For 20 years Hong Kong director John Woo was the driving force in film on the Pacific Rim. Following the success of The Killer, Woo’s 1989 masterpiece of operatic violence, he made out to Hollywood with his chop-socky. Hard Target. Woo’s American debut took the Belgium-born Jean-Claude Van Damme to new lows of clunky one-liners and preposterous action scenes forcing you to suspend you disbelief to a max. However Hard Target proved that John Woo was the hottest name in action at the time
Shot on location in Hong Kong, the film contains not one but two Van Dammes. JCVD plays twin brothers. The gimmick is to pit Van Damme up against Van Damme which successfully works when one brother in a drunken and jealous rage believes that the other is sleeping with his girlfriend. The film also includes Bolo Yeung as the villain and a muscle-bound lesbian bodyguard who both partake in some well choreographed martial arts fight sequences with our hero.
No street fighting in this film; we instead rely on high-tech military hardware. The gimmick is to place two of the greatest B-movie action stars head to head. Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren play two soldiers serving in Vietnam. Lundgren’s character goes insane killing off his platoon leaving Van Damme to try and stop him only in doing so he takes both of their lives. They are preserved for 25 years until Jerry Orbach can reconstitute them into Universal Soldiers. As happens in all science fiction, they did not perfect the science and some memories remain and thus the two who fought each other in Vietnam are now fighting each other in the US. Director Rolland Emmerich takes a light and campy approach with the film and actress Ally Walker highlights the movie with some much needed comic relief while Van Damme sucks in his male ego and allows the script to poke fun of him.
Most Van Damme fans will agree that this is his best film. Although it enjoyed little box office success, it is considered a genre classic by martial arts film enthusiasts for showcasing a large variety of international fighting styles, ranging from Kung Fu to Jeet Kune Do and Muay Thai. Despite a poor box office draw, Bloodsport became one of Dame’s first starring vehicles. The films is well known for the appearance of Bolo Yeung playing the villain and Donald Gibb as Ray Jackson. Give credit to Van Damme for fighting for the right to re edit the movie two years after it was shelved and convincing studio heads to finally release it. The film showcased his athletic abilities such as his trademark helicopter-style, jump spinning heel kicks, as his famous trademark splits. Without the release of Bloodsport, the world may never have known Jean Claude.
The 2008 French crime film directed by French-Algerian director Mabrouk El Mechri is not your typical Van Damme movie. The film stars Jean Claude as himself a down-and-out action star whose family and career are crumbling around him. Van Damme finds himself caught in the middle of a post office heist in his hometown of Brussels, Belgium. This gritty self parody / bio pic is hands down his best film. Guaranteed to be a cult classic upon it’s DVD release, the film is smart, funny, adventurous, original and beautiful photographed with a washed out grainy look to accompany an incredible jazzy score. JCVD himself does a decent job in acting, realizing his limitations and never trying to accede them. Inspired by Dog Day Afternoon, it’s aggressive directing style and great camera work move the story along and create a pacing that will never leave you bored. Fans of his typical action films may be somewhat disappointed but chances are Van Damme will find a new audience here.