Though the city of Brussels may be known to the world as the capital of Belgium, to worshippers of cheesy ’80s action flicks (also called ‘classics’), it is the birthplace of their God, Jean-Claude Van Damme (Steven Seagal was recently usurped from that position).
‘The Muscles from Brussels’, who, by his sheer screen presence, almost elevated B-grade martial arts films into art (keyword: almost), fell into a rut because, well, how many times could he make the world ‘aware’ about his prowess? Unfortunately, Van-Damme stayed in that rut for over a decade, churning out straight-to-DVD disasters with names like ‘Wake Of Death’, ‘Until Death’ and ‘In Hell’. Yes, Mithun Chakraborty in ’90s = Van Damme in ’00s.
But in a comeback that has potential to become the stuff of Hollywood legend, Van Damme returned to mainstream films for the first time in 9 years, with a film that garnered him critical acclaim for the first time in his career – with Time Magazine stating that Van Damme deserves ‘not a black belt, but an Oscar’ for his performance.
The credit for this goes to, French director Mabrouk El Mechri, who thought Van Damme had more potential than being just a clown in his movies (True story). So El Mechri wrote a part-biopic, part-fiction screenplay that gave a dark, comedic twist to the actor’s real life story. In JCVD, Van Damme plays himself, an out-of-work and out-of-luck actor, who’s going through the worst phase of his life – no money, no films, and a custody battle for his child that he’s likely to lose (all of which was true at the time of shooting).
But his life turns around when, on a trip to his hometown, Brussels, he finds himself unwittingly caught in the middle of a bank heist. And though he’s hostage to a fanboy gang that can’t believe it has a ‘national hero’ as prisoner, the world outside is led to believe that HE’s the perpetrator of the crime. What happens next is an often funny, sometimes heart-warming story of how Brussels’ biggest film icon falls from grace and then, rises up again, within the span of the movie.
Watch the black comedy for its bizarre take on Van Damme’s own life, or for the 6-minute, one-take monologue where the actor says things no actor would say about himself on camera – and mean it.
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Valerie Bodson, Herve Sogne
Written By: Mabrouk El Mechri, Christophe Turpin and Frédéric Benudis
Directed By: Mabrouk El Mechri
Note: This recommendation first appeared in MTV Noise Factory, March 2011 issue
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