I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Lionheart

LIONHEART is Van Damme circa 1991, and his best up to that point if you ask me, which by reading this you agree to do. As a matter of personal taste I think competitive fighting is one of the squarest action subgenres. You got less room for chase scenes and explosions, the rules and locales of the fights are too rigid. I mean nothing against a good pre-fight jitters locker room scene or a spooky ancient temple with torches and mystical snake statues, but I prefer a more urban style of action movie. One with crooks and creeps, alleys, fire escapes, car windshields.

LIONHEART is a smart compromise because it continues the competitive fighting of BLOODSPORT and KICKBOXER but in a cartoonish underground fighting circuit in New York and Los Angeles. This is another subgenre that gets old fast, usually because you get sick of looking at the same dimly lit arena with a fence or barbwire, maybe a strobelight. This one avoids that pitfall by having a new location and crowd for each fight: a circle of cars (with people rollerskating around), a swimming pool with all but the deep end drained (crowd in bikinis like it’s a pool party), inside somebody’s mansion (a black tie event) and (my favorite) a racquetball court. Brian Thompson is there but never fights. The real villain is Cynthia (could’ve sworn the credits just called her “The Lady,” but maybe I imagined that) the stereotypical L.A. rich bitch of the ’80s: short hair, expensive clothes, sexually and capitalistically aggressive.

LionheartThe story begins with brother Francois set on fire during a weird West Side Story style drug deal. He survives, but burnt to a crisp, and cries out for his brother Lyon (Belgian actor Jean-Claude Van Damme). Lyon doesn’t get word for weeks because he’s in Djibouti doing forced labor for the French Foreign Legion. He escapes, stows away on a boat, gets money fighting in a parking garage, goes with his new self-proclaimed manager to L.A. to find his brother. Of course he gets there right after Francois dies. The widow blames Lyon for Francois’s drug problem so she won’t accept any help from him. So he does more fights and gets the money he wins to her, pretending it’s from some non-existent life insurance policy.

Van Damme seems way grittier in this one, way less boyish and more intense. He has that forehead bump now but maybe I just missed it in the last one. He wears jeans and a blue work shirt for most of the movie, he’s literally blue collar. Then The Lady burns his clothes while he’s passed out drunk, so he’s forced to go suit shopping with her. (We can only assume he walked into the store wearing only a hotel bathrobe.)

He has many scary opponents. The last one is Attilla, a bushy-sideburned dude who gets out of a limo sporting a black suit and white cat (bad combo if you think about it). During the fight he reaches into the crowd to pet his cat. Also he borrows a dude’s pocket square to wipe blood off his mouth (you know what, just keep that). So he’s a pretty good character.

By the way, remember Tong Po, who was such a scary Muay Thai fighter in KICKBOXER? He’s actually Moroccan and was made up to look Asian in that one. Here he has a less menacing part as one of two guys from the French Foreign Legion trying to catch Van Damme.

This is a better character than the previous Van Dammes because he’s a fugitive, but he really took a fall for his brother, he’s homeless, and he’s only trying to get money to get his sister-in-law out of debt from hospital bills. (If we had universal health care LIONHEART would never happen.) The cool thing is he’s not even trying to get revenge! Just trying to make up for his failure to escape from custody and travel around the world fast enough to see his Darkman-looking brother one last time. He feels like he blew it so he wants to help the widow and daughter.

By the way if you’re wondering where the hell you’ve seen that niece before I’ll save you the trip to IMDb. Turns out she was the little sister they added in the later seasons of Growing Pains.

The director is Sheldon Lettich, co-writer of KICKBOXER. I think he did a great job on this one, which I never would’ve expected. One thing I noticed in particular was a wide shot of sister-in-law and niece coming out of their apartment and walking down the street. They move into the distance as the camera very slowly pulls back, showing you the neighborhood. Doesn’t seem like the shot has any other purpose than that… but then suddenly it hits the apartments on the other side of the street and looming in the foreground is one of the trackers from the French Foreign Legion, hanging out of the window, spying on them. It’s like a Brian De Palma shot! Remember that when shots used to be designed to look careful and deliberate instead of shaky and unplanned? Those were the good old days. But even then you didn’t expect a shot like this in a Van Damme movie. I’m about 17 years late here, but I’m gonna keep an eye on this Sheldon Lettich.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 7th, 2008 at 4:16 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

46 Responses to “Lionheart”

  1. This is my favorite Van Damme movie after JCVD and Bloodsport.

  2. I’m currently catching up on my JCVD and I think this might be his best (besides JCVD, which seems like it should fall into a different classification.) I’d actually seen it before but it’s a lot better than I remember it being. I prefer it to BLOODSPORT and KICKBOXER. I still have a few more to knock off the list, including DOUBLE TEAM, but this is a damn solid street fighting picture. Reminds me quite a bit of BLOOD AND BONE. And it helped to wash the taste of CYBORG out of my mouth.

  3. SPOILERS FOR A 21-YEAR OLD MOVIE:

    I’ve mentioned this to Vern in e-mail before when we didn’t have comments, but I just remembered it now for mention here, but the ending when you think about it is incredibly downbeat. Think about it. Leon only started street fighting to support his sister in law and niece, and when he’s told during the final fight that his manager bet all his money on the other guy, all he has to do is take a dive, but he doesn’t. The sudden realisation that he can secure his family’s future very easily by just staying down actually PISSES HIM OFF to the extent he gets his second wind and defeats his opponent, leaving them with nothing! Way to go, hero!

  4. Stu, good point. Considering the number of times I have watched LIONHEART I can’t believe I never picked up on that before. I guess you are right JCVD fucked his fam for the sake of his own wounded pride and his integrity. That definitely makes him less heroic, but it kind of makes him a more interesting character it that was an intentional choice in the script and not just poorly thought out writing.

  5. Charles and Stu – I always kinda thought that Van Damme assumed the guy was lying and would happily sacrifice the money to save his, JCVD’s, skin. It’s easily the most naive of JCVD’s characters – the way he wants to “save” Cynthia and refuses to recognise that she’s the one behind everything pretty much proves this – so it kinda seems like an assumption he’d naturally make.

    Very good movie by the way. Vern and I disagree a bit on “Bloodsport” and “Kickboxer” – Vern has said “Bloodsport” feels like an incomplete version of “Kickboxer”, I sorta think that he’s got it the wrong way around and “Bloodsport” is the superior movie. Not sure where this one ranks in terms of being better than “Bloodsport”, but it’s certainly better than “Kickboxer” for me.

  6. Paul, I agree with you about KICKBOXER and BLOODSPORT. Here is my top 5 Van Damme films from the “Van Damme is okay” thread.

    1. Bloodsport
    2. JCVD
    3. Universal Soldier Regeneration
    4. Lionheart
    5. Hard Target

  7. I am going to a screening of this film Sunday with Lettich in attendance for a Q&A. I am going to ask him about the ending.

  8. (SPOILERS) So I fell like a dummy, I have seen this movie more times then I can count but never noticed JCVD’s line of dialog near the end of the film where heading into the climatic fight Van Damme says he emptied his bank account to bet on himself. It is Johnathan who bets all his money against JCVD and puts it on Attila. That is why Johnathan tells him to not worry about the money and stay down during the fight when Van Damme is hurt, because even if Jean Claude lost all his money by throwing in the towel he would still have money from Johnathan’s bet to help his family.

  9. Like our anxious friend Sternshein, I too am looking forward to Vern’s re-review of my favourite Van Damme and my second favourite John Woo joint HARD TARGET. So in the meantime I caught up with this one and loved it. I don’t know why I was surprised, since Van Damme proved his acting chops in JCVD, but I thought he showed real depth in some of the more dramatic scenes, like when he confronts his brothers widow for the first time, or when he gets to the hospital too late and sheds tears(!) for his dead brother.

    His opponents were mostly hilarious, typical of late 80’s early 90’s street guys, the black gang-bangers who thought they ‘owned’ the public telephone, the pool-party-fight Fabio with black hair lookalike. Too bad Brian Thompson didn’t get to fight in his Patrick Bateman outfit. Oh, and the Scottish fighter in the kilt was random. Attila was a worthy last-fight opponent, truly intimidating, especially when Van Damme and his handlers are watching Attlia fight on TV and he picks up a guy by the ankles and Bone-Tomahawks him!

    The music score’s a bit mopey, in fact so is the tone of much of Van Damme’s character as he’s shuffling around the city (informing his later DTV stuff shot in Eastern Europe with a washed out lens. And there’s a trademark JCVD gratuitous naked butt scene – see also NOWHERE TO RUN among others), but the colorful fighters and good filmatism as Vern pointed out make for one of the better Silver period Van Dammers.

    P.S. Is anyone ever gonna write Van Dammage – A Study Of The Ass-Kicking, Leg-Splitting Films Of Jean Claude Van-Damme? Can someone please write that?

  10. Here is some fun JCVD news.

    Jean-Claude Van Damme gets his own Amazon series

    Having wrapped up work on yet another Kung Fu Panda movie, and run out of subtitles to slap onto the direct-to-DVD cases for Universal Soldier films, Jean-Claude Van Damme is making the move to TV. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Musculature From Brussculature has signed on for a new pilot

  11. What a condescending article. Sometimes I forget that we badass connussiers are actually a very small niche market and that, to the rest of the world, Van Damme is a washed up has-been. They have no idea that he’s made some of the best movies (and given all of the best performances) of his career in the past decade. But now they notice that he’s making a wacky self-referential streaming TV show and all of a sudden he’s trying to make a comeback.

  12. Were you expecting anything else from the AV Club?

    Anyway coincidentally I recently remembered a very weird episode of that James Caan show LAS VEGAS (Anybody remember that?), in which JCVD played himself and shot a movie in the hotel, where the series took place. But then during a stunt, where he was supposed to jump on a motorcycle from one rooftop to another, he fell and died and it later turned out to be a murder plot from the director. (David Rasche, not playing himself.) The episode ended with a memorial shrine for van Damme and some grieving fans putting down flowers for him, plus the disclaimer “No Jean-Claude Van Dammes were actually injured or killed during the filming of this episode”.

    That was actually one of the funnier uses of my least favourite joke “actor plays fictional version of himself”.

  13. “Were you expecting anything else from the AV Club?”

    ….OF COCK!

  14. Recently AV Club has been relying too heavily on snark for the sake of snark. Although this reminds me that I still have to see Pound of Flesh.

  15. Pretty much all of their current writers suck. I agree with them on practically nothing, and they lack the proper frame of reference to snark accurately and humanely. I pretty much only still go there because the commenters are the funniest and smartest there are (present company excluded).

  16. Yeah, it’s kind of unfortunate. I miss the days of Sean O’Neal and his conceptual and weird newswires. He actually put time into those things, and you could tell. Now it’s just lazy snark.

  17. CJ- That was the only episode of LAS VEGAS I ever saw. It didn’t inspire me to check out any others, although I have to admit I didn’t remember it going quite that far. At the time I was more excited to see Rasche; in retrospect there was a bit of a Raschenassence going on in the 00s. I do remember one of the characters told JCVD that TIMECOP 2 wasn’t as good as the first, which turned out to be some BURN HOLLYWOOD BURN type shit, as the writer of TIMECOP 2 was involved in LAS VEGAS in some capacity.

    I remember TIMECOP 2 being quite entertaining by the way. Vern never reviewed it, and I only have a vague memory of him referring to it negatively in some long-ago talkback, but I certainly remember it with more fondness than either of the BUTTERFLY EFFECT sequels, although I watched it during a phase when I was accepting a lot of stuff which in retrospect was really very bland. For that matter, it’s weird to think that TIMECOP was really the closest JCVD ever got to a true UNDER SEIGE-style crossover hit, but it’s like the sixth film anyone would mention in connection with Van Damme now.

    Incidentally, on a SLEDGE HAMMER tip, Harrison “Captain Trunk” Page’s performance as the trainer is a large part of what made LIONHEART stick out above BLOODSPORT and KICKBOXER for me.

  18. Ahh, SLEDGA HAMMER. I watched a few episodes recently and it is still pretty funny.

  19. I was definitely pleased at how well SLEDGE HAMMER holds up. I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid, when I got it’s spoof elements but very little of its satire. Did anybody see its creator’s recent one-season wonder BULLET TO THE FACE? It’s equal parts funny and excrutiating. The stuff it’s parodying (gothy stylized leather trench coat cool, grim and gritty Avid farty action, laboriously unlikely high concept thriller plots) feels about six or seven years too late, and I don’t know if it ever really figured out its tone, but there’s some ridiculous shit in there that’s worth watching for SLEDGE fans.

  20. Holy shit! @ all the random SLEDGE HAMMER! love.

    This is why I love you guys. This is my tribe. We all speaka the same-a language.

  21. Was TIMECOP 2 the one with Jason Scott Lee? Or am I remembering an entirely different DTV time travel movie with him from watching cinemax after 8 but before CINEMAX AFTER DARK back in the day?

  22. As for LIONHEART this movie will always hold a real special place in my heart for being the closest we will ever get to a non-Sonny Chiba but all Capcom STREET FIGHTER movie. As opposed to the one where JCVD played Guile (which also holds a special place in my heart).

    To this day I still randomly yell “LIIIIIIIOOOOONHHHEEEEEART!” whenever I see someone display JCVD like athletic prowess or when I find myself at a ballet. I also still really want to fight someone in an empty pool.

    Did anybody else’s 1990 schoolyard/lunch room convo consist of people trying to convince you that Attila was played by Andre the Giant. Or was that just me?

  23. Always liked Lionheart. Had a fun play on the typical American martial arts movie. Another Van Damme that no one really talks about that I’m fond of is Death Warrant, his (first) prison film. I also don’t think Replicant gets enough love, it’s been years since I’ve seen it but I remember really enjoying it and also lots of respect for it treating it’s ridiculous premise seriously. As Face/Off rip-offs/knock-offs go, I remember it being pretty good.

    I’ll admit I have never heard of Sledge Hammer, I’ll have to check it out based on you guy’s love for it.

    Speaking of movie news sites, what ones do you guys recommend? I drop a good bit of them in the last few months: AV Club because of the downgrade in quality, with Birth.Movies.Death got sick of the negativity, haven’t been to Ain’t It Cool in years (though, like many, that is where I first learned of Vern.

  24. Timecop 2 had Jason Scott Lee. I remember it not being terrible but also not being very good. Can’t remember much of it honestly.

  25. geoff: Check out this fuckin’ theme song.

    Sledge Hammer! - OFFICIAL CLIP - OPENING SEQUENCE

    For more information, visit http://www.watchimage.com/product/sledge-hammer-the-complete-series/92a6fc54-2297-4c0f-d8be-ea232826ce08 IF THIS IS LAW ENFORCEME...

  26. Pacman: LAS VEGAS was a kinda fun fluff show, that I really liked to watch when one Pay TV channel here showed the whole series in one go, with one episode per day in the afternoon, but in the end, the JCVD episode might be the only one, that I fully remember too.

    Everybody Else: Fuck yeah, SLEDGE HAMMER!

  27. “You will lose this foot race, let alone the arms race”

    “Don´t confuse me with your logic”

    SLEDGE HAMMER is great!

  28. Oh yeah, those quotes were not connected. Just a couple of funny lines I remember.

  29. Oh damn a Danny Elfman theme, back when he was really exciting! After watching that and some clips, I’m sold.

  30. Mr. Majestyk – I’m in the same boat as you, I don’t like any of the current AV Club writers, but I keep going because of the community in the comments.

    Looking back it’s incredible how many great writers there used to be on there.

  31. Has the AV Club ever been good? Every time I was reading, the uncalled snark and cynicism in their articles made wanna throw my computer out the window. For a while I only stuck around for their interviews like the RANDOM ROLES stuff, but I didn’t even read any of those since I guess 2013 or so. (Disclaimer: At least they aren’t blocked in my browser, to prevent me from accidentally clicking on links from them. I blocked for example CRACKED years ago, after the millionsth incident of: “Oh, that headline sounds really interesting. FUCK! It’s a lame joke article!”)

  32. They had better, more experienced writers back in the day who were old and secure enough to known their own minds, so if they were snarky, it was coming from a more genuine place, even when I rarely agreed with where they were coming from. The new generation is trying to replicate their snark and it comes off synthetic, like they’ve been told to write in the house style and they don’t quite have the hang of it yet. They also used to do more interesting long-form pieces that went in depth on interesting stuff. And Sean O’Neal was just a supremely talented conceptual wiseass. You can still read him at their sister site, Clickhole, but it’s all celebrity crap and not worth spending much time on.

    Random Roles is still great, though. Will Harris is of the old guard and he seems to have a real knack for getting people to open up about their careers.

  33. Majestyk: First up, started watching Sledge Hammer on Hulu, I do not know how I was living my life without this show in my life. Be proud, you made another convert.

    CJ: I just dropped Cracked last week. Last Friday there was another contrarian Adam Todd Brown article, this time asking us to like or respect Martin Shkreli! Mainly because he pissed off the Wu Tang Clan and Brown apparently doesn’t like them. Also last week a article explaining how actions movies cause real life shootings. Other than John Cheese’s life advice articles, I tend to dislike all their authors as all they wish to do is wag their finger at you or troll you with poorly thought-out contrarian viewpoints. It is at the point where I can not read them for a month and go back and find the five or so good articles.

    As stated I also feel AV Club has dropped in quality, I do not believe I held them in the same reverence as Griff and Majestyk. Like they said, the snark is still there but the quality writing is not. I don’t ask to agree with them all the time just have good points to back your views up (y’know good writing). That’s how I justified staying with Badass Digest/Birth.Movies.Death for so long before I decided to part ways. Other than here I do not read comments, in fact I even use a comment blocker and this is the only site white listed.

  34. CJ – back when they had writers like Keith Phipps, Noel Murray and Nathan Rabin as a regular contributor, absolutely, I would even go as far to say they were one of the best websites I’ve ever stumbled across.

    Cracked is also circling the drain for me, I’ve been visiting that site pretty much since it began in 2007 (since before that I was a follower of “David Wong’s” Pointless Waste of Time) but it’s taken a really condescending tone lately that is extremely annoying, on top of that “Wong” himself almost never contributes anymore.

    To be honest I kind of fucking hate the internet in general these days (save for here of course), the quality of content has gone way downhill on pretty much every website now.

  35. I know what you mean about the internet’s quality these days. A few months ago I abandoned HitFix, which morphed into a controversy inventing clickbait site, full of articles like “Here are the 15 worst hairstyles from independent movies starring sitcom stars of the 90s” or “The new Marvel trailer has a quick shot of a woman in a bikini standing in the background: Here are 15000 word about how sexist the movie most likely will be!” I’m close to give up on Slashfilm too, because they recently have some trouble to NOT come up with headlines that contain some cynical joke. (Like “Actor XY stars in new movie that we know nothing about, but it will most likely ruin your life”) At least Coming Soon is still snark free, although it’a admittedly also very dry and joyless. Oh well…

  36. Oh, and geoffrey: Glad you enjoy SLEDGE HAMMER!

  37. I used to like CRACKED, but between the condescending “stuff you’ve probably never heard of” articles, the stuff that could have been interesting but got mangled by the obligatory list format, anything being called “mind-blowing” or “baffling” all the time, and movie articles where you can tell that the guy hasn’t actually seen most of the movies he’s talking about and just bases his jokes on the Rotten Tomatoes consensus and/or the box office results to tell you that LONE RANGER or JOHN CARTER were such giant turds, I really got tired of them.

  38. It’s kind of funny that we can say something as vast as the internet “sucks these days,” but I’d be lying if I didn’t kind of feel the same way.

  39. Well I don’t really check any movie or pop culture sites either these days so I also get that line of thinking. Never really got into AV Club but they had a cool name, Hitfix never did anything for me same with Badass Digest and I stopped reading CRACKED about 5 years ago when they went further away from their modern NATIONAL LAMPOON and MAD wannabe roots to whatever the hell they are today.

  40. CJ Holden – that’s exactly what I’m talking about, every website these days tries to stir up controversy out of nothing and has a condescending, politically correct to absurd degrees tone.

  41. Broddie, the moment I unfollowed Cracked was the day they posted this complete bullshit article about the “realities” of getting a vasectomy. This guy’s problems were unlike anything anybody has ever gotten from getting one in 2015, including my own. It was when I realized that they’re full of shit and I’m going to go follow other people that are full of shit.

  42. It really is a shame because Cracked used to have a ton of interesting info about interesting things.

  43. Yeah… I also used to read CRACKED on a regular basis, then gave it up. It wasn’t a specific article that convinced me though, I just felt it wasn’t my “thing” any more. Looking at them now, I honestly think that the worst thing you can say about CRACKED is that they probably post a bunch of stuff that they shouldn’t. Some of their articles by some people (John Cheese come to mind) are really good. Some… aren’t.

    That said, this is the site that turned Vern’s Seagal piece from – and correct me if I’ve got this wrong – a good-humoured look at some of Seagal’s movies and themes, to a smarmy “takedown” of the man. Not cool.

  44. That should be “publish”, not post. Forum lingo!

    If we’re talking about websites that contain stuff that really should be better than it is, though, anybody else tried to listen to the Rotten Tomatoes podcast? It is unforgiveable for the casters for a site that basically does nothing but aggregate reviews of movies / TV shows to know as little about actual movies / TV shows as those guys do. Look, I’m allowed to get SUCKER PUNCH wrong, as long as I’m willing to change my opinion on it (I am, and have). These guys should know what they’re talking about.

  45. i loved it

    مصراوى جيكس

    مدونه تختص فى شرح وعرض كل ماهو جديد ومتميز فى عالم التكنولوجيا

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  46. For those with Amazon Prime they are streaming the new platinum cut. I don’t know what is different but I’m definitely going to watch it. FYI, it’s called Leon so that makes two movies that are named Leon to differentiate the two cuts.

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