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on May 12, 2003
Do not be misguided by the fact that this movie was shot back in 1989, and thus be led to assume that this is another one of the low budget, b-movies that Van Damme used to make in the 1980's.
AWOL/Lionheart, is arguably his best film ever.
The story begins in what is a typical modern Legion Etrangere camp somewhere in North Africa. Van Damme plays a ranker soldier, Leon, who is serving in one of the Legion's crack North African detachments. Here, we get the very rare glimpse of what is like to be a modern Legionnaire: Both the scenery and camp are very realistic, rigid discipline prevalent, with emphasis being put on the soldiers' perfect fitness through physical training and manual labour.
Suddenly, Leon receives a letter from his only brother's wife who lives in the USA, informing him that his brother was beaten to death by some villains, and that she needs someone both to avenge his death and take care of her and her little daughter.
Rigid almost inhuman discipline in the Legion is once again underlined, when Private Leon asks to see his Commanding Officer, an impressive blond Frenchman, every inch a soldier. After hearing the reasons why Pvt. Leon asks for a leave, his CO coolly denies on the grounds that he firstly needs him "down here", and secondly that Pvt. Leon's contract with the Legion excludes furloughs.
From here onwards, the movie ceases to be static, and becomes a fast paced action adventure, as we follow Van Damme's risky escape from the camp to some North African muslim seaport, where he seeks to obtain passage on one of the Merchant Ships there, to the USA. In the meantime, his French CO has reported him as AWOL, and he has ordered two of his best NCO's to locate and return the deserter back to his unit.
Van Damme evades his pursuers, and signs on a 1950's Steam Turbine General Freighter as a Wiper, in order to pay for his passage.
When he finally arrives in the USA, we see him wandering the streets of New York, dressed in Navy fatigues looking for a job. He finally makes his way under a bridge, where the odd black bookmaker is staging a no-holds barred street-fighting tournament of sorts. The bookmaker, seeing Van Damme's incredible physique, suggests that he should fight in the next match in return for a fee. Asking his name, Van Damme replies slowly in French, "LE-ON", whereupon, the bookmaker hears "Lion" and proclaims him the "Lion". Thus, a new street-fighter star is born.
Van Damme, keeps fighting for profit, and his successes attract the attention of a gorgeous Nordic-American female manager, who is organizing fights for the entertainment of the Jet-Set NYC citizens. She falls in love with him, and acting as his manager, arranges his participation in high-class private fighting matches for the rich. Van Damme wins fame and glory, but his mind is always with his dead brother, and his widow and daughter.
After doing a lot of digging, he finally manages to locate his brother widow and daugter, whereupon one of the most touching scenes of the movie take place, when Van Damme meets his brother's daughter and widow, amid hugs and celebration.
But, his pursuers from the Legion, follow close behind, looking for a chance to seize him. Finally, they manage to track him down, in some makeshift arena where Van Damme is about to meet the late World Wrestling Federation Champion Andre the Giant, in a match to the death, which would be the culmination of his career as U.S. fighter. As the match progresses, we see the two Legionnaire NCO's, formerly his bitter enemies, having changed into stalwart supporters of his, witnessing first-hand his bravery and fighting skill.
After the match is over, the French NCO's make themselves known, and take Van Damme into their custody, despite his brother's widow protests. Then follows the most touching scene in the film, with Van Damme hugging his brother's daughter, tears flowing in his eyes. The scene is so compelling, that even the tough French Legionnaires, after looking each other, cannot avoid to shed the odd tear.
After putting Van Damme in the car, the French NCO's drive only about half a mile down the road, when the car stops suddenly, and Van Damme is set free, in order to return to his dead brother's family.
A truly great movie, one of Van Damme's few movies, which I enjoyed seeing over and over again. The movie will be loved by, not only from those who admire the French Foreign Legion, but from martial arts fans as well, not to say anything of Van Damme's fans, who will absolutely love it. It is one of these rarest of the rare low budget movies that, having started with meager resources, by luck and hard work are turned into pearls.
The hero's devotion and love to his only brother, deeply touched me, and I think also struck a chord deep within the souls of all who saw it. I do not think that there is a single man, who would let his dead brother's wife and daughter suffer, no matter if one was half the planet away from the other. Sometimes, duty to the dead brother's family comes first from duty to country.
A truly outstanding movie:buy it.
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on July 15, 2002
Most films starring Jean-Claude Van Damme are nothing more than vehicles for showing off his considerable fighting skills. Prior to LIONHEART, JCVD rarely had to act. He fought a lesser series of bad guys on the way to a final confrontation with a very intimidating fighter. Now this also sounds like a plot summary of LIONHEART, but in addition to the kicks and punches, the film also delves into some serious issues of duty versus responsibility and the meaning of friendship.
JCVD plays a Legionnaire whose brother in the US is ill, so he requests permission for emergency leave. His request is turned down on the rightful claim of his commandant that his presence in Africa was needed for Legionnaire business. At this point, VD must decide which is of greater import: his duty to his brother or to his country. He chooses to go AWOL to find his brother. This choice could not have been an easy one since his decision to leave the base would necessarily entail his being labeled a deserter. Two Legionnaire NCOs are sent to bring him back in chains. While in America, he discovers that his brother is dead and has left behind a destitute wife and child. VD determines to win money to provide for them by engaging in brutal cage fights. Along the way he picks up the services of a wino manager, oily played by Harrison Page. Slowly the two men, the fighter and the manager, lay the grounds for a binding friendship, which is tested by the manager's decision to bet on the fearsome and final opponent. When VD finds out that his manager sold him out, you can see that the pain in his heart outweighs the more obvious pain of his bruised ribs. When he somehow defeats this monster fighter, the scene in which his manager first congratulates then apologizes to him is both touching and convincing.
As with most JCVD movies, there is plenty of eye-popping body slugging, with the final match the most interesting. But behind the fighting, Van Damme also shows that emotional impacting on those who call him either friend or enemy is often at least as fascinating as watching him grind his most recent opponent into the dust.
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on November 11, 2002
Let me start by saying that I don't go for action-adventure movies. I was reluctantly dragged to this one by my boyfriend yet came away singing its praises. Wow!!! Most AA movies are mere vehicles to showcase the star's martial-arts prowess; this movie does much, much more. It crosses over into the mainstream and has a plot which is much more riveting than the so-called blockbusters Hollywood churns out. The characters are believable and rouse genuine emotions. To wit: Jean Claude's tears when he is informed of his brother's death. How could that not melt your heart? And the genuine and desperate need of his sister-in-law and little niece -- who can't empathize with that?
This is the only AA movie that would score huge points with feminists because unlike every other movie in its genre, LIONHEART is very female-dominated. The genuinely powerful people are not Jean Claude or any of his competitors, even the Goliath he ultmately battles. They are the niece and the sister-in-law, and, of course, the lady he works for in the fighting world. These are the people who call all the shots and control every aspect of this movie.
The score is wonderful, too, especially the piece that is played while Jean Claude covertly watches his sister-in-law and niece walk to school one morning.
Because this movie crosses over so brilliantly, I think it could very accurately be categorized as a drama. The ending is a complete tearjerker!
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on March 11, 2003
Let me just say....this is one of VAN DAMME's cheeziest but amazing movies other than kickboxer, bloodsport, and double impact.. But cheezy is good in this case... Van DAmme escapes from a military base in North Africa...and arrives in L.A. To visit his dead brothers wife. Since he is broke when arrived to L.A. he has to fight in order to make a living....!!! WHat a great far.... Later on in the movie he becomes close with his brothers wife...and stays in L.A. The Action is pretty cool with good fight scenes....IF ur a true Van damme Fan you would buy this even if u never saw it....I mean just look at the cover for goodness sake!!!
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on April 27, 2003
Van Damme portrays a streetfighter who gets caught up in the middle of a raw fighting hard hitting circuit.He keeps fighting to raise money for his brothers family who needs the money or they'll become homeless.The storyline is cheap and the flick itself is low budget but the fight scenes are supurb and the acting on Van Dammes part is excellent.In my opinion of course this movie is the greatest low budget action film available on the market today,if you like martial-arts films instead of explosions and basic killing spree action films than lionheart is your ticket to everything you want to see...Enjoy!
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on February 4, 2002
I love this movie. Van Damme must fight for his family. He must collect money in order to help his ex girlfriend. This movie have beautiful scenes, great music , awesome acting. If u like these horrible action movies with much violence, none meaning, then dont watch it. This is more a drama then action. Its really about friendship, the end scene is REALLY SAD!!!!!!!!!!! -:) TEAR JERKING NUMBER 1. The sadest scene Ive ever ever seen in a movie. Much more emotional then al these stupied romantic comedies that hollywood produce. THIS IS A REAL MOVIE! -:)
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on June 4, 2002
How clever to have named Van Damme "Lionheart". He escaped a French legion to escape to America. He had to find a job, so he fought on the streets. After winning all of his fights (predictable), he fought a huge, unsightly man at the end in a tent! After defeating such mortals in a pool, under a bridge, in a circle surrounded with car lights and on military grounds, Van Damme couldn't control himself. He even acts for the first time, how insane! The world went mad when this Van Damme epic was released. And I have stayed that way ever since!
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on April 12, 1999
There are quite a few likeable characters in this movie: Lyon (Van Damme), Russell (hilarious), Cynthia (nasty) and one of the few LIKEABLE kids in any movie (right up there with Short Round and the little girl from Waterworld.) Anyhoo, the action scenes are wonderful, and they are stuck together with a story that brings in some believable emotion, but doesn't go too over the top. The fairy-tale ending is a nice touch. So, it's got heart. Crud, I just remembered the title. Now this is going to sound corny. :)
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on June 22, 2001
This is the best Jean-Claude Van Damme movie ever. From family to fighting to family, JCVD fights for money to help his brother's wife and daughter out. And at the end, JCVD fights a big guy where there is no rules, but hard-hitting action. Have people placed the wrong bet? Watch it and find out. The movie has the action and a great powerful movie score which makes this the best Van Damme movie ever. I wish I could own this on DVD, but Australia and New Zealand aren't releasing it on Region 4. Only if they did.
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on November 2, 2000
This is not a good film. However it is an entertaining film. The plot is as follows: it is a Van Damme flick. The plot is always the same. In Lionheart Van Damme's excuse for kickin butt is that he has to provide for a family his junkie brother has left behind. Since he has no other skills to fall back on(acting included) he fights in small time pitt fights for L.A's rich thrill seekers. This films saving grace is that the action is pretty good. It is a mindless film that action lovers can enjoy.
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