Also known as: León (alternate title), Wrong Bet (Australia), Lion – the Streetfighter (Denmark), Full Contact (France), A.W.O.L.: Absent Without Leave (UK)
Release Date: March 1st, 1990 (Argentina)
Directed by: Sheldon Lettich
Written by: S.N. Warren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sheldon Lettich
Music by: John Scott
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard, Lisa Pelikan, Brian Thompson, Ashley Johnson, Michel Qissi, Voyo Goric
Imperial Entertainment Corporation, Guild, Sunil, Wong Bet Productions, Universal Pictures, 105 Minutes
“Sometimes life is… is… ugly. And stupid. And mean.” – Lyon
Something about this film just melts my heart. Yeah, I know it’s just some ass kicking Van Damme movie from early in his career but out of all those early pictures, this one really has a comforting charm and is a real feel good movie.
Maybe Bloodsport and Kickboxer win out in badass points but Lionheart isn’t far behind, as the action and the fights are aplenty and they’re all interesting and unique.
Where Bloodsport featured a variety of gimmicky fighters in one arena, Lionheart gives us a variety of gimmicky fighters in a variety of arenas: under a bridge, a parking garage, a swimming pool, surrounded by a ring of cars with headlights on, a rich dude’s tent, a racquetball court and maybe a few others that don’t immediately come to mind. Lionheart truly felt like a fighting video game come to life, which to my twelve year-old mind in 1991 was pretty friggin’ incredible. Oddly, Van Damme would go on to make a movie based on the Street Fighter video game and it wasn’t anywhere near as good as this.
One interesting thing about this picture is that Van Damme helped to write the story. He also teamed up with director Sheldon Lettich, who he would continue to work with over the years. In fact, Van Damme and Lettich are currently trying to get a sequel made to Double Impact.
Lionheart is an action film with a decent story where you actually care about the people in it. While that’s a rare thing, Van Damme pulls you in even if he wasn’t a master of acting in 1990. He’s proven that he actually has acting chops later in life with JCVD and his current project for Amazon. But really, no one watched these kind of movies for superb acting prowess. Needless to say, Van Damme is a tough but sweet character here and it is still one of my favorite performances that he ever gave.
The only real disappointment for me, was seeing Brian Thompson in this but not getting to see him actually square off with Van Damme. He was absolutely terrifying and intimidating in Cobra and in several episodes of The X-Files. He’s one of my favorite heavies from the era and he is pretty much just the sidekick to an evil rich bitch in this movie.
I like Lionheart, a whole friggin’ lot. If you are an old school JCVD fan, you probably do too.