Today I’m gonna treat you to three movies starring none other than JCVD, oh yes Jean Claude Van Damme himself but just before his peak years at the beginning of the nineties.
Now let me give you a bit of a background to why I’m reviewing these movies and why they’re important.
Basically these and most of his other flicks from back then are the movies of my youth, living in a country fresh out from under the iron heel of communism, in the first years of that decade there were a lot of eighties movies doing the rounds thanks to increased access to VHS machines and tapes, hence why twenty years later I care enough to re-watch them and to review them.
I’m gonna focus on three of his lesser known movies spanning the period between 1986 and 1989, despite the fact that he became well known in ’88 thanks to “Bloodsport” and then got extremely popular and famous with “Kickboxer” – which arguably is an above average fighting movie – I’m not gonna review those since most moviegoers will have seen them.
Also since the focus is JCVD I won’t linger on the plots of the movies that much, or at all, since honestly they’re not that important, an opinion which I think was shared by their writers as well.
So let’s start in chronological order with “No Retreat, No Surrender” – 1986
All I can say about this flick is that I definitely remember it being way less suckier than it actually is. It’s really bad and as far as JCVD is concerned this was his first movie where he had the small part of the protagonist’s rival/enemy/whatever.
He plays the role of the villain’s bodyguard and all-around ass-kicker, a sleek Russian fighter by the name of Ivan Somethingorother.
The plot is crap – the ghost of Bruce Lee shows up so that says it all; the acting is bad, the characters are stereotyped up the ass – angry teen who learns discipline through martial arts, black break-dancing side-kick, fat guy, sleazy mob-guy, Russian fighter – and there’s one scene where you can see the boom-mic. It also has some of the crappiest fighting choreography I’ve ever seen, and one of the whiniest dojo owners in movie history – the protagonist’s dad who is a pacifist of the highest rank not even using his alleged karate skills to defend himself, although he sort of tries but only manages to get his ass kicked twice. And of course the movie has a montage.
The movie also features awesomely bad eighties fashion and hair. Unless you’ve already seen this one and like me you have a sort of nostalgia related to it, I wouldn’t suggest seeing it; as far as bad movies go I give it an 7.0 out of 10 on the shit-o-meter.
Black Eagle – 1988
This one is head and shoulders above “No Retreat, No Surrender” but seeing as how that one is rather high on the shit-o-meter scale that’s not saying much.
We get a better stitched together storyline but the characters are eighties stereotypes again and the story revolves around the Russians wanting to get their commie hands on some laser guidance thingie that was on a plane that crashed into the ocean somewhere near Malta bla-bla-bla.
Oh the eighties, when there were easy to see lines drawn on maps between the good and the bad.
JCVD has a bigger role in this one, he is still working for the bad guy and he’s a Russian yet again – I’m starting to see a pattern here – however, this time he is obviously stronger and better at roundhouse kicks than the protagonist and after two fights with him in which the protagonist flees, he’s killed by a deus ex machina propeller. I should mention that the protagonist is played by none other than Sho Kosugi, during the high-point of his career.
Besides that, the movie doesn’t make a lot of sense and it’s at times really boring and drawn out. Fighting choreography is less crappy than “No Retreat,..” but that still means it’s crappy, the usual “final battle” is crap as well.
I dunno if you should watch this one either, obviously you could, on the other hand you can definitely find better use for the hour and half it would occupy; there are scarcely worst things you could do with it, one of which I reviewed above.
Now we’re getting to real meat of the trifecta, “Cyborg” – 1989
A portrayal of post-apocalyptic destruction of society like never before… or since.
I really like post-apocalyptic scenarios, whether it’s nuclear holocaust – like the one we see in the Fallout universe – or it’s some other sort of cataclysmic event, or it’s zombies – big fan of zombies – the post-apocalyptic genre is one I thoroughly enjoy immersing myself into and Cyborg… well Cyborg kinda fails miserably at it.
If we’re to believe the narrator’s introduction, and yes the movie starts with a narration so that gives you the first clue as to what is in store, society first collapsed due to who knows which reasons and then came a plague of sorts to add insult to injury.
The Last Scientists ™ are working on a cure and send a cyborg to New York to bring them some data. Of course why they needed the cyborg in order to retrieve the data is never explained but fuck it, we’re here for the Van Damme ass kicking.
As opposed to the previous two flicks, in this one we get Van Damme as the mostly quiet hero of the story on a quest for revenge. He is a “slinger”, basically a guide/guard for people looking to get from here to there in this post-apocalyptic world where mullets and perms run rampant.
The villain of the movie is an all-around bad guy who goes by the name of Fender. Now this guy is what a villain should be, he has some wicked crazy eyes, probably a speech impediment and wears a shirt with shoulder pads and a chain-mail vest, oh and a pair of sunglasses… awesome stuff.
The movie’s writer must’ve had a stiffy for people sharpening their knives, their big-ass knives for that matter, because there are basically two scenes dedicated to the process, in one scene it’s Van Damme who sharpens his knife while flashbacking, and then there’s another scene, the over-the-top one, when practically all of Fender’s minions are having a knife-sharpening jamboree. I understand that based on what we see in the movie guns and probably bullets especially are hard to come-by but goddamn, those are some damn specific scenes.
As far as post-apocalyptic details go the only thing that they got right in this flick is the fact that the guns look really weird, and dare I say interesting, and that Van Damme’s secret weapon of sorts is a nail in his boot which he uses to great effect on some throats. On the other hand it loses a crap-load of points for the rest but oh well, what can you do?
The fighting choreography is somewhat better than the above reviewed flicks but not by much and the editing is quite choppy all throughout the movie; this is only compounded by the use of some really annoying flashback moments, which leads me to the movie’s “music”.
Shit this bad I haven’t heard in a long while, the movie basically has two scores: the present-time score and the flashback score, and they both suck. The present-day score is supposed to induce a sense of anxiety and maybe even suspense but all it does is annoy the fuck out of you, while the flashback score is just lame.
However, believe it or not the movie is not all bad, in my opinion there are exactly two scenes that are worth the time: there’s an awesome scene in the sewers where our hero pulls of one of the coolest kills in movie history in my opinion; in which he’s positioned in a suspended split above his enemy and his enemy realizes it only when he’s about to get shish-kebobed. I can’t make this scene justice so here it is:
And then there’s the other scene where Van Damme is crucified, yes crucified, on the mast of a run aground ship only to free himself due to some rather shoddy physics, but a great scene nonetheless.
So yeah, the movie isn’t all bad, it’s mostly bad, but has enough amount of decent in it to allow a hardcore Van Damme fan to watch it… as opposed to Legionnaire which is just bad all around.
That concludes my JCVD trifecta, I hope you enjoyed reading it and if it made you watch any of these movies don’t say I didn’t warn you. Sometime soon I’ll actually review “JCVD” which is an extremely good movie, but till then stay tuned for other reviews and all around nonsense.