One of the biggest stars to emerge from the 80’s DTV (Direct to Video) martial arts movie world is none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme. Although his appearance in his debut “No Retreat No Surrender” was somewhat brief (more on this later) his fast-action kickboxing style and charisma hadn’t been seen before and caught the attention of Hollywood whilst ushering in a new era of martial arts choreography and storytelling.
Van Damme essentially put kickboxing on the cinematic map thanks to films like “Kickboxer” and before long, big studios such as Universal, Columbia and Warner Brothers came calling. Van Damme became a star on both the big and the small screen and making perfect box splits and graceful, yet high-impact aerial helicopter kicks his trademark.
Thirty years on, his career defined illustrious working with big name directors such as Peter Hyams (“Timecop” “Sudden Death”), Simon West (“Expendables 2”) as well as Hong Kong directors John Woo, Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam. Often overlooked, Van Damme has shown plenty of versatility in his roles playing both hero and villain with equal aplomb and showing a knack for comedy, recently witnessed in the television pilot “Jean-Claude Van Johnson”. His appearance in the “Kickboxer” reboot shows that even after three decades, his martial arts skills are still pretty awesome, his star presence still packing a punch.
With such a vast body of quality films under his belt, the task of choosing ten of his best has proven to be a challenge, but we think we’ve got it down so without further ado, here’s a tribute to the ‘Muscles from Brussels’, our Top 10 Jean-Claude Van Damme Movie Fight Scenes! in descending order…
- “Hard Target” (1993) – Chance saves Nat
Action-packed best describes the Godfather of “Heroic Bloodshed” John Woo’s 1993 Hollywood debut, yet amongst the explosive action and trademark balletic gunplay aplenty we feel Chance Boudreaux coming to the rescue of naïve Natalie deserves the limelight. Both behind the camera and in the editing suite Woo capitalised on Van Damme’s martial and charismatic strengths as he enters with all the broodiness of a gunslinger from a western. He even pulls back his coat tail as to expose a gun in holster but reveals something far more deadly; his leg which explodes with one glorious kick after another dispensing with class and ease the local muggers in stylish slow mo.
- “Knock Off” (1998) – The Fruit Market Melee
Reunited with his “Double Team” director Tsui Hark, Van Damme once again shows his adaptability as an action star with yet another foray into the realm of lightning paced Hong Kong-style action, a style which also seems to suit the athletically capable Muscles from Brussels well. In this scene Van Damme gets to show off a frenetic energy and agility not often seen in his other projects blending a sense of improvisational urgency with some great comic timing. Hark throws everything at his star invoking a genuine sense of threat to the unstoppable Van Damme making this one of the most exhilarating fight scenes in the film.
- No Retreat, No Surrender” (1986) – Ivan vs Seattle Karate Club
The film that put Van Damme onto the path of his ascension as a martial arts movie star and though he shone briefly at the start, for the film’s in-ring showdown he completely dominated with his sheer energy, physical presence and larger-than-life charisma. Director Corey Yuen’s snappy kickboxing choreography gave Van Damme the opportunity to show off his martial manoeuvres and classic trademarks; fast punches that connect with alarming accuracy, helicopter kick, and of course those ‘pull out of nowhere anytime’ box splits. Thirty years on, this is still a fun and entertaining blast!
- “AWOL” aka “Lionheart” (1990) – Lyon vs Attila
After having faced-off against Bolo Yeung and Michel Qissi (who played ‘Tong Po’) in previous films, the casting agent for “AWOL” must have felt it was a thankless task to find a formidable “Goliath” to Van Damme’s “David” for the film’s finale. Yet find him they did in the shape of the hulking Abdel Qissi (older brother of Michel Qissi). Throughout the film Van Damme battles an assortment of formidable looking fighters but it is Qissi as the unstoppable ‘Attila’ who’s the biggest threat to the Muscles from Brussels. Rumours abound that choreographer Frank Dux insisted on real contact to add a gritty edge to this final fight which is stacked with visceral drama and blows to the body and face akin to a trip hammer assault.
- “Universal Soldier 2: The Return” (1999) – Deveraux vs S.E.T.H (Michael Jai White/Bill Goldberg)
As Matt Battaglia took on the role of veteran Unisol Luc Deveraux in two unrelated direct to video movies, Van Damme reprised his famous role to show how it should be done and brought with him a young Michael Jai White for the end fight. Peter Malota’s slick fight choreography truly capitalises on the best strengths of both fighters giving a genuine sense of an epic, titan-esque battle. White is given plenty of moments to shine and shows off loads of skill – his helicopter kick almost matching Van Damme’s. Yet the show belongs to the hero as he calls on all his ‘flex-abilities’ to win the day.
- “Bloodsport” (1988) – Frank vs Paco
This scene, featuring real life Muay Thai champion Paolo Tocha, sees the two men literally kick the sweat off one another to Paul Hertzog’s brilliant piece of disco-esque film score. The slow-mo continuous round kicks making realistic contact as Frank taunts Paco to hit harder packs plenty of energy and excitement into this very brief yet thrilling fight.
- “Universal Soldier 4: Day of Reckoning” (2012) – Deveraux vs John
Whatever you might think of the film as a whole it’s hard to argue with the quality of this final fight featuring two generations of moviedom’s biggest action stars. Van Damme’s villainous take on everyone’s favourite Unisol is chilling and it’s cool to see him play the bad guy again. Adkins mostly steals the show with some incredible aerial techniques and fierce determination yet Van Damme more than holds his own with no signs of slowing down, bringing to Deveraux a genuinely creepy edge.
- “In Hell” (2003) – Prison Yard Fight
From Stallone in “Lock Up” to Iko Uwais in “The Raid 2” the prison yard is the perfect sitting for a good old-fashioned knock down drag out rumble with some slick, sick fight choreography thrown in for good measure. Re-united with “Maximum Risk” director Ringo Lam, Van Damme finds himself stretched throughout as both actor and fight star and nowhere more so than in this final fight in which he is pitted against prison hard man Valya (Michael Bailey Smith). It’s not often we see Van Damme look so overmatched in every respect making this David and Goliath match up even more intense with suspense.
- “Bloodsport” (1988) – Frank vs Chong Li
For Van Damme’s first starring role what could be more a formidable match up than with the ‘Chinese Hercules’ himself; the quiet yet devastating villainous henchman from “Enter the Dragon”, Bolo Yeung! Whilst the film is no doubt entertaining with great kumite action, we also relish it for the major showdown between rising star Van Damme and Bolo playing ‘Chong Li’ and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The hits come hard and fast with Bolo hamming up the villainy before delivering devastating blows whilst our hero strives to hold him at bay fighting for the honour of both his injured friend (Jackson) and his Shidoshi all to Paul Hertzog’s dramatic synth musical score.
And in at #1 is…
- “Kickboxer” (1989) – Kurt vs Tong Po
A moment that perhaps has never been equalled in almost thirty years not even by its remake. This climactic fight build up, sense of suspense and injustice within the story so far culminates here emotionally sweeping you up along the way. Van Damme as avenging sibling Kurt Sloane, fights against the odds and the sneeringly vicious Tong Po with a convincing performance by Michel Qissi. At first, we share Kurt’s helplessness through the first half, as he is beaten almost senseless round after round unable to fight back in fear that his paralysed brother will be killed. The gloves (or more precisely, ‘hands wrapped in hemp and resin, dipped in broken glass’) come off as the drama and excitement intensifies and we get to see Van Damme do what he does best to the chants of “Nuk Soo Kow”! Music wise, Paul Hertzog delivers the goods once again with the timeless, spine-tingling instrumental, The Eagle Lands.
So, there we have it folks,10 of the best Jean-Claude Van Damme movie fights!
Which JCVD fight do you like the most? Let us know and stay tuned for more stunning, Top 10’s coming your way!