When I'm traveling around the world to live illustrate events, I always bring movies for the flights. I like to draw during ones I've seen before, and I grew up on the films of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Enjoy this installment of "I'll Be Van Dammed"!
1991 was a benchmark for technology, marked by our ability to finally achieve what we've always wanted as a species: TWO VAN DAMMEs IN THE SAME MOVIE! Separated at birth: Chad is a happy, preppy, ladies man and Alex is a dark, brooding, hothead - when they get together, they give new meaning to the term: sibling rivalry! They find out their parents were sent to any early grave by Moon (Bolo Yeung) on orders from triad bossypants Griffith and Zhang. They vow... RETRIBUTION, twin style! There's a lot of family feuds as the brothers go on sting operations, and we meet a very colorful group of henchmen and a total badass henchwoman named Kara (Corrina Everson). Then Alex has drunken, strangely Argento, visions of lust and betrayal. There's a series of showdowns ranging from an aquatic foot fight, to Bolo as Donkey Kong throwing barrels at Van Damme. Everybody pays, and it abruptly ends with Van Damme giving us the "OK!" symbol.
Fashion: Double Impact is a fashion show. It's from 1991, but it won't let go of everything outrageous from the 80s. Chad has numerous volcanic ensembles: blue tights, preppy polos tucked into pink short shorts, black silk underwear, a yellow ochre peacoat, and this insane mauve blouse with tiered shoulders and matching tie. You gotta love the trashbag trenchcoats that henchmen wear. Moon sports a very cheap looking black suit and a porcupine mullet. One of the baddies is a Eugene Levy look-a-like with a soul glo mullet. Corrina Everson gives Chad a run for his money in fights... and fashion! Her Delia Deetz-esque hair dos compliment an assortment of truly badass outfits: huge shouldered tops and tiny skirts, a backless black romper, and my favorite was her cropped black jacket and sparkly silver hot pants. She's a fashion icon!
Double Impact is worth seeing... twice? I get the sense that this movie is very dear to JCVD, he experimented and really tried to bring to life two distinct characters. It is truly outrageous, and has some of the most iconic characters. That being said, the story is atrocious and the final battle... what a waste. See it for the silliness and the fashion, that goes DOUBLE for this movie.
2001 saw Van Damme and Sheldon Lettich (who made Double Impact and many other JCVD movies) team up again. This one has deep roots in history and tradition, as well as featuring VD portraying 2 characters... again! Way back when - in 1099 (the year, not the tax form), religions were fighting each other (as opposed to now?) and Messiah Van Damme tried to unite Christians, Jews, and Muslims into "The Order". BIG MISTAKE. He's killed by Christian knights, but not before burying the Order's sacred texts in the desert. Fast forward to modern day Van Damme, playing Rudy Chafmeyer - thief and smuggler of artifacts. His pappi Ozzie is kidnapped in Jerusalem and Rudy vows... RETRIBUTION, holy city style! Rudy pries a safe deposit key from Charlton Heston's cold dead hands, and finds a map in the box. Meanwhile, something's rotten in the Order as Cyrus (Brian Thompson, who was also in Lionheart) stages a coup and leads the Order into a holy war. The Israeli police chief (Prince Malagant from First Knight, so you KNOW he's crooked) is more concerned with deporting Rudy, and sends Lt. Dalia Barr to escort him out of the holy land. As Rudy says, "Something's not Kosher here" and we find out Dalia was once a member of the Order but left when she was 18 (you could say Dalia is "out of order"). Rudy decides his best course of action is to dress up as a hasidic jew and kick everyone's ass. Then things become truly blasphemous as the plot goes this way and that and Rudy ends up in the catacombs in a battle against Cyrus. There's some kind of mine cart hijinks, as the evil police chief tries to steal the treasure, but is ultimately cast into the abyss. The movie ends with Rudy and Ozzie returning home and Rudy discovering a map to the Cities of Gold... sequel?
Fashion: Van Damme doing a split kick dressed as a hasidic jew. Chainmail.
The Order is worth watching because most of it is a fun adventure, like Indiana Jones. The hasidic fight scene is the highpoint, close second is Cyrus talking about how it was "prophesied in the book of Tribulations". There's a weird cameo of Abdel Qissi thrown in there for no reason. The movie takes a fall from grace when it gets all serious and boring. Oy vey.
1996 marked the directorial debut of JCVD, and saw him teaming up with Bloodsport's Frank Dux. It starts with Van Damme as an old coot (who's STILL got it, of course) named Christopher Dubois, then flashes back to the 1920s. He was a street performer pick-pocket with a heart of gold and a barn full of orphans. He ditches the orphans first chance he gets, opting for the life of a stowaway. No one sails for free, as he's put to work until he grows a beard and has outlived his usefulness. Before they can execute him, they are attacked by PIRATES! Lord Edgar Dobbs (Roger Moore) and Harri Smythe are impressed with Chris' ability to dish out ass whoppings, and sell him into muy thai slavery on some island. Six months later, the pirates return and snag Dubois back, and try to sneak him into a top secret tournament called the Ghang-gheng and have him win a golden dragon for them. American boxing champ Maxie Devine, who holds an invitation, is hoodwinked by the trio. Once he sees Dubois is a superior physical specimen, he agrees to give up his place in the tournament to him. During the tournament, some guy that Dubois trained with is killed by the Mongolian (Abdel Qissi), so he vows... RETRIBUTION, rope headband style! Dobbs and Smythe are tired of waiting for the final battle to end (as are the rest of us) so they try to steal the dragon but are caught gold handed. In exchange for their lives, Dubois forfeits his hard won dragon booty. Fast forward to present day and everyone's favorite old fart Dubois, wraps up the story by saying he got the orphans off the streets somehow.
Fashion: there's really great 1920s American mens fashion. The linen shirts and pants, vests, suspenders... I love it all. JCVD goes through so many costume changes through his metamorphosis and all of them are awesome. His mime getup, as a stowaway, and then we get to his muy thai duds complete with HUGE bulge in the shorts. Dobbs and Smythe have great suits and hats with feathers. Unfortunately, it doesn't follow through for the female reporter - she is so period inappropriate and styled very poorly throughout. I'm also not crazy about the fighters from other lands, it's all pretty generic.
I don't recommend watching the Quest. The most off-putting thing about it is how it's such a lame ripoff of Bloodsport. I remember my Mum and I saw Bloodsport, she loved it so much and the very next day she took me to the theater to see The Quest. She had a noticeable frown the entire experience, and when the guy started fighting in "monkey style" she turned and gave me a look of utter disgust that has since been burned into my memory. The fights are uninteresting, as are most of the characters. Another disappointment for me is how they had Van Damme in the 1920s as a mime and did nothing with him. They could have done a great physical comedy routine (a la Buster Keaton) but rushed to get him on that boat. If you watch Bloodsport, there's a silent montage of JCVD giving the police the slip, and it's magical. If they were going to copy Bloodsport so much for this movie, couldn't they have given us a scene like that somewhere? ANYWHERE?
In 1998, fresh off the sparkly platform heels of Double Team, comes Tsui Hark's next Van Damme film called Knock Off. It opens with a wild action scene combining bombs, babies, and green smoke. Rob Schneider is playing Tommy, a fast talking Hawaiian shirt enthusiast that is a sales rep for a jeans company. His partner Marcus Ray (JCVD) is a jolly dope trying to go legit, but still has ties to the mob. He starts his day off right, by happily singing his heart out to an asian pop song. Next order of business for them is an afternoon of demolition rickshaw racing. Tommy knows how to motivate Ray, "C'mon! Move that big beautiful ass of yours!" as he's whipping Ray's posterior with a live eel. For some reason, Ray's Pummas (knock offs) fart and explode, then they end up in a shootout in a grocery store before being caught by the police. Phew! CIA agent Karen Leigh (the stunning Lela Rochon) gives them an earful as they learn they might go to jail for counterfeiting jeans unless they prove their innocence. As if this isn't enough to spoil Ray's mood, he finds out Tommy is actually an undercover agent that was trying to use Ray to blow the lid off this case. They agree to work together, and get into a heavy durian fruit battle in a warehouse, until Ray's half brother Eddie takes a bazooka blast to the balls. They find out their jeans are the bomb... literally! They've got nanobombs in them! Then the Buddha statue at the top of the mountain explodes! Then Karen's boss Harry betrays them! Ray vows... RETRIBUTION, Jean-Claude Van Denim style! It ends in all out war aboard a ship, with slip n' slide fighting and acid vials galore, as Harry escapes. The last scene, Tommy and Ray are getting drunk and Tommy invents Amazon's Alexa, then they blowup Harry with an accidental push of a button and just laugh it off.
Fashion: The movie's called Knock Off, you bet there's fashion up in there. Karen's suits are pretty styling (size 6, Ray, not 8). Skinny's yellow glasses and suits make him look like an asian Otho. Tommy and Ray's loud Hawaiian shirts and huge sneakers. It's all so bad, it's good.
Knock Off is my favorite Van Damme movie. It's an avant-garde masterpiece in terms of the 5 C's: cinematography, comedy, composition, color, and choreography. I have never seen a movie with such wildly complex camera work. Even the great "Enter the Void" doesn't compare to the intricate and innovative shots of Knock Off. Anything you see, you can bet the camera will either go through it or provide you with it's point of view. Have you ever wanted to know what a foot sees as it enters a shoe? Well wonder no longer! There's also a very cartoon element to the filmmaking, I love the extreme downshot on Ray and Tommy from Karen's POV - exaggerating how tall and intimidating she is. I'm reminded of Terry Gillam's Brazil, as every shot in this movie is crammed with detail. Everywhere you look, things are happening, people are interacting, transitions are established - it's obsessive! I love the transitions, fading from a growling fish to Skinny's face or from a shot of 2 asses to Ray and Tommy. The level of insanity in this movie is commendable. The rickshaw race alone feels like a movie by itself, how did they make that happen? All of the fights are exceptional, exciting, and funny. The great Sammo Hung was fight choreographer on this, and it shows! Regarding the acting - I had a prejudice about Rob Schneider based on his other work, I was afraid he was going to be really annoying, but to my surprise he was fine. I'll end this review with a shoutout to Sparks for their song "It's a Knock Off" which plays over the end credits...
Want more Van Damme? Follow @SilentJamesLive and #IllBeVanDammed on instagram to see my process, here's part one, here's part two, and stay tuned for more finished pieces in the series. Thank you for going on this illustrated journey with me and the "Muscles from Brussels".
Did you know you can commission me to create illustrations for you or your event? Contact me today, and let's make our own "Double Impact"!