“The Quest” is the directorial debut of the martial-artist-turned-actor, Jean-Claude Van Damme.
It tells the story of Christopher Dubois, a man who due to unfortunate circumstances, finds himself thrust into the world of illegal underground ‘Muay-Thai’ fighting.
During his training, he learns of a fighting tournament called ‘Ghang-Gheng’ which takes place in the fabled ‘Lost City’. The prize is a statue of a dragon made out of solid gold. With the help of some new found allies, Christopher embarks on a quest to find and steal the golden dragon to fund his family back home.
As expected by a film lead by Jean-Claude Van Damme, the acting is not the high point, it was functional enough for the film though. Having a small cast of major characters and not all that much character backstory or development, you could see the actors were at least trying.
Roger Moore plays Lord Hobbs, a highlight of this film’s cast. His charming demeanour and random intervals of comic relief helped to deter from the fact that he was actually selfish, although his character does flesh out over the course of the film. Carrie Newton is played by Janet Gunn and was mostly there to function as a pretty face and provide somewhat of a romantic interest for the lead Van Damme character.
The film’s main antagonist Khan is played by Abdel Qissi, who provides for basic (yet strangely effective) foundations of a villain. With a grand total of zero lines of dialogue he’s there to simply be huge, menacing and look tough, providing Van Damme’s character with possibly the most difficult physical challenge that he’d undertaken up until this point.
Christopher Dubois (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is a man on a hero’s journey. Orphaned after the death of his mother, he finds himself the leader of an orphan boy group. Like a modern day muscle-clad version of Robin Hood, he steals from the criminally rich to feed himself and his gang.
After a series of unfortunate events, Chris is forced to flee from the police and accidentally finds himself as a slave for a pirate group. Upon being saved by the charming thief Hobbs, (Roger Moore) he is unwittingly sold to a group of Muay Thai fighters, where he learns the art of proper combat. After hearing about the ‘Ghang-Gheng’ tournament carrying the coveted prize of a golden dragon statue, Chris and his new found allies devise a plan to locate and steal the statue to obtain wealth and prosperity.
The action is the glue which holds this film together, the sequences are prevalent at the beginning of the film and the use of narrative helps to bind it, whilst at the same time, guiding you towards the next action set piece.
The fights that take place at the beginning of the film are mostly Van Damme taking on groups of people without any specific martial arts background, notwithstanding the few scuffles with Muay-Thai fighters, but these scenes don’t last very long. The second act of the film drags on a little and we don’t get to see much action or fighting for a while, whilst we’re transported from Bangkok to “The Lost City”, focusing more on story than action.
When we hit the third act, slightly beyond the halfway mark, is where the action takes centre stage. The Ghang-Gheng is a tournament where individuals from countries all over the world fight against one another, this opens up some very interesting fight scenes. We get to see different combat styles compete with each other in some well-choreographed scenes.
The film doesn’t do much to go against stereotypes with: The Spanish representative being a Matador-esque fighter; The Japanese representative being a Sumo wrestler; The Brazilian using a Capoeira style and finally, (my personal favourite), the ginger Scotsman, wearing a kilt and using a bar-room brawl style of fighting mixed in with a random Chuck Norris styled roundhouse kick for good measure. The film plays on this sometimes, obviously to add humour.
Almost the entire last half of this film is comprised of fights and although some are pretty basic and finish quickly, they’re still pretty enjoyable. For example, seeing the Chinese fighter using Monkey Kung Fu to take on the agile and energetic Capoeira fighter was entertaining.
With a clichéd script, a group of mostly martial arts’ actors and Van Damme behind and in front of the camera this was never going to be an Academy Award level film, nor was it trying to be. The film more than served its purpose as a classic, cheesy 90’s action film, with all the slow motion that could be desired! Although there were many plot-holes and it was incredibly coincidental, this film was actually surprisingly fun, by being a crazy action-adventure movie, whilst embarking on this irrational global journey with Chris Dubois. If you like the idea of seeing a melange of various fighting styles pitted against one another, and if you’re a Van Damme fan, then I would certainly recommend that you check ‘The Quest’ out.
- This is the first film that Jean-Claude Van Damme directed.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme originally asked Oliver Stone (Director of “Platoon” and “Natural Born Killers”) to direct, but Stone declined, leading Van Damme to direct the film himself.
- This wasn’t the first time Van Damme fought Abdel Qissi on screen, their first encounter was in the 1990 movie “A.W.O.L”.