>I can’t help myself. I’m so excited about this film. Below is cut’n pasted from the ACMI newsletter that I’m subscribed to:
Who gives a Van Damme?
You will after witnessing the rebirth of the ‘Muscles from Brussels’
Jean-Claude Van Damme, aka “the Fred Astaire of karate” (according to Jean-Claude Van Damme) and “that guy who was in those martial arts action films in the 80s and 90s” (according to almost everyone else) is back with a vengeance. In Mabrouk El Mechri’s JCVD, screening in an exclusive Long Play season, the Karate King plays an ageing movie star called JCVD. He’s broke, he’s making crappy action shlock that’s destined to go straight to DVD (because Steven Seagal is getting all the decent parts) and he’s embroiled in a bitter custody battle for his daughter (his entire filmography is used against him as proof of his unsuitability as a parent). And when he innocently finds himself caught up in a post office robbery-cum-hostage crisis, the cops and the fascinated throng that wait outside all think that their once national hero has finally gone, well, postal. It sounds like a big farcical parody of Van Damme’s persona, and it is, but at the heart of the film is the conflict between Van Damme the knuckleheaded action star and Van Damme the man. JCVD is Van Damme’s doppelgänger – the actor’s real life has become fodder for gossip rags worldwide with his failed marriages, custody battles and drug and money problems. In El Mechri’s film, he’s a defeated yet sympathetic hulk of a man, one who is only too sadly aware of his lost potential. “It’s hard for people not to judge me”, he says. JCVD goes a long way to changing our own clouded judgements of the ‘Muscles from Brussels’.
My family has had a long-standing love of martial arts flicks in general. Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan were the biggies when I was growing up. Most of the first Jackie movies we saw were in Cantonese, with JC sporting his infamous bowl-cut hair and doing amazing kung fu training feats that involved pummelling pebbles into sand, or doing moves while balancing atop the lips of jars, etc. Our family finally owning the entire Bruce Lee oeuvre was a momentous occasion.
Jet Li joined our embrace of the genre much later on, and consistently there in the background with their B- and C-grade efforts were Steven Seagal (Glimmer Man, one of the best worst movies in the entire action/martial arts movie scene [see pic below]! And I know that’s a grand claim to make!), Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Chuck Norris (oh, and let’s not forget Sammo Hung).
Keenen Ivory Wayans envying
Steven Seagal’s sharp Oriental threads
[Glimmer Man, 1996]
[Photo from http://www.steven-seagal.net]
Even though the latter’s films are mostly awful, cardboard, and pain me on many levels, I still find it hard to pass up a chance to watch one of them (though Van Damme’s Replicant  did sorely test me…). I find it’s the same relationship I have with Christopher Lambert movies (Mortal Kombat, anyone?); often, it’s so bad, it’s gold!
I’m really excited about JCVD because I love it when actors self-parody and, let’s face it, Jean-Claude has a lot of material to work with. Who could forget Jean-Claude and Kylie Minogue in Street Fighter? The film’s premise looks like fun, and one hopes it can deliver.
What is also an amazing thing about Jean-Claude is that he’s still pumping out the movies after all these years and all those turkeys. He has two currently in the pipeline: The Eagle Path (post-production) and Universal Soldiers: The Next Generation (filming). You could never say that those Kickboxer fans are fickle or disloyal!