Review: Double Impact (1991)

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Geoffrey Lewis, Philip Chan, Bolo Yeung

Fight Choreography by Peter Malota and Jean-Claude Van Damme

Directed by Sheldon Lettich

In the early 1990’s JCVD became a huge star, whose modestly lower budgeted films were raking in a lot of money. Not Swartzenegger money, but enough to make him a major martial arts star. This film really starts what I’ve always believed was a dream of his, to make a martial arts film like the kind made by Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. So how does he fare?

The film opens in Hong Kong as Philip Wagner and his wife attend the opening of the Victoria Crown Tunnel, which Philip constructed with his partner Griffith. Now If you know your film lore, back in the 80’s and early 90‘s any older white business suit-wearing-dude with a last name of Griffith or Devereaux was a sure fire douche bag of the highest order, and so it is here. That night Philip and his wife are ambushed by a squad of hit men who kill them both particularly the mother, who gets blasted in the face with a shot gun by Moon (Bolo), and to have his face as the last one she sees before she dies places her in an elite company kept only by herself, Han’s men, (for you Enter the Dragon enthusiasts), and that poor sap toward the end of Bloodsport. The assassins are about to kill their twin babies Chad and Alex when Wagner’s bodyguard Frank (Lewis) shows up and starts kicking ass, which leads you to wonder what made him think to drive off and leave them behind, which was kind of dumbshit thing to do.  Frank takes Chad with him, and the nurse who was in the car with the family takes Alex, and both run away. Before he leaves, Frank sees Griffin and his partner Raymond Zhang (Chan) because they were too stupid to simply stay in the F***ing tinted car and let their well paid henchmen do the killings without revealing that “hey, we’re the guys who ordered this!”

25 years later we find Chad (Van Damme) teaching stretching to a bunch of women wearing leotards so tight I could count the bumps on his nuts. He takes over the karate class afterward, and oh my goodness they were wearing pink and pastel gi’s. Only in California. Maybe they wanted their opponents to laugh to distract them from the slow Van Damme kick they would give them?

Anyway, Frank has an investigator come by, who shows him pictures of Alex in Hong Kong.  Frank tells Chad that he has a brother who lives there and together they head to Hong Kong. Chad and Alex meet, and already don’t like each other, which is understandable in Alex’s case, because seeing Chad wearing pink shorts and high socks in a rough and tumble bar in Hong Kong is stretching the boundaries of fine taste.  At one point Chad gets mistaken for Alex, who does some work for Zhang, and is taken to the docks where Chad refuses to do a job for Zhang, who makes him fight Moon, who soundly kicks his ass, after Chad beats down a few of his men, one of whom Moon kills, ‘cause we know Bolo doesn’t like his own men in any films, and usually kills at least one in every movie. If his men would do things, like remember his birthday or something, he might not have such animosity toward them.

They move their headquarters to a deserted island resort so they can plan on how to take out Griffith and Zhang. They go on two unsuccessful missions to do so, and a mistake by Chad brings Zhang’s militia to their island, where really small battle ensues, culminating in the capture of Frank and Alex’s girlfriend. Alex and Chad go to the docks, to battle Zhang and Griffith one final time for control of their family’s tunnel.

Double Impact was JCVD’s highest-budgeted film to date at that time, and the effects to put Alex and Chad onscreen at the same time was considered a pretty good effect. JCVD actually does a great job playing two different characters, and he’s good enough to make it work, playing Chad as a California douche bag, and Alex as a rough and tumble Hong Kong underworld hardass. The story itself is typical of late 80’s action films, but isn’t bad. Bolo, is, well, Bolo. ‘nuff said. The main bad guys are typical 80’s villains, bad guys in white suits, barely worth mentioning.

The action is pretty good, especially a scene where they raid a narcotics plant owned by Zhang, and Alex gets to go all John Woo on everyone, and some scenes here feel lifted straight from Hard Boiled. The rest of the martial arts scenes seems to fall into the same camp as most of JCVD’s early 90’s films:

He gives a headbutt to a few people. And we wonder why JCVD always has that knot on his forehead.

He’ll use tons of slow motion to mask that he isn’t really that fast a fighter,

and he’ll give that helicopter kick to the last big guy, which is Bolo.

He’ll use the splits at some point.

He’ll be wearing incredibly tight pants.

He’ll have his shirt ripped off at some point. (items 4, 5 & 6 are for the ladies)

I do admire JCVD because you can tell he wants to fight like the HK actions heroes, but he just doesn’t have the skill set to do so. He’s a better actor than many Hollywood action heroes, but his martial arts knowledge seems to be limited. That perception could be the fault of his fight choreographers not really utilizing what he can do well. I’d love to see someone like Larnell Stovall or JJ Perry choreograph a fight scene for him.

Double Impact is a good overall action film, but it isn’t a very good martial arts film.  JCVD does a good job, further cementing his status as an action star. After this he’ll have about three more years of hit films before he starts to decline. This won’t be the last time he’ll play twins in a film…

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (5) The fight scenes are horrid here. There is no real cadence or excitement to the fights. There is too much slow motion to make them exciting. JCVD has done better than this. The fight with Bolo should have been better than what it was.

STUNTWORK: (7) The extras did a decent job with the fighting, shooting, and getting kicked by JCVD. Their reactions were good, making the fights look better than what they actually are.

STAR POWER: (8) JCVD was nearing the height of his stardom, and Bolo is always a good thing to see, and Philip Chan always brings the goods, but there isn’t anyone else in this film of note.

FINAL GRADE: (7) This is a good early 90’s action film, but it just doesn’t cut it as a martial arts film. JCVD had done better and will do so again, and this is still one of his highest grossing films. If only the fights had been better…

NEXT: Yuen Woo Ping returns to the Director’s Chair and Vincent Zhao leads an all-star cast in True Legend!


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