Joyeux anniversaire, Jean-Claude Van Damme, je t’aime!

October 18, 2012

OUI!

It is the “Muscles from Brussels'” 52nd birthday today.

In the landscape of action movies, Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD) is the top tier of action actors. He is the Led Zeppelin of action actors. Some may grab a bunch of near mythical far East actors like Jackie Chan and Jet Li and say the same about them and I would agree as well, but their prime, their heyday was not under the watchful eye of the United States of America.

JCVD stood toe-to-flying-spinning-heel-kick with American action stars like Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, and so on. Without a doubt, Arnold Schwarzenegger is The Beatles of action stars and I guess that makes Sly the Rolling Stones, but JCVD is right there with them. Like Schwarzenegger, JCVD was learning the language while he was the star of a movie completely in it. But the thing that separates Sly, Ahnold, and JCVD from the rest mentioned and others I haven’t is quality.

They all made action movies. The 80’s and 90’s were the golden era of action movies. I’d say no one did Hollywood action movies better than Arnold, of the next names mentioned JCVD has to be above almost everyone else. It’s incredible looking at his slate of movies in comparison to dubious filmographies like Chuck Norris’. If you’re going to watch a classic gut punching, slow-mo high kick to the face, and possible homoerotic naked ass shot then JCVD is about the best you can ask for.

Here is a list of my favorite JCVD movies (in chronological order) that I have seen a ridiculous amount of times…

BLOODSPORT

ABSOLUTELY PERFECT. If you haven’t seen Bloodsport then you’ve wasted the time the Lord Almighty has given you on this Earth. It’s one of the rare gems in cinema that gets better and better every time you watch it and gets better with age. First of all Bloodsport is “based upon a true story”! HOW FUCKING UNBELIEVABLE IS THAT?! “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” wasn’t based upon a true story, but Bloodsport was. Even better, that “true story” is a bunch of lies. It’s amazing. Back when the movie came out in 1988, it was fucking incredible to think that martial arts were having these death tournaments on a skateboard quarter pipe. It was also something that you couldn’t really check the facts of. Nowadays, we know that Frank Dux is a liar and that makes it that much better. This was believed to be real for well over a decade by most and we just accepted it.

The movie is picture perfect with its paint-by-numbers story. It hits all the trademark moments of any good action movie. Bad guy breaks the rules, shows no mercy, beats your dumb friend, he cheats in your fight, blinds you, you have to have your meditation montage of your training, you overcome him and show him mercy. There’s a piece of ass blonde who just so happens to be there and totally bangs JCVD. And we see JCVD completely ass naked from behind for no reason other than Hollywood thought women or closeted gay men needed to see that. And, of course, we get tons and tons of spinning heel kicks.

KICKBOXER

Pretty similar to Bloodsport in that there are martial arts death tournaments over in Asia (all countries in Asia) and JCVD needs to fight the big bad dude for revenge. First, I’m sure all of you have seen the video of JCVD dancing in this movie drunkenly in the wife beater tucked into his tight khakis and beating up the guys at the bar at the same time, so that scene is in this movie and it is wonderful. Second, JCVD’s brother in the movie, Dennis Alexio, is actually a world renowned kickboxer, so there is some legitimacy to their casting, which is nice. Third, Tong Po is arguably the most evil villain in movie history.

DUDE, TONG PO IS A BAD DUDE! Tong Po cripples JCVD’s brother, he tries to have JCVD’s friends killed, he kidnaps the crippled brother, he rapes JCVD’s girlfriend, and he kills JCVD’s master’s dog! WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?! That’s enough for 10 movies let alone 1. I’m also leaving out that Tong Po absolutely obliterates JCVD and literally tries his best at beating him to death with his fists, feet, elbows, knees, and head. It’s insane! The final action scene of the movie is really excellent. Tong Po and JCVD have an underground Muay Thai kickboxing match with roped hands made sticky with honey or something and then dipped into broken glass. JCVD cannot fight back because Po is holding his brother hostage and they’ll kill him if he fights back. So, JCVD is systematically beaten with every inch of Po’s body and during the beating Po reveals that he raped his girlfriend. WHAAAAAAAT?! It’s incredible.

Lastly, Tong Po is credited as TONG PO! Unreal! The bad guy is real?! THAT DUDE EXISTS! Actually, for no apparent reason whatsoever, the movie doesn’t say that Michel Qissi played Tong Po and in fact Tong Po played Tong Po. No idea how that was ok, but it adds to the allure of the movie.

LIONHEART

Decent action movie in its own right. What I will say about this movie while it isn’t as good as Bloodsport or Kickboxer, Lionheart’s storyline is being copied left and right to this day. There is something about the idea of a guy coming out of the military or just down on his luck and needing money that he ends up fighting in these underground prize fighting matches and it escalates from there. It’s a solid movie with some hilarious completely non-consequential scenes that only add to they mystery of what on Earth the plot of this movie is. But I’m really mentioning it because the basic structure of the movie is being ripped off all the time.

DOUBLE IMPACT

There are two Jean-Claude Van Damme’s in this movie! ‘Nuff said.

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER

One of my favorites. I think this is one of the better plots that JCVD has had to deal with. It’s sci-fi and a basic martial arts movie at the same time. What sells this movie, like Kickboxer and Bloodsport, is the bad guy – Dolph Lundgren. As far as straight up acting goes, this is probably Lundgren’s best work. He is a bad ass in Rocky IV and is a bad ass in Masters of the Universe, but he isn’t doing too much as far as acting. Lundgren clearly is trying to go for a Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now approach in many of the scenes in the second half of the movie. He becomes a very threatening and scary villain as the movie progresses.

The action is a mix of guns and fighting in the movie. The director is Roland Emmerich who went on to do all the disaster flicks ever and, of course, Independence Day, so it’s got a grand scope. Finally, the end fight scene comes down to JCVD using steroids to win, which I think is a very post-modern approach that is oft overlooked. That’s some psychological shit right there. Win at all costs in the face of true evil. Seriously, shit is deep.

HARD TARGET

First, John Woo. Let’s be honest, Mr. Woo had a lot of hype coming to America and never really panned out. We got “Broken Arrow”, which at the time was interesting, but in retrospect is terrible. We got “Face/Off”, which is UNBELIEVABLE. And we got a slew of movies everyone has forgotten about like Ben Affleck’s “Paycheck”. Obviously, Woo’s best work was left in Hong Kong with Chow Yun Fat’s waistline (he got kind of heavy when he started making American films, he also got kind 40+ years old too, so I’m not holding it against him). But Hard Targert works. It’s got a good storyline that a lot of directors have stolen – rich crazy people hunting human beings for sport – and it has some of the best action scenes with guns that JCVD has done in his career.

Again, JCVD is paired with a great villain in Lance Henriksen.

If you’re going to draw any conclusion from this, movies need good bad guys. You have to be invested in the bad guy almost more than you have to be invested in the good guy. Little by little you need to prove that the good guy is getting better or up to the task of winning, but the bad guy needs to be championship caliber from the get go and possibly worse and worse as the movie goes on. Also, pretty much all movies (like 95%) should come down to the good guy and the bad guy squaring off. That’s what a movie is. There are few and far between that don’t need that, but pretty much every movie that comes to fruition should have that. The ones that don’t deliver on a worthy bad guy that you are invested in versus a good guy who needs to do something incredible to beat him are bad movies.

For the next decade plus, JCVD had made dozens of action movies that are all rentals. Either straight to DVD rentals or should’ve been. I’m not saying they’re aren’t worthy of a watch because Lord knows I’ve seen “Street Fighter”, “The Quest”, “The Order”, “Sudden Death”, “Double Team” with Dennis Rodman, “Legionnaire”, “Universal Soldier: The Return” with Bill Goldberg and Michael Jai White, and so on and so on. But those movies are definitely a step down from the ones previously mentioned… so I want to skip to possibly the best JCVD movie and that is…

JCVD

Years upon years after Van Damme’s glory days, a young director named Mabrouk El Mechri made one of the most underrated movies I can ever think of in JCVD. The movie is a blurring of the lines of reality where Van Damme basically plays himself. It is also the first movie to ever do something that is so fucking simple, but never thought of before to do – they let Van Damme SPEAK HIS NATIVE LANGUAGE! Van Damme speaks French. The dude speaks French! And El Mechri let the man speak FRENCH! It’s incredible how different and how original and how unbelievably correct it feels hearing Van Damme speak French in a movie. You could go onto Youtube and find plenty of interviews Van Damme has done over the years in French. It’s a wave of genius that he let the man converse in the language that he converses in.

The movie itself is excellent. From the beginning to the end. Actually, the beginning is absolutely brilliant. The movie pulls no punches (pun intended I suppose) about making fun of JCVD. He makes fun of himself, he makes fun of the movies he is in nowadays, he talks about custody battles stemming from divorces, he talks about his drug problems and so on and so forth. It’s great. And then the storyline is very clever. It’s about a hostage/robbery, but the creative storytelling of different perspectives like in “Rashomon” is a lot better than many would expect from a Van Damme movie.

Last, but not least – Van Damme is everything and more playing himself. He is funny, he is sad, he is heroic, he is fragile. He is everything. Watching that movie, it felt like I got to see Van Damme act the way he should’ve always been acting. It’s natural. Sure you can say that he’s playing himself, so it should be natural, but that is not always the case in movies. Van Damme is comfortable on screen playing with dialogue, being physical, and best of all being emotional. There is one scene in particular that Van Damme breaks the 4th wall and talks to you the viewer… magnifique.

With that…

The self described “Fred Astaire of Karate”, go watch some Jean-Claude Van Damme movies in honor of the man’s 52 birthday.

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2 Responses to “Joyeux anniversaire, Jean-Claude Van Damme, je t’aime!”

  1. PWG said

    I agree, the villain makes the hero. I thought I’d seen every JCVD movie out there at some point, so how can I not remember Tong Po?!! Have I not seen Kickboxer? Will rectify soonest. Also, no love for you for showing all the movie posters except Universal Soldier. No idea what it looks like, but I presume Dolph is on it. I’m pretty sure I saw JCVD’s ass in some bathroom sex scene in Timecop, too, for the record. And that movie was awesome.

  2. Kim said

    Damn, I may have to have my own JCVD Film Fest this weekend! Thx for this post — I’ve always enjoyed his films!
    Best line in a JCVD film — “You’ve got a lot of heart, Lionheart” – LOL, once more with feeling!
    And don’t get me started on his jump split in Time Cop!
    Not to mention the body scan in front of the air conditioner in Universal Soldier!
    Shit — I might not be able to wait till the weekend!

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