What do you think of Jean-Claude Van Damme? For me, he's a physical comedian, with a passion for action in high fashion. Phew! I said it! You have to respect how committed he is to every role, and that he isn't afraid to be a goofball. How many action stars have such style and are so comfortable in their own skin?
He's made a lot of movies. Which ones are my favorite? How is he a fashion icon? Where's the splits? Let's find out...
Kickboxer came out in 1989, it was one of the first JCVD films I ever saw. He plays clean cut goody two shoes Kurt Sloane. His brillo-haired, extremely annoying brother Eric has delusions of grandeur which leads them to travel to Thailand where Eric foolishly challenges the champion Tong Po. Eric gets his butt handed to him in short fashion, Kurt swears for... retribution! He befriends Winston, an American veteran always surrounded by ladies, who tells Kurt of the only man crazy enough to train him: Xian Chow. Xian welcomes Kurt by doing his unexplained "floating in air for way too long while doing multiple kicks to the face" trick. There's a forced romance in there somewhere with Xian's niece, as Kurt trains for the majority of the movie. His legs are pulled apart to encourage flexibility (he should have gotten the Oscar for pretending a forced full split was a challenge for him). Coconuts are dropped on his stomach (this scene is brought up daily in my life). He even experiences visions of past lives among the ancient ruins. Xian's methods might be unorthodox... but they get results...
Everyone needs to see this dance at least once in their lives. The rest of the movie is downhill from there, which concludes with some kind of bedazzled mitt battle... but, ultimately vengeance is his.
Fashion: His skin tight black tank top that has overall clips and a center zipper, complimented by his huge pleated khakis. His training shorts also give "cut-offs" a whole new meaning as they look like they were ripped between 2 feuding dinosaur's jaws. He also has really great hair during this time in his life.
Kickboxer is definitely worth seeing. My favorite parts are the numerous training sequences and physical comedy. I'm also amazed how still Dennis Chan (Xian) is while Van Damme is jump kicking (and nearly hitting) his face over and over. It's a more serious movie than Bloodsport, but there's a lot of laughs in there. The acting is pretty good, Tong Po is a scary badman, and the locations are really awesome.
Cyborg (aka Slinger)
Cyborg is a very confused poop apocalyptic stinkah that slid out just before Kickboxer in 1989. He plays the personality-less "slinger" (an escort) named Gibson Rickenbacker. I can't even articulate the plot, suffice to say a cyborg named Pearl has to get from point A to point B. Some broad named Nady joins Gibson and they're attacked by a goofy irritating badman named Fendor Tremolo (played by "Warchild" from Point Break). We learn Fendor killed Gibson's main squeeze Mary in the past, so... retribution! Fendor says "not so fast, Gibbs!" by crucifying him. A lesser man would die up there, but Gibson prevails and swears... more retribution! Nady tries to do the wild thing with him but is stopped short because Gibson isn't THAT kind of escort, and he only wants to penetrate Fendor... with his throbbing REVENGE! He does a split in the sewers, not much else to mention. Once the final battle in Atlanta starts, Fendor lets out a roar that goes on and on and on, and we all find ourselves finally rooting for Gibson (to make it stop already).
Fashion? No. This movie is a boring nightmare. I don't really get cyber punk, but if this is it... cyber suck.
Should someone actually watch this? No.
To be fair, the film was taken away from the director and edited by Van Damme himself, so it's not what was intended. I'm a big supporter of directors having final cut, so it's a good thing a "director's cut" called "Slinger" was released years later, but having seen the differences... still no.
Esther was in the other room while I was watching (I observe the mercy rule), after a while she yells out, "I haven't heard a word of dialogue in I don't know HOW long!"
Hard Target came out in 1993, John Woo's first American film (people call Van Damme the "Ellis Island of Hong Kong film directors"). Chance Boudreaux is a Cajun vagabond with soul glo hair (like yakisoba noodles), that gets involved with Natasha Binder when he does a bunch of high kicks in her defense. The 2 try to find her missing father, and find out he was actually murdered. A large cranium "sportsman" named Emil Fouchon is in the "recreational hunting of unarmed homeless people" business, and there's no shortage of rich people that want to pay to prey. New Orleans is the setting (chosen to give some reason for Van Damme's accent), and there's plenty of guns in the graveyard, pistols on the plantation, and bullets on the bayou. Pik Van Cleef is Emil's chief enforcer, just make sure you don't hurt his feelings. The action reaches heights of ridiculousness when Chance stands on the front of a charging motorcycle while firing his gun at the bad guys. He leads them to his Uncle Douvee's (Wilford Brimley of "Dia-Beet-us" fame) house in deep swampland. Chance finally proves that Natasha can trust him by punching a snake (a dating ritual lost on newer generations). The setting for the final fight is in a warehouse of Mardi Gras floats, Chance descends onto the mortal plane and says goodbye to Emil with a grenade to the balls.
Fashion: His cheap, huge shoulder padded black coat with rolled up sleeves. His prison-esque blue collared shirt. Those tight jeans. The earring. That HAIR! Credit where it's due: Van Damme gives 110% to a role. In Stranger Things 2, Eleven's "bitchin" look bears a striking resemblance to Chance Boudreaux.
Watch Hard Target! It is a lot of fun, and has a lot more ideas than some of Van Damme's other movies. What really shines are the villains, I don't ask for much (it's not a HARD target), just a little depth and personality - this movie has it. I also love New Orleans, and recognized most of the locations (though none of the tours I went on mentioned this movie). The statues and floats in the warehouse make a fantastic setting for the final scene. I must also point out Emil's business is really sick, but is also a realistic commentary on civilization.
Want more Van Damme? Follow @SilentJamesLive and #IllBeVanDammed on instagram to see my process, and stay tuned here for more finished pieces in the series. Thank you for going on this illustrated journey with me and the "Muscles from Brussels".
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