Van Dammage Report: Double Impact

Double Impact Van DammeNow this is more like it.

While Jean-Claude Van Damme’s earliest years on the silver screen feature a couple good entries (with Bloodsport remaining one of his best to this day), he still has more misses than hits. Those early films are also — with the exception of Cyborg‘s more garish and ridiculous qualities — pretty understated. They’re mostly straightforward martial-arts affairs with little in the way of action outside of fisticuffs.

That all begins to change with his 1991 film, Double Impact.

There’s a good bit of martial arts, certainly. This is a Van Damme movie, after all. But there’s a much bigger emphasis on guns and explosions this time than we’ve previously seen in any of his films. Thankfully, Van Damme takes such a mixture in fine fashion, even if there isn’t as much fisticuffs in Double Impact as I’d like.

Coming off the drab and disappointingly vanilla Death Warrant, though, Double Impact feels like a breath of fresh air. This has no glaring tonal inconsistencies and the action quotient is significantly higher. Oh, and it marks the first of several times that Van Damme would play his own double/twin/clone. I don’t know that there’s another action hero who has played a copy of himself more times than Van Damme, something that made me quite sad to discover that Sylvester Stallone didn’t write him into The Expendables 3 as Claude Vilain, twin brother of the previous film’s lead villain, Jean.

Here, he plays both Alex and Chad Wagner, twin brothers separated at birth after a corrupt British businessman and a Chinese Triad leader kills their parents in order to retain profitable control over a freshly constructed tunnel in mainland China. Alex was raised by French nuns in Hong Kong, while their father’s former body guard, Frank (Geoffrey Lewis), took Chad to Los Angeles. (But only after hiding out and raising the boy in France. Got to make sure there’s a reason both brothers sound European, you see.)

Alex became a low-level criminal, selling cigarettes and imported luxury cars on the black market, while Chad helped run “Uncle” Frank’s martial arts school. Frank, however, was always determined to make sure that the boys were reunited and became rightful heirs to the fortune their father would have left them. So when he finally tracks down Alex, Frank drags Chad to China in the hopes that he can find a way to set things right.

Apparently setting things right includes gunfights and kicks to the face. And sometimes those things are even aimed at the bad guys.

The action is serviceably presented. It’s nothing spectacular, even for the era, but there’s something to be said for the fact that it’s all shot and edited in a fairly straightforward manner and not chopped into oblivion or filmed with the horrible “shaky cam” aesthetic that has plagued modern action filmmaking. Van Damme reteams with his Lionheart director (and Bloodsport co-writer) Sheldon Lettich, a partnership that would extend for several more films. Lettich handles things decently enough, even if he tries a bit too hard to ape from John Woo. Though I can’t really blame him, as A Better Tomorrow II and The Killer had just showed up and blown people’s minds recently.

No, the real treat here is watching Van Damme play brothers with wildly different personalities. The film pre-dates the term “metrosexual” by about three or four years, but that’s about the only way to describe Chad. He shows up to Hong Kong wearing a sea-foam green Polo shirt and salmon-colored short shorts. He spends more time showing off his ability to do splits to the women in the aerobics class he teaches than anything else.

Alex, on the other hand, is a greaseball, cigar-chomping wannabe gangster who also has raging jealousy issues. In one of the film’s most unintentionally hilarious scenes, Alex drunkenly (and very vividly) dreams up a scenario where his girlfriend has sex with Chad, leading to a full-on brawl between the brothers later. He’s surly and prickly and has little desire to make any sort of connection with his brother.

These aren’t difficult roles by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s a sort of Jekyll and Hyde quality to the characters that makes them a lot of fun to watch and bounce off each other. Doing the whole “playing twins” can’t be easy, but Van Damme actually pulls it off in a very entertaining fashion, even getting in a pretty lengthy brawl with himself. My only complaint is that at no point do the brothers team up and do simultaneous split kicks on a bad guy.

Speaking of bad guys, the “main” villains are forgettable and wholly cliche, but we at least get an on-screen reunion between Van Damme and Bolo Yeung, last seen playing the villainous Chong Li in Bloodsport. Yeung once again plays a mute villain, and, despite being the one to shotgun down Alex and Chad’s dad in the prologue, his character, Moon, has little do. We do at least get a decent fight between he and Chad, though it pales in comparison to their throwdown in Bloodsport.

This is just a really fun flick. I don’t think it’d quite make my top five of Van Damme’s films, but it definitely marks a turning point in the man’s career as he transitions from an eager martial artist into a true international movie star. He shows more range in one film than some stars do in their entire career (*cough*stevenseagal*cough*) and it shows that he’s not afraid to be a little weird, a quality that will serve him quite well in later films.

Van Dammage Report Statistics for Double Impact:

Number of splits: 1

Number of split kicks: 3

Reason for being European: Chad was raised in France. Alex was raised by French nuns.

Best line: “You want some advice? Take your fancy clothes and your black silk underwear and go back to … Disneyland!”  — Alex to Chad and Frank upon their arrival in Hong Kong.

Next up: Van Damme’s first real blockbuster film, Universal Soldier.

Previously on the Van Dammage Report:
Death WarrantLionheartKickboxerCyborgBloodsport.