Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Van Damme's Gun

Second in Command (Simon Fellows, 2006; photographed by Doug Milsome)

One of the pleasures of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies is that, because the short, wiry Van Damme looks tougher without a gun than with one, he's the only action star to consistently run out of ammunition. While the screenwriters of most action movies have to come up with ways to keep their stars supplied with an infinite amount of ammo, scripting a Van Damme picture means coming up with a scenario in which he wouldn't be able to use a gun. That's easy enough for the movies where he plays kickboxers and martial artists, but when he's cast as a policeman or a soldier (which became more common in the mid-1990s and is now de rigueur for a Van Damme movie), it means that a gun has to be kicked out of his hand or he has to be a lousy shot or that there have to be so many enemies that one clip just isn't enough. To make Van Damme's toughness plausible, increasingly implausible situations must be invented.

5 comments:

dave said...

Jean-Claude Van Damme is the action-star's inverse image. Have you seen JCVD?

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Yeah. I like it quite a bit, and I find it funny that it's often much better at being an action movie than a lot of the movies Van Damme's been in the last few years (the above-screencapped Second in Command included -- pretty dull stuff, except for a few fantastic images courtesy of Doug Milsome, former DP for Kubrick and Cimino, and now the go-to man for shooting Van Damme movies).

I like that it applies its rules of action ("single takes are more impressive") to drama. Besides the opening credits sequence and that famous monologue, a lot of that movie is shot in pretty long, handheld takes, which works very well for a physical performer like Van Damme.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

*Instead of "besides," I guess it should say "just like," which is a lot less confusing.

D.T. Dodge said...

It seems Jackie Chan and Jet Li also fall into this category. I have always felt that Chan, in particular, was exceptional at coming up with ways of avoiding gunfights in order to showcase his skills. His older Hong Kong films, such as Police Story, Armour of God and their respective sequels, might be the best examples.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Very true. And Van Damme, more than any other Western action star, drew heavily on films from Hong Kong and did some of his best work with Hong Kong directors (John Woo, Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam). I think at this point we can call him "honorary Cantonese."