There is no doubt that Jean-Claude Van Damme, “The Muscles From Brussels”, is a fully fledged action legend.
From his iconic, high kicking work in classics such as Bloodsport, Hard Target and Timecop, to more recent box office draws like The Expendables 2, he has proven to be one of the most talented martial artists in the movies.
However, many won’t realise that he has developed his dramatic acting over many years and has challenged himself by playing unusual and increasingly complex characters. His bold performance in JCVD will often come up in this dialogue.
To celebrate the release of his tough new thriller The Bouncer, where he shows his acting chops once again, we revisit some of his best performances, and strongly encourage a re-watch.
Nowhere to Run (1993)
In the middle of more obvious action projects like Double Impact, Universal Solder and Hard Target, Van Damme challenged himself and played a more nuanced, dramatic role as a mysterious escaped convict offered shelter in the barn of a farm-owning widow. Learning that a criminal property mogul is forcing her family from their land, he helps protect them against the crooks. Van Damme shares billing with a fine cast including Rosanna Arquette (Pulp Fiction), Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs) and Joss Ackland (The Hunt for Red October).
Wake of Death (2004)
In this dark and brooding action-thriller, Van Damme plays an ex-mob enforcer seeking revenge against a ruthless Chinese kingpin responsible for his wife’s murder. He re-teams with old underworld friends to wage war against the Chinese Triad. Blending visceral action with an emotional performance, Van Damme showed a new side to his work. The film co-starred Hong Kong actor Simon Yam (Ip Man) as the Triad nemesis.
The film that catapulted Van Damme back into the limelight and earned him rave reviews from critics all over the world. Here, Van Damme plays a version of himself in a kind of parallel universe. Unable to find work in Hollywood, broke and involved in a custody battle for his daughter, JCVD returns to his native Belgium and finds himself caught up in the middle of a hostage drama and acting out a different sort of role to those he’s used to. With longtime fans already knowing what Van Damme could deliver in his performances, this one showed the whole world in a bold and revealing way.
Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)
Reprising his role from 1992’s Universal Soldier, Van Damme’s reanimated soldier returns when a terrorist group seizes a crippled nuclear reactor while using two more “UniSols” to complete their mission. Sent to aid the military rescue, Van Damme must face his original adversary Dolph Lundgren (Creed II) as well as a new, more advanced UniSol, played by MMA fighter Andrei Arlovski. Regeneration takes the franchise into edgier, hyper realistic territory with Van Damme’s character also shown to be confused and vulnerable. Yet they flipped expectations again for the next outing, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, another fine and surprising sequel.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson (2016)
This great TV series took the kind of self-deprecating humour we saw in JCVD and carried it somewhere new. The series asks, what if Jean-Claude Van Damme was in fact a secret agent? What if his entire film career was built solely as a front for his black ops? This is the core premise and it ensures plenty of action, comedy and great turn from Van Damme playing yet another quirky, heightened version of himself.
The Bouncer (2018)
Making full use of his character-acting talent, Van Damme plays a tough nightclub bouncer struggling to raise his 8-year-old daughter. One day, he loses control during an altercation with a client and ends up in jail, while his daughter is taken away from him. Things take an unexpected turn when Interpol recruits him to bring down a Dutch ringleader operating from Belgium in exchange for his daughter’s custody, but all actions have consequences. Directed by Julien Leclercq (The Assault, The Crew) and charged with gritty and brutal action, Van Damme’s central performance also shows great depth and pulls no punches.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.