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The following is a [late] new entry in my ongoing series of rough, free-flowing essays exploring the filmography of Jean Claude Van Damme. This week is a bit more serious, but I welcome comments and want to stress that what I post here is part of a dialogue. You are encouraged to be a part of it.

My feelings about Kickboxer are complicated. They’re probably more complicated than a person’s feelings should be in regards to a 1990 Jean Claude Van Damme vehicle that generally follows the same fighting movie formula of much of his early work. Hell, not only that, they’re more complicated than feelings about anything Jean Claude-related should be.

Something I haven’t discussed much is portrayal of Van Damme’s relationships with women in his films, at least in the films we have examined so far. Of all of the ones I have written about to date, only one featured an actual sex scene involving the Muscles from Brussels, and that movie was Cyborg, and and AND that particular movie gives us an incredibly awkward sex scene that is more likely to make you want to avoid sex than fantasize about it (and maybe we need more sex scenes like that).

In Sudden Death, Van Damme’s character is divorced with two children, so it is at least implied that he had sex a minimum of two times, which is more times than we see him have sex in the movie. There is no love interest and the only damsel in distress is his own little daughter with the annoying proclivity for rubber stamps.

In Street Fighter: The Movie, there are hints of barely more than a high school crush that Cammy might have on Col. Guile, and with the exception of the moment when Chun Li escapes with her ninja skills and JCVD says, “What a woman,” he’s otherwise seemingly asexual. Col. Guile might have some need for romance somewhere in his heart, but he is a military man with a single mission, so no time for love, Doctor Jones.

In Bloodsport, meanwhile, Frank Dux does apparently hook up with the blonde reporter Janice, but – in what can only be described as rare form when it comes to low-budget action films – there is no love scene. We simply jump from Point A – Janice delivering the classic line about just wanting to know him – to Point C, when she wakes up in his bed. No complaints here, just pointing out the oddness of a late 80s movie going in that direction with it. There’s merely implied sex, along with the moment where he scares off the rapey middle eastern dude thats giving Janice trouble.

Lionheart, on the other hand, is a movie that presents a Van Damme with seemingly zero interest in women in general, other than wanting to take care of his widowed sister-in-law and his nice, in a strange set-up at the end where he takes on the role of “Man of the House” now that his brother is dead, but without him showing a love for his sister-in-law outside of the need to take care of her. Him not wanting to sleep with his brother’s wife is actually a surprise to me (yet again) just because of the awkward choices that action movies like this might tend to make. It would be a nice aspect of the film if not for the fact that the entire premise of the resolution to the film is based on the concept that his sister-in-law, as a single mother, is incapable of making a decent living wage or raising her child on her own. She, in macho male fantasy land, can’t survive without a man to take care of her.

This is made only worse when the one other female character in the film not only has wealth and power and domination over men, but is also inexplicably evil and vengeful. We end up getting only two kinds of women in the world of Lionheart: Good girls who need men to take care of them and evil dominant women with no values other than sex and power. Women who use men. You can even come to the logical conclusion that if a woman does become empowered and successful, she will become evil. Not a lot of options for women in this world, apparently.

I wish I could tell you more about the role of women in Cyborg, but you might as well ask me about the roll of shirts, since both appear randomly in the movie and nobody can figure out if they’re important or not (except for the titular cyborg, who is a woman but is also little more than a macguffin that I still haven’t totally figured out the purpose of).

Let me be clear about all of these movies and the observations I just made: I am not complaining about a lack of sex scenes. I am not demanding sex scenes, but rather I want to bring light to the way that JCVD’s characters in most of these films are shown to be almost nonsexual – in some cases even “pure’ or celibate – heroes. Chivalrous might be another word we can throw around, with all of its antiquated baggage. Later Van Damme movies would deviate more from this habit, with a few even including sex scenes complete with gratuitous nudity (Double Impact, Timecop). The other point is that women have limited roles in the stories, mainly existing as one-dimensional trophies that he barely touches on-screen.

Now after all of this, we’re left wandering a strange landscape. In one of these films, we are given the threat of sexual assault (Bloodsport), and we have some “damsels in distress” in others, with a virtuous man-dude who must prove his man-dudeness. So now I guess it’s time to talk about Kickboxer.

Kickboxer follows the tried and true formula of Van Damme having to overcome insurmountable odds via training montages to defeat a seemingly undefeatable bad guy in a one-on-one fight in order to either restore his family’s honor or his own honor (or both) after the bad guy has already brought shame and defeat to a loved one (or Van Damme).

Van Damme’s brother, a cocky American kickboxing champion (real life kickboxing champ Dennis Alexio, complete with mullet and mustache), goes to Thailand to take on their best fighter, and is literally crippled by the fight because he’s a stupid cocky American asshole. Now Van Damme swears vengeance and a restoration of honor by training in the Muay Thai style and fighting the man who broke his brother’s spine, Tong Po.

Van Damme finds a native master of the art who will train him, embarking on an “honorable” macho exercise in cultural appropriation, and along the way falls in love with the master’s niece Mylee.

In some ways we get a more developed relationship between Van Damme and his love interest, despite the fact that they seem to “fall in love” as fast as Zack Morris did in the episode of Saved By The Bell where the Bayside High gets a new (hot) school nurse. It’s pretty fast is what I’m saying. But we see her caring for him and him for her, in a better fashion than we did in Bloodsport.

But then things get out of hand, because apparently this movie was written by a graduate of the Alan Moore-Mark Millar school of writing, and the only way to really show Tong Po as a truly bad guy is to have him kidnap and rape Mylee. Because having him intentionally turn a dude into a paraplegic for the rest of his life isn’t quite evil enough.

But it doesn’t stop there. Due to the fact that in the world of Kickboxer the fight is the most important thing in the universe and a man’s problems are what take precedent when his honor is on the line and his bro’s honor is on the line, Mylee is silent about the rape. She refuses to tell Van Damme, because it will distract him from this fight which is the only thing that matters. Really. This is the logic of the movie, and we end up with a hierarchy of problems. At the top? Van Damme showing that evil Thai dude that Americans can kick his ass. Just below that? Making Van Damme’s brother feel better about life. And below that? Ridding Mylee and her uncle’s village of the criminals that control it. And below that? Winston getting laid! And somewhere below even that? Mylee getting raped.

And then! Of course Van Damme finds out during the fight, allowing him to gain the rage necessary to start kicking Tong Po’s ass. And Tong Po just laughs like the shithead high school bully who just happens to also rape people and break dude’s spines.

Guess what happens next! Van Damme wins, in a shocking turn of events, and everything is better. Everything. Because winning the fight makes it so it’s like Mylee never got raped, right? Right?

I don’t expect high art when I watch a Jean Claude Van Damme movie, and I know I should also not be surprised when rape and women are both treated in this way in action movies from any era, but it doesn’t make it okay and it doesn’t give me the ability to simply overlook it and go, “It’s still an awesome movie, bro.” Because it’s not. You can blame my age and you can blame my politics and you can blame my inability to just “turn off my brain and enjoy something” (seriously, go walk into the ocean if you’re one of those people who says that; just walk straight into the ocean) all you want and write me off as a whiny libtard or whatever, but that still doesn’t change the fact that Kickboxer shits the bed.

This is why my feelings about Kickboxer are complicated, guys.

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The following is the fifth entry in my continuing series of essays examining the filmography of Jean Claude Van Damme. No Legionnaires were consulted for this entry because they were too busy trying to seduce a cat that had accidentally been painted to look like a skunk.

Okay, so you had Bloodsport. Next, you had Kickboxer, which wasn’t exactly the same movie, but was kind of the same (just with 100% more rape). Before and between those you had Van Damme appearing as the bad guy against the likes of a dude from soap operas who knows taekwondo and Sho Motherfucking Kosugi, but like I said, we’re talking about his roles as THE main dude. So the other one is Cyborg (which according to IMDB was secretly edited by JCVD, a thing that in no way surprises me now), and then, after all of those, comes Lionheart.

Much of Kickboxer was pretty much movie dudes going, “Hey, how can we make this more like Bloodsport but also not Bloodsport?” I have more thoughts on Kickboxer, but you’ll have to wait to read those (spoiler: my feelings about it are complicated). On to Lionheart.

Lionheart continues this fine tradition of finding bizarre ways to get Van Damme to fight a lot of dudes and kick guys in the face, during a time when the best idea was still “put him in some kind of fighting tournament,” or essentially putting him in a less intellectual Rocky movie. But, see, Lionheart gets tricky with it.

It starts out similarly to Bloodsport, with Van Damme as a military guy who goes AWOL and evades his military bosses by escaping to a foreign land. But see, it gets all kinds of “this shit is too fucking clever for a 1990 Van Damme movie,” because guess what? The foreign country he escapes to is America!
And it sucks!

Instead of flying an airplane to Hong Kong, staying in a nice hotel room, playing karate video games against giant awesome bearded American dudes, and scaring rapey middle eastern men away from the reporter who obviously wants to “know” him, ol’ Jeany baby gets to escape to America illegally on a boat, sleep on the streets, and do a lot of nothing because he has no money.

Instead of coming to a foreign land to compete in a glorious battle that brings with it high prestige, he gets to come to a foreign land where nobody gives a shit about him and he’s forced into street fighting just to get by.

It’s like a shitty Bizarro Kumite. I think maybe the prize is that Republicans will give the winner a free pass while they kill the rest of the homeless population.

See, I’m already getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back to the beginning…

So Jean Claude’s brother is living in America. I guess in this he and his brother are French, and Jean Claude is in the French Foreign Legion, which according to this movie is apprently where they send criminals to finish out their sentences instead of jail (although from what I’ve gathered the Legion doesn’t actually do this anymore, but did at one point in their history; of course, I don’t know the Legion all that well, except that I do know they’re some tough dudes and they occasionally enlist rapey skunks during wartime). Jean Claude used to be a drug dealer or something, and that’s why he got in trouble.

The only reason why any of this matters is because his brother (who lives with an American wife and kid in LA) gets set on fire by bad dudes (not to be confused with Bad Dudes) and needs JCVD to be at his bedside because, you know, they’re bros.

So yeah, Van Damme escapes the Legion to go to America to see his brother who is probably dying but he doesn’t have any money or anything (and he’s stuck in New York, major important detail right there) so he discovers what seem to be a lot of black dudes with some white dudes peppered in fighting “Fight Club” style under a bridge for money. He steps in, wins, earns money, and now we have Van Damme as an actual street fighter instead of a GI Joe (but still not a Street Fighter).

Like Kickboxer, he gets an older sidekick guy, who helps him on his journey. Also, like Kickboxer, the character is black and sounds pretty much like a racist cartoon (but I’ll tell you, this guy has a few more “tender” moments than the crazed Vietnam vet in Kickboxer) for most of the time.

So Jean Claude has money from winning some fights, but he needs more money. This is when the movie takes a bizarre turn, and we find JCVD moving up to the next level of underground fighting rings. This one, you see, is run by rich – mostly white – people. Late 80s-style rich white people, complete with awful shiny suits and douchey haircuts and girls with big awful hair.

When rich people aren’t making millions of dollars off of trading other people’s money, they gotta cut loose and have a good time. They gotta have some entertainment.

So apparently at night they hang out in parking garages at fancy important business buildings and watch poor people beat the shit out of each other. And the whole thing is run by an evil pretty blonde with short hair and lots of money and Shao Khan from Mortal Kombat Annihilation as her lackey.

Van Damme beats their guy and makes more money, and then finally goes to LA. So it’s like we’re moving on with the movie’s central plot. But wait!

Van Damme gets to LA and guess what? His brother is dead already, and his bro’s wife hates him. End of movie.

Except not! Jean Claude then gets back to the rich-person underground fighting circuit, which has an LA chapter (West Coast Shitty Kumite Avengers assemble) I guess? Anyway, the evil pretty blonde actually runs this one, too, and she’s trying really hard to get Jean Claude to bone her (and she’s horrible at it).

This is all we know about her, and keep in mind she’s one of only two major female characters (not counting JC’s niece): We know she is insanely rich; we know she has power and controls these fights; we know that she wants Van Damme to make whoopie with her. That’s pretty much it. We know she’s not nice, she doesn’t show much concern for other people, but otherwise? She’s hot for Jean Claude until he rebuffs her, at which point she decides she doesn’t like him anymore and he should die a horrible death being beaten to a pulp by an unimpressive, big, hairy dude with sideburns.

Fantastic, huh?

Meanwhile, JC is socking money away and secretly giving it to his brother’s widow without her knowing it’s coming from him and blah blah blah blah it’s pretty predicatable from this point. Then there’s a big fight (there always is!) and our resolution.

That big hairy dude with the sideburns? Yeah, that’s the big final fight, and honestly this guy doesn’t impress me because doesn’t seem to do anything I haven’t seen Chong Li do better, and we all saw how Chong Li faired against JCVD. Point being, despite the fact that the Dammster takes a seriously brutal beating (one of the worse I’ve seen), you know how it’s going to end. And then the Legion dudes catch him and then let him go because I guess they’re not total dicks (all part of the Prench Foreign Legion’s big 1990 recruitment drive, with their new slogan, “The French Foreign Legion: Because We’re Not Total Dicks”). However, I’m not sure how they plan to explain to their superior officers why they let him go. Sacre bleu!

Guys, this movie was fucking weird and dumb and bonkers and insane and awesome.

Every fight scene was pretty much something I’ve seen done (or would expect to see done) on Regular Show, but with the added bonus of KICKS TO THE FUCKING FACE. There’s a fight in a garage in LA where he and his opponent are surrounded by rich people cars (like, those fancy ones with the sloping lines and shiny grilles driven by men in top hats and monocles) with their headlights on. There’s a fight where he and his opponent are in a mostly-empty swimming pool (this one threw me off because usually fights in drained pools are, like, a punk rock thing. Then there’s a fight in a racquetball court. Or maybe it was a squash court. I honestly can’t tell the difference. Somebody tell me!

What can I take away from this movie? What will stick with me, years from now?

I have no fucking idea. But Jean Claude Van Damme sure knows how to kick dudes.

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The following is the fourth in my series of meaningless written explorations of the movies of Jean Claude Van Damme, the Muscles from Brussels. While today is a Wednesday, I originally wrote this on a Tuesday (and not one of my better Tuesdays, at that). Because, you know, I have to explain everything. It’s what I do. It’s why I’m such a buzzkill at parties.

Compared to General M. Bison, I have had a pretty lousy Tuesday. It wasn’t the worst Tuesday, mind you, but it was a Tuesday that found me overworked and exhausted, feeling more like a Thursday than a Tuesday. I didn’t get to invade any villages, murder anybody’s fathers, pillage or plunder, I didn’t even have the opportunity to chew any scenery the way that Raul Julia does in his final film role in Street Fighter: The Movie.
Street Fighter gets it. While most of us who grew up with the massive insane phenomenon that was Street Fighter II (and SF II Turbo and SF II Championship Edition and Super SF II, etc. etc. etc.) remember seeing the movie and feeling slightly gypped by the deviations from the source material (Blanka as a failed super soldier experiment? Dhalsim as a scientist played by that sleazy dude from the cult of Khali in Tempe of Doom? T-Hawk as a scrawny commando dude with a headband?), there was still something inherently rad about Jean Claude Van Damme flexing his American Flag-tattooed biceps and executing ridiculous jumpkicks at Gomez Addams. It just took some of us 15 to 20 years to figure it out.
Street Fighter is widely considered to be pure, absolute commercial crap, but I’ll tell you what: It’s still to this day the best GI Joe movie I’ve seen. Digest that for a second.
Okay, ready? We’ve now had two (TWO) live action GI Joe movies. Both have been pretty bad as far as movies go, with the second one showing a marked improvement in terms of presenting something that actually resembles the GI Joe that we grew up with. Dwayne “Rocky Maiavia” Johnson makes for a passable Roadblock who looks the part more than acts it, Cobra Commander’s past as Duke’s best pal Rex is all but erased from memory (along with the dubious handling of the Baroness, who is never mentioned), there’s some totally tubular ninja action that steals the entire movie, and even Channing Tatum’s 8 minutes of footage is actually likeable and endearing in a “bros hanging out” kind of way. It’s much, much closer to GI Joe than the first flick, for certain, but let’s be fair: LOST’s Josh Holloway in a sailor suit arguing with a parrot for 90 minutes would still make for a better GI Joe movie.
But Street Fighter? Now that’s a GI Joe movie!
Guile is Duke. He delivers Duke speeches. His subordinates put all of their faith and loyalty in him the way that Scarlett, Flint, and the rest would do the same with Duke. Even when he fakes his own death, people react the way everyone reacts in the animated Joe flick when Duke “goes into a coma.”
I don’t care if he has a Belgian accent, Van Damme is Duke.
A power mad warlord who spends every second of screen time maniacally boasting and yelling orders at incompetent minions? A bad guy who enacts ridiculous schemes, prints his own money, develops fringe scientific experiments to create the perfect soldier, holds the world for ransom, and even seriously considers kidnapping the Queen of England while also planning a massive shopping mall in the shape of his army’s insignia? Is there a way for Bison to be more like the actual Cobra Commander?
Even Sagat makes for a better Destro than the one we got in Rise of Cobra. As an arms dealer aligned with Bison but barely trusting his partner, all Sagat really needs is a metal mask and a Russian aristocrat on his arm.
As an aside, I think in Steven De Souza’s mind, Sagat’s line, “In Shadaloo City, no one tells me anything,” sounded more impressive than it really sounds out loud. Sagat sounds like he’s the last to know about anything in the town he purportedly runs. “Nobody tells me ANYTHING! Gawwwd!”
I will freely admit that my GI Joe comparisons pretty much end there. I’m a massive GI Joe nerd, and know my shit forwards and backwards, but I have the damnedest time trying to find more analogues among the characters in Street Fighter: The Movie.
Kylie Minogue’s Cammy doesn’t really make for a very good Scarlett or Lady Jaye, but then she also doesn’t have a gratuitous undressing scene like Jaye has in Retaliation nor is she the object of male competition the way that Scarlett is in Rise of Cobra. She also does more in the movie than Cover Girl does before getting killed in Rise of Cobra, so she has that going for her as well.
T-Hawk, meanwhile, could be Flint as one of Guile’s right-hand people, but his character development has just as much depth as Flint’s in Retaliation.
As for characters who actually do are better developed in Street Fighter, it’s difficult to match them up to anybody in GI Joe.
Regardless, there is another important factor that makes Street Fighter the best live action GI Joe movie: the tone.
While sure, Larry Hama’s stories in the comics were more serious in tone when compared to the adventures depicted in the Sunbow cartoons, let’s be fair: they were still pretty goofy, and how could they not be when your job is to fit a testicle-crushing amount of different, ridiculous toys into every issue? Regardless of the tone that Hama attempted, GI Joe, in all of its media incarnations before the “Real American Hero” era of the toyline ended in the mid-90s, was jingoistic, hokey, over-the-top and filled to the brim with simple idealism.
This is where Street Fighter blows the recent actual GI Joe movies out of the water. Street Fighter is the product of mass commercialization and, admittedly, a manufactured sense of idealism that we all got to experience in the pre-9/11 world, but because it comes before the era of the “War on Terror,” it doesn’t feel the need to be “realistic,” or to let itself be bound by modern studio executives’ perceptions that everything has to be grim.
This is a movie where the good guys are essentially U.N. Peacekeepers (called the “Allied Nations” in the movie), in an optimistic world where the U.N. is incredibly effective and there apparently aren’t insane right-wing nutjobs that think the U.N. is a vast “one world government” conspiracy. It’s a movie where the commando dudes are all nice, freethinking, open-minded and surprisingly liberal when they aren’t invading a country and overthrowing its dictator in a fairly gung-ho neoconservative manner (“Now who wants to go home, and who wants to go WITH ME?!”). This is a movie where embedded TV journalists are apparently secretly kung-fu badasses. With all of these things, and with the premise of a war-torn southeast Asian country occupied by commandos, it’s still somehow kind of happy-go-lucky.
And while it certainly oozes with machismo, it’s a kind of machismo that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a Jean Claude Van Damme cartoon, not no-homo brodawg entertainment for guys in Affliction tees.
This is not to say that it has any more heart than the actual live-action GI Joe movies we have received to date: all are products of clueless studios looking for big money (no Whammies), with filmmakers who feel like they can somehow come up with something better than the source material they’ve been handed.
While Street Fighter is a great GI Joe movie, it’s an absolutely shitty Street Fighter movie.
In all the ways that Resident Evil and Doom fail as adaptations of the video games they’re named for, even in the ways that GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra failed as a GI Joe movie, so is Street Fighter an awful adaptation of its source material. Granted, it’s better than the more recent Legend of Chun-Li starring the hollow, emotionless doe-eyed girl from television’s Totally Not Superboy, but that’s not a surprise. What could be worse? (Answer: that Dragonball Z movie with the narc that totally screwed John Locke.)
Especially when you take into consideration the number of movies JCVD has starred in that feature him partaking in some kind of fighting tournament, it’s utterly bizarre that they attach him to a property like this and then give us a GI Joe movie instead. My assumption? De Souza’s only actual exposure to Street Fighter prior to writing the screenplay was probably just a pile of the Street Fighter GI Joe figures Hasbro put out. I picture him being walked into a meeting room at Universal and then a pair of Hasbro reps in clown suits run in and dump a wheelbarrow full of Sonic Boom Tanks on him.
As far as Jean Claude Van Damme movies go? It’s obviously not his best, but it does deliver two key Van Dammisms in spades: dick-exploding kicks and vomit-inducing one-liners.
Watch Street Fighter: The Movie. Love it. Revel in how many times you nearly shit your pants at its greatness/badness.
Never forget.

wpid-1376540925873.jpg I’m 9, 10 years old. I’ve been training in a form of karate under the tutelage of my father, and I’ve been getting better at it, but I’m a pretty small kid. At this point in my life, it will be some time before I gain full mastery of the martial arts knowledge being imparted to me.

Something I’m always dealing with bigger kids. You know, pushy douchebags with blonde hair, maybe buzzcuts, the type of sociopaths that enjoy just pushing a kid until he breaks. I finally get fed up one day, after taking a lot of abuse from these pricks, and I fight back.

Big mistake. There’s just one of me and two of them, and they’re already bigger than me so what the hell am I thinking? They knock my Trapper Keeper out of my hands, punch me solid in the gut, and after I’ve already hit the ground they start kicking me. I pull and claw at their windbreakers, but I’m done for.

Thankfully another kid steps in and they back off.

After he helps me to my feet, I wipe the blood from the edge of my lip and think about what just happened. My honor has been taken from me in some way. I can feel it. The kid looks at me. This time I needed him, but next time I won’t, I tell myself.

That’s when I make a promise to myself that I will one day fight in a secret underground no-holds-barred martial arts tournament. I will do this, fight in this event where warriors can and do die, and I will do it to honor my father and myself.

 …………

SMACK!

I hear a wave of “ooos” all around me. Everything is bright pink to me for a moment and I stumble back. The pain! I had no idea how much pain I would feel!

It’s hot; not just the spot on my bare, tattoo-free chest, but everything. I look around, trying to see through the eyeholes of the spandex luchador mask I’m wearing. I can already feel the sweat collecting in my itchy hair. I can’t even count how many people are in the room. It’s packed. There’s people I recognize as professionals, some people I had met earlier in the day, and an assload of absolute strangers.

No wonder it’s so hot.

I wonder when somebody from the hotel will catch wind of what’s going down, but I don’t think about it for very long, because that pain is still there on my skin.

I jump up and down, shake it off as best I can, do a little dance, and then deliver my own attack.

SMACK!

He takes one step back and nods his head. He smiles. Smiles.

“WHOOOOOOOA,” says the crowd.

Almost immediately he brings his open palm down across my chest again. My back arches and I stumble around. I smack my arms and face on the bed next to me, trying to shake off the searing burn I feel deep in my flesh. I fall to my knees and bite the comforter.

Somebody yells out something in their best Jim Ross voice, but really all I hear is a piercing ringing in my ears.

I stand up, shake my head. He throws his head back and ushers me to bring it.

I wind up and step forward, bringing my much smaller open palm down on his much larger, much hairier chest.

SMACK!

This time everybody hears it, even the guys standing out in the doorway of the hotel room, the real cheap seats.

He nods his head, and wipes his hand across his chest. He smiles, but this time I can tell it’s because he felt that one.

At this point I’ve already lost count of the chops we’ve exchanged. I had started out early attempting Flair-style, backhanded chops, but quickly learned those don’t inflict anywhere near the pain inflicted by the Chief Jay Strongbow-style downward chops. I quickly changed by strategy and was only now feeling like I was catching up.

But that point, I knew there was no chance for me to win. All I could do was draw it out. I played to the crowd. If I was to lose, I’d lose in an entertaining manner, at the very least.

He steps forward, after even a little clap to show me he appreciates what I’m delivering. He’s a good sport. And then he brings up his hand again.

SMACK!

That’s it. I roll around, bang my fists on the floor, try to bring up the strength to keep going after so many hits. Finally, I get back up, I pull the mask off, and I hold up his hand. He is the victor. We hug.

Moments later I would realize that my chest is starting to bleed a little.

But I did it. I went the distance.

 …………

One of these two anecdotes is mostly true. The other is pretty much a lie with some truth thrown in. It should be pretty obvious which is which.

I am a liar. As a writer, it’s my job to tell small lies (or big lies) to uncover some kind of truth. All of fiction is lies, for sure, but even in the anti-genre of “nonfiction,” there’s some lying going on.

It’s what got me into Hunter Thompson when I was younger, and why I keep going back to his work. Few writers have been so brutally honest while feeding you bullshit.

The real Frank Dux, who claims to have been champion of the real Kumite, is probably a liar, too. For more than thirty years, from the first time he started telling martial arts magazines in 1980 about the fabled secret fighting tournament he dominated, people have questioned his claims, and it’s easy to question them because of the severe lack of corroborating evidence.

Just because he can’t prove it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but it’s still a pretty wild tale to take in.

Like any good liar, Dux has conceded that many elements of the film Bloodsport are fabricated. This makes him more trustworthy in some way as a storyteller.

I don’t really doubt that Dux took part in an underground fighting ring. That’s pretty believable. And hell, I totally believe that he actually broke bulletproof glass with his bare hands, because that’s totally fucking awesome.

In the end, I’m not sure how much of what Dux says about his adventures in Kumiteing is true, and I’m not sure I care a whole lot.

What I do care about is that, as far as Bloodsport is concerned, it’s one of my all-time favorite Van Damme flicks.

What’s not to love? The film is just one massive wedge of cheese stacked on top of another, piled high like one of those ridiculous sandwiches Shaggy and Scooby are always making while Fred is copping a feel on Daphne and Velma is losing her glasses.

CHEESE ON CHEESE ON CHEESE

From the tiny kid declaring out loud, after a run-in with bullies, that he will one day fight in the Kumite; to the delightfully 80s-haired female reporter love interest (seriously, what newspaper is sending their reporters to Hong Kong on mere rumors of deadly underground fighting tourneys in Kowloon Walled City?); to the sleazy Hong Kong guide with the big glasses; to the maniacally evil Bolo Yeung and his ridiculous dubbed-over voice; to the completely useless federal agents (OH HAI FOREST WHITAKER); to the slightly homoerotic stares between Van Damme and his karate master (and that softcore porn music!); to the Stan Bush soundtrack (THAT’S RIGHT, STAN FUCKING BUSH); to the total dude bro love between Dux and Jackson, this movie starts with pure Velveeta and just never quits. You could make a dump truck full of nachos with this flick. AND I WILL EAT IT. I WILL EAT THAT DUMP TRUCK FULL OF NACHOS.

For just one moment, I can buy Van Damme being good at a video game. For just one moment, I can believe that the kid playing young Dux is the same person despite the fact that he looks absolutely nothing like JCVD. For just one, tiny moment I can believe that the ultimate wrestling heel move (SALT TO THE EYES) would be allowed in a real fight.

As far as spirit animals go, you could do far worse than Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb in the role of a lifetime). You might recognize him from Revenge of the Nerds (aka Sexual Harassment, Assault and Rape are OK: The Movie), but here he comes into his own as the ultimate party fighter.

“I love anything full contact. I need a few more scars on my face.”

Classic Jackson. You keep fucking that chicken, dude.

But you know why else this movie rules? Since it’s one half of the double-fisted breakout of Jean Claude Van Damme as a martial arts movie star, it’s got plenty of kicks. And punches. And throws.

To make those kicks even better, each hit is accompanied by some of the most ridiculously over-the-top facial expressions in film history (second only to No Holds Barred).

If anything, I want every single part of this movie to be true. Every. Single. Part. Especially the part where Forest Whitaker accidentally tases Hong Kong police. How many roundhouse kicks are in Lee Daniels’ The Butler? ZERO. THERE ARE ZERO KICKS OF ANY KIND.

wpid-1376540925873.jpg[The following is the second in a series of writings about the filmography of Jean Claude Van Damme.]

I swear that I’m not a masochist. I have known people who claimed I was, for various reasons, but I maintain to this day that this is not the case. However, what I am about to admit to you will not help my argument.

I have seen Albert Pyun’s Cyborg at least six times (possibly seven). I am not exactly proud of this.

Perhaps being able to sit through Cyborg is the film-watching equivalent to the milk challenge (GUYS NIGHT!). Can you finish the movie without puking? Better yet, can you make it through the entire movie without wanting to commit suicide? Can you do it multiple times? I have, and yet I don’t know how! (okay, maybe at least one of those times I might have been drunk…)

Cyborg is unwatchably bad. Cyborg is not a movie that is so bad it’s good. I can’t decide if it’s a movie that should be preserved to show people how not to make movies, or if we should have every copy of it in existence placed in a missile and launched into the sun. If nothing else (and definitely taking his entire filmography into account), Albert Pyun should most definitely be sentenced to eternity in the Phantom Zone.

Cyborg was made over the course of mere weeks, cobbled together from half-finished costumes and sets for two other movies (an aborted sequel to Cannon’s Masters of the Universe adaptation and a proposed film based on Spider-Man, reportedly, and while I’m certain those movies would have ended up better than what we got in Cyborg, I doubt they’d be that much better) with a budget of about $12, because Cannon Films was about to implode, with a script that’s barely there. Van Damme himself stars in the film because, at this point in his career, he was still new and pretty cheap to cast as a lead. This movie has as much production value as a backyard wrestling video. And it shows. I have seen video tapes recorded by 8-year-olds that make more sense than Cyborg. I could probably strap my old Sony Handicam onto the back of my pug with duct tape, let him wander around aimlessly for about an hour and a half, and come back with a more coherent film.

So why do I keep going back to Cyborg? It is not out of a desire to inflict harm upon myself, by any means. No, I go back to this movie in the vain hope that I will somehow begin to make sense of what is occurring on screen. This is a movie that is so nonsensical that you manage to convince yourself that their must be some hidden meaning, some secret locked away in it that you can somehow uncover after another viewing. And if you’re like me, you’ll continue these fruitless endeavors until one day you realize you’ve wasted hours of your life not just watching Cyborg, but thinking about Cyborg.

The sad reality is that this is a movie where you will learn more from reading the Wikipedia synopsis for it than you ever will from actually watching the thing. If it weren’t for the wiki page on Cyborg, I’d probably still be wondering what the plot of the movie was, and to be honest, I’m still kind of unclear. I wouldn’t even have caught on to the whole “everybody is named for a guitar” thing if it weren’t for the Internet, partially because the dialogue is so sparse, and partially because half the people who talk in it barely speak coherent English. Did all the actors get root canals the day before shooting?

You know what I do know? Characters go places. There’s a lot of running.

A good friend of mine described it (if I remember correctly) as a series of fight scenes created by a kid smashing his collection of action figures into each other, just throwing more random, nameless bad dudes at a dazed Jean Claude Van Damme (please note that this movie is so awful, it really does appear like Van Damme is suffering through it with you; he feels your pain, and he’s as exhausted by all of it as you are).

I like the analogy, because it really does speak directly to the seeming randomness of the entire film.

However, for me, it’s more like a generic arcade fighter in the vein of Double Dragon, Final Fight, or Streets of Rage, where your characters just keep going and going and going, with endless generic dudes that kind of all look alike coming at you. You begin to wonder why you’re still playing it, long after it’s lost its novelty, until it just ends when you kill the final boss. But you know what? Even Bad Dudes is better than this.

And when it ends, it just ends. Who won? What did they win? I don’t really know! I have watched this movie six (possibly seven) times, and I still don’t fucking know for sure.

There are sex scenes that are so incredibly stilted and awkward, they could very well work as cutscenes in an 8-bit or even 16-bit video game (especially with the bizarre midi soundtrack going on in the background). You’re left wondering if anybody involved in the writing of the sex scenes, the directing of the sex scenes, or even the actors acting in the sex scenes have ever actually engaged in sexual intercourse in their entire lives. I wonder if this is what it was like the first time Kirk Cameron had sex.

A year from now, I’ll probably watch Cyborg again, hoping something will finally click for me, even though I know it won’t. And you know what? That’s still probably not going to stop me.

My only hope is to take my DVD of it and chuck it into the ocean. But then, some poor fool in another part of the world will find it and think, “Jean Claude Van Damme? I better watch this!” And the curse will live again.

I guess at least it has some hilariously bad wigs in it.

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[The following is the first in a series of writings about the filmography of Jean Claude Van Damme. This block of intro text does not count as part of the aforementioned 795 words about Sudden Death, in case you were wondering.]

For my first written foray into Van Dammage , I’ve inexplicably chosen a Van Damme movie that isn’t my favorite. I surprise even myself by not going with Street Fighter: The Movie or TimeCop or Bloodsport. But here we are, looking at a movie about Van Damme fighting terrorist dudes at a hockey game.

Sudden Death is not the best Van Damme movie by any means, and as far as Die Hard movies go, it’s not as good as any of the first three Die Hards, but it is certainly one of many Die Hard knockoffs that I still enjoy far more than latter-day films that bear the actual Die Hard title (another good Die Hard knockoff being Cliffhanger).

Some people like to point to Seagal’s Under Siege as a good Die Hard clone, but Under Siege suffers the major problem that the hero isn’t actually an everyman. Instead, he’s a superman disguised as an everyman, thus ruining the Die Hard Formula.

Aside from all of this talk of Die Hard movies, Sudden Death has a lot of really awful things going on in it, but they’re awful things that I love. I love that for some reason we managed to elect a vice president who likes hockey. I love that terrorists actually think anybody cares if they take the vice president hostage (I mean, I love Joe Biden because he’s the coolest VP in history, but if he got kidnapped, The Daily Show‘s jokes would write themselves for weeks). I love that the head secret service dude inexplicably and illogically turns out to work for the bad guys partway through the movie (it really doesn’t make any sense on any conceivable level). I love that Powers Boothe is in it, because Powers Boothe is awesome in everything, and he’s especially awesome in this (better than the fan favorite Tommy Lee Jones in Under Siege, and you’re reading the words of a man who loves him some Tommy Lee Jones).

Most importantly, I love that I get to watch an entire fight scene where Jean Claude Van Damme beats the shit out of a costumed mascot who’s trying to kill him. There is something artful about it, something that really speaks to my soul on a level that only the greatest fight scenes in action film history tend to do. And it’s hilarious. I now demand more movies featuring Jean Claude Van Damme fighting costumed mascots. Van Damme versus the Suns Gorilla. Van Damme versus The Philly Phanatic. Van Damme versus that hideous Cornhusker guy with the ridiculous chin.

Sadly, here’s the real problem with the movie as a JCVD vehicle: while it sticks to the hero being an everyman, it does so at the cost of kicks.

This is important, because the true quality of a Van Damme flick can be mathematically calculated by the number of awesome kicks the Muscles from Brussels delivers. TimeCop knows this. Even Street Fighter knows this. But Sudden Death doesn’t know this, and the film suffers on the Van Dammage Scale of Kickitude.

Van Damme isn’t very good as an everyman anyway, because he lives and dies by how well we buy him as the superkick superman. When you take away his kicks, what are you left with?

Now, let me be clear that I never went into this expecting Hard Target-level Kickitude. Hard Target set the bar for Van Damme kicks so high that all Van Damme vehicles to follow were destined to lose.

But Van Damme spends more time punching dudes and disarming bombs than he does kicking anybody, and the number one draw of Jean Claude Van Damme? EPIC KICKS THAT WILL KNOCK YOU INTO THE FUTURE (this was the original premise of the first draft of TimeCop‘s script, BTW, and I’m totally not making that up; it’s a fact).

Peter Hyams (yes, THAT Peter Hyams, who really fell so far after 2010 and Outland, movies that I genuinely enjoy on their own merits) attempts to make up for this kick deficit by giving us a few Jackie Chan-esque moments where Jean Claude uses random items to beat the shit out of dudes, including two (TWO) instances where he cooks bad guys’ body parts in the arena kitchen. Hockey sticks and ice skates also become weapons, naturally (in one of the few moments where he actually does kick somebody). As Joe Bob Briggs would put it, you got hockey stick fu, hole punch fu, deep fat fryer fu, griddle fu, ice skate fu, pen fu, water gun fu…

The creativity in Van Damme’s kills is what makes this at least a better-than-average Die Hard clone, and probably a slighty-better-than-average Van Damme flick. It is at least highly watchable, which you can’t say about Double Team.

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