Review: Lionheart (1991)

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Brian Thompson

Fight Choreography by Frank Dux

Directed by Sheldon Lettich

Once again Jean-Claude Van Damme jumps back into the familiar world of tournament martial arts films with his latest entry, Lionheart. This movie would do fairly well again, but it would ultimately prove to be tournament fight film overload for him, and won’t go back to it again for quite some time…but first we get LIOOOOONNNNNNNHEEEEAAARRRRRT!

(Scream it out loud a few times. See if you can sound like Joshua. More on him later)

JCVD plays Lyon Gaultier, a soldier with the French Foreign Legion, who gets word late that his brother Paul, living in Los Angeles, has been murdered while in the middle of a drug buy, and is told to come home. Now this is the hard part, and the legion believes that once you are in, you never get out, which really kind of sucks for him, since his commanding officer is a giant turd. Being what he is, Turd orders that Lyon be placed in the equivalent of solitary confinement for sassing him, and Lyon thinks about it on the way, and quickly comes to the conclusion that “–it would probably be better for me to give one of these guards a beautiful round house kick to the face.” Which he does. Even Tae-Bo creator Billy Blanks gets a kick to the face here, and I swear the kick adjusted that strange flat top haircut he had back then. It’s these opening scenes, and the music that accompanies them, that might make you think, if only for a second, that you’re watching Lawrence of Arabia with right crosses and crescent kicks. Which actually sounds like a pretty good film…

But that’s not this film. Soon Lyon is on a boat to the USA, and of course his Commander isn’t too keen on this, and sends two guys to go get him back. After arriving in New York, Lyon discovers that it’s hard getting around the USA without cash, and soon hears the cha-ching of a cash register as he sees an illegal fight taking place, and enters himself into the fights after convincing the MC and his future manager Joshua (Harrison Page) that he can handle himself, and he does in a really weak fight scene. Soon Joshua convinces Lyon that to get to Los Angeles he needs to win a few fights hosted by the Mysterious Cynthia, a rich woman who runs around with her right hand man Russell played by Brian Thompson. Lyon’s first fight is short and sweet, delivering karmic justice to one guy’s testicles after witnessing him do the same to another fighter that was already defeated.

Soon Lyon has the money and goes to California with Joshua in tow, trying to convince him to fight for Cynthia in LA, but he’s hearing none of it, wanting to get in contact with his brother’s wife Helene and their daughter Nicole, the only relatives he has left. Helene isn’t exactly thrilled to see him, and basically tells him to take his ass away from her. He learns quickly that she’s having problems with bills and other monies that are owed, and so Lyon has Cynthia set up a fake life insurance account, and begins fighting for her, and have the money sent to Helene in the form of life insurance payment checks, so she won’t know that it’s from him. We also find out that the obnoxious Joshua has a previous history with Cynthia, once being one of her fighters who was permanently injured after a fight and dumped.

With the Legion agents after him, and Cynthia secretly betting on another fighter she believes can beat Lyon, can he go into the ring one more time and win with everything against him? Even with his pal Joshua screaming his fight name for no apparent reason, but it sounds good in the film trailer?


Like I said, it sounds good in the trailer, but in the film…what the hell?! It’s funny that every JCVD film made during this time has to first take minutes out of the film to explain how a French guy is in the United States and starts kicking people, doing the splits, and showing his bare ass off to the pretty ladies, which he does here, as always. JCVD’s film base is made up of as many women as men, so guys have to live with seeing that ass in every one of his films if we want to see him kick somebody, which he does quite a bit of. The fight scenes are passable, but no one here knows martial arts outside of JCVD, so it’s all just street fighting, which I have very little interest in, but can understand there are those that are. The fights were choreographed by Frank Dux, and he does make JCVD look good as always, but there wasn’t enough martial arts fighting, and the story wasn’t bad, although the acting was, except for JCVD himself. It’s really saying a lot when JCVD is the best actor in the film. Look out for Kenpo Master Jeff Speakman as the mansion guard, which makes me think holy crap, they had Billy Blanks and Jeff Speakman in this and they didn’t really fight? That’s just wrong. Sheldon Lettich, a director and writer of many of JCVD’s films helmed this picture, and kept the camera steady, even though there wasn’t much elaborate fighting to be seen, but he captures those JCVD helicopter kicks better than anyone!

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (3) There simply isn’t that much here. It’s JCVD versus guys who only know street fighting. It’s not horrible, but not substantial,either.

STUNTS: (5) Everything was done fairly well. Nothing fantastic, but nothing badly done either.

STAR POWER: (7) Kickboxer kept JCVD up there, and Lionheart did nothing to tarnish his star image. He’d take care of that on his own much later. No other real stars of note outside Brian Thompson, who always played a dependable baddie.

FINAL GRADE: (5) This is a ho-hum film made at the apex of the JCVD tournament fight films. The story actually kept me interested until after the midway point when you can see the ending a mile away, but overall it’s not bad, just really average.



  1. Love Van Damme and loved this film as a kid, agree that Van Damme is the only one who does martial arts in this, the closest martial artist vs martial artist fight for Van Damme would be in ‘The Shepherd’ but that was too short.


  2. I can’t agree with that…JCVD fought nothing but martial artists in Bloodsport, and fought Bolo Yeung again in Double Impact, and some martial artists in The Quest, and don’t forget he fought Sho Kusugi in Black Eagle, so he has fought other martial artists on film before, but Scott Adkins was the best one overall in the Shepard. Good news is they are both working on the film “Weapon” and sharing top billing in the film. I know they do team up, so I don’t know if they fight each other, but that shows how high Scott’s star has risen; going from being Lead Henchmen in the Shepard to JCVD’s co-star in Weapon. I would say Scott’s star is above JCVD’s at this point.


  3. van damme did fight martial artists in bloodsport but it was very much trading blow for blow instead of the martial arts finese as in No retreat no surrender or Black Eagle. Double impact had the worst fights ever, very short and was mostly just trading hits until van damme does his trade mark finishing kick. In Shepherd at least there was some techniques behind some of the attacks which reminded me of his earlier work


  4. That is true… it’s a shame that Sammo Hung did the fight choreography for Double Impact, and in the end vowed never to do it again for a Hollywood production…it’s been said that JCVD ignored the choreography Sammo wanted him to do and thought that his ideas were better, and so he stripped down what Sammo wanted and made it his own…which sucked.


Comments are closed.