Jean-Claude Van Damme was born Jean-Claude Camille Francois Van Varenberg in Brussels, which is basically a smaller, comically inept version of France, (think of it as Short Round to France's Indiana Jones). His parents were a florist and an accountant, and young Jean-Claude took up ballet at the age of 16 before beginning his career in martial arts. With origins like these, less befitting a world famous action star and more suited to say, a sexually ambiguous summer camp counselor who teaches you to swim with one hand firmly planted in your "bad touch" area, it's a wonder Van Damme ever had a reputation as a badass at all. His is a story that should inspire every pasty nerd, meek dork and timid geek to step up, be a man, kick ass and take names. Maybe even the French.
Van Damme's breakthrough film, Bloodsport, was the bloodiest, most brutal and merciless martial arts film to make mainstream cinema at the time. Audiences who previously had to weed through hours of ridiculous, ill-informed and castrated versions of action films just for the chance to see a man do the splits in short-shorts (uh... we mean, beat another man mercilessly with only his bare hands, his strong, comforting bare hands... ) had finally found a film with balls.
Bloodsport summed up its entire plot in a one-word title; it was a movie about a sport that was fucking bloody, and if you expect more from your cinematic experience, sir, be it plot, emotional relevance, or character development, well then you are perfectly free to unfurl your Victorian-era parasol and mince your dainty way over to catch the last half hour of When Harry Met Sally.Most Epic Moment Caught on Film:
In the 1990 film Death Warrant Van Damme gets involved in a no-holds-barred, 10-minute-long battle to the death with a super-size version of Fire Marshall Bill from In Living Color. After starting the fight by flexing as hard as he can until somebody throws a wrench into his face, Van Damme finally pulls it together long enough to kill his opponent--three separate goddamn times! First by pushing his head into a saw, then by jump-kicking him into a blast furnace, then finally impaling his head on a spike and giving it a bit of a twirl for good measure.The Sad Decline:
Eventually Van Damme insisted upon doing the splits throughout the majority of his films which, once coupled with his irresistible desire to dance, led more often to extended scenes of him splay-legged on the floor wiggling his booty to the beat, rather than what audiences wanted; scenes of him jump kicking sharks in the face until they explode.
As the early '90s passed, so too did the public's fascination with G-rated hip-hop, shoulder-length mullets, Rollerblades and pastel-colored clothes. All of which, unfortunately, were the core elements of most Van Damme films. Once again we wanted our heroes to be simple, grizzled everymen with nothing to lose; one foot in the grave, the other wrapped in an American flag and lodged firmly in a terrorist's asshole. Gone was the demand for sweaty, vaguely effeminate Frenchmen who had to inexplicably interweave spin-kicking the bad guys while gutturally growling out all of the vowels in sequence, with bopping out to the Top 40 in yellow Jane Fonda shorts.Most Pathetic Moment Caught on Film:
During the long, cold night that followed his blazing glory days, Van Damme appeared here on what Brazilian's pretend is a television show where he embarrasses himself repeatedly, initially by appearing wearing giant red Bono sunglasses and a shiny plastic coat. Then continuing to mimic a stripper--hoochy-dancing, booty shakes and all. He then proceeds to bump and grind with what appears to be Kiss' Gene Simmons in drag, and finally wraps it all up by ultimately popping what we are nominating The World's Most Awkward Boner (which he tries to hide, but fails because, as in his movies, he just can't stop dancing.)
Two doughy South American men in leisure suits then point at his manhood and giggle uncontrollably. Way to castrate the action hero, Timecop.