes has no extras, but it is cheap and should be part of every Van Damme fan’s collection. If you’re an action or martial arts fan, and you haven’t seen it, snap it up- for 4 quid you’d be a fool to be disappointed.
Feel free to comment- What did you make of this collaboration between Woo and Van Damme? Do you think this is Woo’s best American Movie?
As a fan of the more extreme side of cinema, I ask you to join me, as I explore the history of Cinema's most extreme movies with all the sex, violence and symbolism intact. I'm here to reflect on the extreme movies that have come and gone to see what they mean, see what makes them so extreme, and of course, see if they're any good.