You wake up in a bath tub full of ice in a hotel in the Philippines and discover that one of your kidneys has been stolen – what do you do? If you’re anything like Jean-Claude Van Damme, you hunt down the malevolent creeps who performed an impromptu surgery on you and beat their faces in with a Bible just for not using any anaesthesia, to say nothing of the fact that there’s someone you plan to donate your kidney to! In their third collaboration together, Jean-Claude Van Damme and director Ernie Barbarash team-up with action director John Salvitti and the late Darren Shahlavi and deliver the action movie goods with “Pound of Flesh”.
Jean-Claude Van Damme leads the film in the role of former special agent Deacon Lyle, who finds himself in a race against the clock to recover his stolen kidney, although not to save his own life. Van Damme is limber and intense as ever in the film, and is aided by John Ralston in the role of Deacon’s estranged brother George, with whom he had a bitter falling out years earlier but who must now put aside his differences with Deacon for the sake of his ailing daughter Isabella, played by Adele Baughan. Newcomer Charlotte Peters portrays Ana, who helps facilitate the theft of Deacon’s kidney but who ultimately becomes his ally, while Aki Aleong portrays Deacon’s associate Kung. Rounding out the cast is Darren Shahlavi in the role of the merciless organ trafficker Drake, and he once again makes a potent villain for our hero to overcome.
Former black ops agent Deacon Lyle awakens in his hotel in the Philippines to discover a horrible scar on his back and quickly learns that one of his kidneys has been stolen. The theft of his organ couldn’t have come at a worse time, as Deacon had flown into the Philippines specifically to donate his kidney to his dying niece Isabella. With the clock ticking, Deacon immediately sets about tracking down his stolen organ before it’s sold on the black market, but his quest ultimately calls upon him to team up with his brother George. Though they haven’t been on speaking terms in years, Deacon and George are forced to set aside their differences long enough to retrieve the stolen kidney before it’s too late.
The premise of Pound of Flesh sounds like something out of a “Crank” sequel, and this is indeed a very fast-paced film that gets moving almost from the moment Deacon dramatically discovers the scar on his back; Jean-Claude acts this part brilliantly with great terror and conviction.
The first major action scene actually occurs in a flashback to the night before, where Deacon saves Ana from the clutches of Drake in an alleyway, which leads to a one-night stand to ultimately landing him in his awful predicament in the first place. It’s the first of two match-ups in the film between Van Damme and Darren Shahlavi, with this one primarily being a kick-oriented duel, a welcome choice given the splendid kicking skills of both men, along with a pro-wrestling influenced manoeuvre making its way into the bout.
Action director and frequent Donnie Yen collaborator John Salvitti gives an MMA-flavour to the film’s fight choreography, and seamlessly interweaves kicking, punching, and grappling manoeuvres into one another. Van Damme handles the grappling techniques he’s tasked with executing like a pro, and stills works in plenty of the powerful kicking skills that he’s renown for. However, possibly the most memorable moment in the film comes during a bar brawl, in which Deacon gives new meaning to the term “Holy War” by using a Bible as a melee weapon (bet somewhere in Eastern Europe, Boyka is cursing like a sailor wishing that he’d thought of that first)!
Running the Bible-fu smackdown a close second for memorable moments is another of Deacon’s confrontations with his organ snatchers, one of them played by Mike Leeder, and which leads to what can only be described as the Second Most Epic of Splits. Sure, it was all over the trailers and marketing leading up the release of the film, but it’s far too great of a money shot to even care -seeing it in context really gives it the impact in a way that teasing it in the trailers never could. Following his initial rise to fame, its become almost obligatory for Van Damme to find creative ways to show off his flexibility in any film he was in (the “Timecop” split between between kitchen counters is still amazing twenty one years later), and it feels almost nostalgic seeing him put it to use here. The split is immediately followed by an exhilarating chase sequence through the streets of the city, before the film takes a bit of a breather prior to the finale to give Deacon and George a chance to clear the air on a few thorny issues.
The animosity-based chemistry, if there is such a thing, between Van Damme and Ralston is handled well and both men turn in solid dramatic performances between action scenes. Deacon is embittered and cynical, while George has taken solace in his Catholic faith following his wife’s death and his daughter’s deteriorating health. However, circumstances have forced them back together, and their reunion is interrupted once again by the finale, in which Deacon finally locates the thief of his kidney and mows down just about all of his henchmen to once again face Drake at the top. While Van Damme and Darren’s first meeting was primarily a kick-based affair, their rematch moves more into grappling, and also orients them in such a way as to have them kicking at one another in a grounded position, testimony to the versatility they both command. This is also where the film pulls the rug right out from under the viewer and reveals the true motives of Drake’s employer – not the mercenary acts of a ruthless crime lord that Deacon and George had thought, but something that each of them instantly understands -now after getting this far, can they advance or are they forced to rethink and retreat?
“Pound of Flesh” is worth checking out just for the Second Most Epic of Splits and the Bible-fu bar battle alone. John Salvitti’s MMA-influenced action is potent and thrilling, and of course, Darren Shahlavi’s penultimate action film appearance is gratifying with all the fanatical zeal he always brought to playing villains. And, amid all of this, there’s a genuine emotional tug-of-war in the story of two brothers who turned their backs on each other forced to reunite and save someone they love.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme and Aki Aleong previously appeared together in 1996’s “The Quest”, which was also Van Damme’s directorial debut.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme and Darren Shahlavi will also be seen together later this year in “Kickboxer: Vengeace”, a remake of Van Damme’s 1989 film “Kickboxer”. This is also Darren’s final film before his untimely death on January 14th, 2015.
- Director Ernie Barbarash previously directed Jean-Claude Van Damme in the films “Assassination Games”, alongside Scott Adkins, and “Six Bullets”.