Tom Jolliffe looks back at Jean-Claude Van Damme’s dual role films…
Who doesn’t love an action star? Oi, put your hands down now! Still, for us that do, we all have our favourites. Occasionally there were rivalries and camps. You could be an Arnold Schwarzenegger kid or a Sylvester Stallone kid. Maybe you were secretly both, but on the playground you had to pick a side. There was also the Jean-Claude Van Damme vs Steven Seagal rivalry too. I was the weird kid that liked Dolph Lundgren.
Each titan had certain trademarks and something that gave them a distinct calling card. Mr. Van Damme of course had the balletic kicks. Arnold had the most insane physique combined with quips. Stallone was ‘the actor’ and was shredded like a steel cable (and did the underdog thing well). Seagal had that gritty quality which made his action look the most like it might actually happen in a down and dirty bar room brawl. As fans we wanted bang for buck and Van Damme also had another angle…
Why have just one Van Damme per film, when you can have two?
In 1991, Vane Damme released Double Impact. He’d been known predominantly for high kicking fight to the finish tournament films at that point. Bloodsport, Kickboxer and Lionheart with a variation here and there, are the same film. Van Damme mixed things up a little with the Hong Kong-set Double Impact, and took on dual roles as Alex and Chad, twins separated at birth. One is raised in Paris, one in Hong Kong, yet they both end up with exactly the same accent. Go figure, but this is an early 90’s Van Damme film, when his modus operandi was making fun films (now there’s a leaning toward grizzled misery which often doesn’t have the nuance to work, though The Bouncer is a successful attempt).
Double Impact features a great selection of villains from the chief slimy villainy of Alan Scarfe and Philip Chan, to the brawn of Bolo Yeung and the frightening looking amazonian goddess, Cory Everson (a former Ms Olympia). Everything feels inspired by that period in John Woo’s catalogue, but more so it marks a good display of Van Damme’s graceful ass-kickery. He poses more than Naomi Campbell during Fashion Week, but it works. It was Van Damme’s biggest hit to date, leading him into a solid run that saw him make Universal Soldier and Timecop, cementing himself as a big studio name and well past his indie days.
In 1996, Van Damme was at the double again with Maximum Risk. Oddly the film didn’t seem to take off. Not with critics, not with the box office, nor particularly with his fans. It’s somewhat underrated, despite a meandering plotline, but the film opens on Van Damme being chased by a couple of rogue FBI agents through Nice. It’s a great foot/car chase, gritty, Friedkin-esque. The film was one of Van Damme’s collaborations with three of Hong Kong’s most iconic action directors. He’d already helped bring John Woo to Hollywood, he’d later bring Tsui Hark, and in this case it was the late Ringo Lam (more from Ringo later). The opening then ends with Van Damme dying. Disaster right? It’s okay, we’re not going to be left JC-less no, because this is two Van Damme’s for the price of one remember. He returns as a twin who then takes on his late brothers identity and tries to uncover who killed him.
The film is less atypically flashy than many of Van Damme’s earlier efforts. Gone are the slow motion helicopter kicks. The fight sequences are grittier, down, dirty. brutal. Maybe this is why it’s not one of his more popular efforts, even if, on a whole it’s one of his all round best. Okay, we don’t have any on-screen double Van Damme engagement, but having one JC die in the beginning was an interesting touch. Lam’s touch on the film is clear, and the action is great, whilst he pushes a little more range out of Van Damme than we’d previously seen. The film has great chases, but it’s the brutal fight scenes which really standout, particularly repeated brawls between Van Damme and the hulking mass Stefanos Miltsakakis which culminates in a savage elevator fight.
A few years later, when Van Damme’s career had dwindled into DTV land, he hooked up with Ringo Lam for a second time (and later a third and final time with In Hell) for Replicant. Here, we do have two Van Damme’s for the price of one in a sci-fi action film. The concept is quite interesting, even if the film needs a little more spectacle, but Van Damme plays a serial killer. The Feds clone said killer, hoping that the clone will be able to help track the elusive murderer. This sets up a mano-a-mano between two Van Damme’s. This came out around a similar period to the dual Arnie shenanigans (yes, Ahnuld got in on this too) of The 6th Day, but Van Damme’s is the better film. Lam once again gets something a bit more interesting from Van Damme, in a mid-life period where the actor was honing his craft a little more. All being said though, the film is largely elevated by the presence of Michael Rooker as a Detective tasked with watching the clone. Rooker is always stellar and he does some pretty impressive stunt work in the film too. Whilst it needed some more set pieces, the action in this is really well done. It may end up as a case of better concept than final delivery, but it’s still an interesting film in JC’s CV.
There have long been rumours of a Double Impact sequel. It remains one of his most popular among Van Damme fans, and even though the murmurs still persist, it would be unlikely as Van Damme approaches his 60th birthday. That being said, Double Impact 2 or not, have we seen the last of dual role Van Damme? What is your favourite of Van Damme’s dual role films? Let us know in the comments below or on our Twitter page @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville Academy (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), Tooth Fairy: The Root of Evil and the star studded action film, Renegades. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/