The first thing that came to mind the moment I found out I was doing the retro on this movie was the original voice over on the trailer; the wording of which I remember to this day and I give you my word, I did not have to look up.
Imagine the typical gravelly American action movie trailer voice:
“Double the Van Damme…”
“Double the Van Dammage!”
Whoever thought that one up was a bloody genius and it has stayed permanently welded to the instant recall bit of my brain for the last twenty years even though I have never owned the movie on VHS or DVD until buying it for the purpose of this retro. Kudos then to the king of cheesy tag lines for that one.
It’s hard to remember a time when ‘the new Van Damme movie’ was something to talk about with friends, and be excited about seeing. Throughout the 90’s I somehow missed his gradual slip from this hallowed and lofty pedestal; only really realising it when I became aware of the reinvigorated buzz about the JCVD movie a couple of years ago. Anyway, allow me to back up a sec:
I discovered the muscles from Brussels with the movie Bloodsport (not realising I had already seen him as Ivan the Russian in No Retreat, No Surrender). Bloodsport brought him squarely into my line of sight and Kickboxer even more so. Van Damme was amazing. No-one at that time brought the combination of skills and attributes he had in abundance. He was an almost perfect package.
Around this time my cousin was working at our local video rental shop which meant we often got the jump on pre-release titles ahead of the average punter. These ‘big box’ vids were often time-coded which was slightly annoying but we didn’t mind because we got to see the movies so early. I actually don’t recall if back then, Van Damme’s movies always got a UK cinema release or not. I guess they must have but for me the “muscles from Brussels” has always been a video star, rather than a big screen icon. Perhaps that is overly subjective on my part but there it is.
Double Impact came to my young self as a high gloss exotic international action thriller with an FX trump card. Van Damme playing dual roles with the promise of really clever ‘2 hims’ visuals (I must have been so easily pleased back then!). For some reason I didn’t think much about budgets or A/B/C grade movies back then either. It was a much simpler time from my point of view; one in which a movie was judged much more by its own immediate merits than by more sophisticated (dare I say ‘elitist’) means. Director? Who cares? Budget? Who cares? Is it floating yer boat? Ok then enjoy! I just don’t remember making too much of a distinction between the big movies and the not so big. Seemingly more important at the time was that this movie was to feature not only retired female bodybuilder Cory Everson in her film debut, but also the legendary Bolo Yeung. Yeung had been effective as the bad guy in Bloodsport and still carried that priceless gravitas bestowed upon him so many years earlier in Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon. More about him later.
So Double Impact hit the screens in 1991, and looking at it again now it’s very hard to comprehend that this was the same year as Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Whereas T2 heralded the arrival of the 90’s and hasn’t really dated much in terms of style or look. Double Impact is definitely a continuation of pure 80’s action cinema into the new decade, and looks it every inch. Not a bad thing per se, but it does make the movie feel very ‘of its time’ or as mentioned above, perhaps ‘before it’s time’. That being said, I think its ranks highly in the genre.
Van Damme’s bankability had come a long way in a short space of time. Whereas movies like Bloodsport and Cyborg were made on shoestring chump change budgets only three years prior; Double Impact represented a substantial leap in production values with a budget over $15 million bucks fat. It’s difficult to say watching it now, if that budget is well represented on screen. I guess so. Certainly the Hong Kong location probably ate a lot of it. There are boats, helicopters and great aerial photography that is noticeably ‘not’ stock footage. I know it sounds dumb, as I just mentioned it was shot in Hong Kong, but Double Impact always ‘looks’ like it’s shot on location. Every scene seems confident in its own believability. There’s a depth and dimensional aspect to everything that you only get with intelligent use of real locations. In that respect production values are indeed high and the movie looks great.
Having said that, I really did not need a street scene establishing shot to show a large live frog being prepped for the cooking pot. Head cut off, then body sliced in two, and the bloody thing’s still moving and croaking ewwww!!!
Ok so you all know the premise. Honest US businessman in Hong Kong gets screwed over by unscrupulous business partner who’s in bed with the local triad lord. Businessman and wife get brutally ‘wacked’ one night, and they’re baby twins are saved but separated; one dropped off at a Hong Kong orphanage (Alex), and the other (Chad) taken back to the states (via France…), and raised by the family’s trusted bodyguard Frank. 25 years later, and after the most awkwardly unrealistic ‘your whole life’s been a lie, and by the way you have a twin brother’ exposition session from Frank to a quite ridiculously gay looking lycra clad Chad; they go to Hong Kong to track down Alex (who is now a tough criminal), with a view to teaming up and reclaiming their birthright from the still extant bad guys. Much fun and action then ensues.
To visually differentiate the two boys, Alex is presented as cigar chomping, slick back, leather jacket wearing sleaze-ball, while Chad looks like his grandmother dressed him for pastel golf tournament.
They don’t get on…
…but eventually they do
So back to the casting. Director Sheldon Lettich gets kudos for casting Geoffrey Lewis as Frank. Folks would have remembered him from movie hits like Every Which Way But Loose and the sequel. I knew him also from the David Soul miniseries Salem’s Lot. His presence here is golden because he brings so much natural high level acting chops to a cast that is (as is usually inevitable in this genre), somewhat thin on natural believability. The great Hong Kong actor/director Philip Chan also scores well as the villainous Triad head honcho. With Alan Scarfe playing the double-crossing business partner who is so obviously ‘eeevil’ that you do wonder how the boy’s father ever trusted him. Least successful of all is Alex’s love interest Danielle. So often a weak link, the ‘babe’ in question here is Alonna Shaw and it would seem she follows the genre archetype perfectly i.e. required to scream a lot when in danger, have big boobs (and gratuitously reveal them), no bra, and very limited acting talent. Oh well, I guess for the typical ‘action movie’ fan, the pneumatic boobs are probably all you need from Miss Shaw.
Already briefly mentioned is the wonderful Cory Everson, six-time Ms Olympia and one helluva gal. Everson’s debut was timed perfectly. She had been the top female bodybuilding banana for most of the 80’s, and retired undefeated. Everson turning up in the new Van Damme flick was an awesome bonus for anyone (like me) who knew of her already. Interestingly, the filmmakers decided to write a predatory lesbian component into her character. This was 1991 remember, so this was either incredibly progressive; incredibly insulting to lesbians….or both!
So back to our old friend Bolo. It seems to me that the venerable Mr Yeung thought about how best to present an effective performance in this; a non ‘Kumate’ type of movie. As a suited and booted henchman I think he ran the risk of coming across less effectively (thriller henchmen generally lacking the pure ‘flex’ appeal of the oiled up shirtless warrior type). Here we get the best of both worlds. Bolo steals practically every scene he’s in. Even a few where he’s furthest from the camera! His ticks and funny gestures add a lot of kooky dimensionality to his otherwise purely malevolent presence. It’s an interesting recipe to be sure.
Naturally, we do finally get the showdown between one of the Van Dammes and Yueng, and both guys (in a slightly contrived way) get shirtless and sweaty. The fight itself is one of those slightly silly ones where the obviously stronger Bolo, wastes time and energy picking up oil barrels to toss at our man, who most of the time can sort of side step out of the way. It’s a little naff. There’s very little of the immovable object meets unstoppable force dynamic employed so well between the two men in Bloodsport.
This in fact leads me to the one bugbear that still disappoints re-watching this movie, and that’s the fight choreography. Van Damme directed the fights himself and to be honest they’re never particularly thrilling, and don’t seem to showcase his amazing abilities anything like as effectively as Bloodsport let alone Kickboxer. I’m not sure I can put my finger on what it is that isn’t working for me, but it niggled all the way through the movie. Don’t get me wrong; Van Damme is an extraordinary talent, and being the ex-champion he is, he’s the real deal too. However for my money, some of the previous movies did the ‘Biff!’ ‘Pow!’ stuff better.
I guess we do have to bear in mind that this is an ‘action’ movie thriller not strictly speaking a martial arts movie, and definitely not a ‘Kumate’ sports movie. That accepted Double Impact remains a respectable (if by the numbers) action movie and just one real question remains….
How come Alex (the twin who was raised in Hong Kong) also has the ‘French’ accent that Chad has?
I mean, they even wrote a scene at the beginning of the movie where Frank takes the trouble to explain Chad’s accent, which is fine except that it plants the need for a similar scene later on with Alex that never comes.
Oh well, never mind it’s double the Van Dammage after all, just promise me I don’t have to watch that frog bit again ewwwww!!!!