Bad Movie Tuesday: The Quest (1996), Van Damme’s unofficial reimagining of Bloodsport as a period piece with strong Kickboxer influences and a sprig of Lionheart.
MY CALL: Much hokier than Bloodsport (1988), Kickboxer (1989) or Lionheart (1990), but with “some” better fighting, stunts and martial artists. MOVIES LIKE The Quest: Other Van Damme movies, of course! Especially Bloodsport (1988) and Lionheart (1990), which both feature hush-hush Fight Clubs that can’t keep a secret. But maybe this movie isn’t bad enough for you and you want something a bit more “campy bad.” If that’s the case, try China O’Brien (1990), Outside the Law (2002), Night Vision (1997) or Only the Strong (1993) for your Bad Movie Tuesday.
Okay, so this was actually written by the real life Frank Dux (the guy whose highly doubted story Bloodsport is based)—in that his “story” was the basis for it—and Jean-Claude Van Damme (Kickboxer, Double Impact, The Expendables 2, Time Cop, Bloodsport). Somehow I don’t expect much from a movie written by a guy who (by the opinion of many) fabricated a story about winning an invitational secret Kumite tournament, and the Muscles from Brussels who played this potential Kumite tall tale teller. Essentially, this is a fictionalized retelling of what may have originally been fiction in the first place and it’s directed by Van Damme himself.
In case this Dux-slamming seems mean and unfounded, please understand that since the 1988 movie’s release his story has always been considered a highly probably lie. Here’s an article (CLICK HERE) from 2015, and another, and another, and another way back from 1988, pointing out the inconsistencies and dubious claims. Van Damme even doubted its validity while filming Bloodsport.
Well now that you know who wrote it, it should come as no surprise that this opens much as Bloodsport (1988) did, but with neither of the magic nor style, with preparations for the big secret tournament. They form melted gold into a dragon statue and send scrolled invitations in person to their recipient fighters, including interrupting a Sumo wrestler’s bath and a Nazi’s fencing lesson. He’s not really a Nazi, but for some reason they make him seem despicably mean.
Then we meet street urchin Chris Dubois (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who combines Oliver Twist’s Fagan and Robin Hood as he cares for a group of homeless orphan pickpockets. Dubois is an acrobatic thief with some pretty decent fighting skills, but he is forced to flee and leave the kids when the consequences of his criminal actions catch up to him. Of course, he promises the children he’ll be back.
During his escape he sneaks on to a ship and is taken prisoner. He is rescued by Lord Edgar Dobbs (Roger Moore; A View to a Kill, Octopussy) and his assistant Harry (Jack McGee; Drive Angry), and subsequently ditched halfway around the world in on Muay Thai Island.
So eventually a caption graces the bottom of the screen: “6 months later.” Not sure how long it takes a small vessel to sail from northeastern America to Thailand or how long he was on Muay Thai Island before his “owner” decided to train him, but in combination it must’ve been 3-4 weeks. Let’s call it a month—plus “6 months later” is about 7 months from the time the first Ghang-gheng (that’s our Kumite equivalent in this movie) invitations were sent out. That’s a long time in advance to send out an RSVP.
Revisiting Thailand, Lord Dobbs has made the acquaintance of an attractive young journalist Carrie (Janet Gunn; Carnosaur 3, Silk Stalkings) who is looking for a great story…just like Bloodsport…and they bump into Dubois, who has climbed the ranks and become a feared Muay Thai fighter. In order to repay Dubois for wronging him, Dobbs is to help him gain the “Golden Dragon” from the tournament in the Lost City where the greatest fighters of the world compete in secret. And again, just like in Bloodsport, there’s a secret competition that folks know about who weren’t invited! In this case, it’s Dubois who wasn’t invited to the party. So how did he know? When his trainer on Muay Thai Island was invited did he have a party to celebrate and announce it to everyone? Did he tape the invitation on his Thai fighting office communal refrigerator as a reminder? Does the whole island know? Or are only their enslaved American fighters afforded such privileged secrecy?
Well now Dobbs, Harry, Carrie and Dubois want to go to the Lost City…but how will they find it? It is a secret, right? No problem, after a single phone call Carrie knows that the invited World Champion boxer from America Maxie Devine (James Remar; Tale from the Darkside) is about to arrive right where they are in Thailand en route to the Lost City. So evidently the first reporter she spoke to in America asking about the secret tournament knew not only that the tournament was happening, but who was invited and that he was on his way and his travel itinerary! This takes place in 1920. Even with the internet and phone taps this would be impressive!
So now the plan is for Dobbs, Harry, Carrie and Dubois to pose as Maxie’s hosting entourage to escort him to the Lost City.
Remember the “entering the tournament hall” scene in Bloodsport when everyone doubted the American fighter (now Maxie Devine), Dux did the Dim Mak (now the Mongolian breaking the table) and Chong Li had some words (now the Mongolian’s sneers)? Yeah, so that all gets replayed here.
So we’re all in the Lost City, whose “secret location” was most definitely aided by the huge German Zepplin flying in and landing on location, and it looks a lot like the Kickboxer (1989) arena with the Bloodsport officials. This is where we get to meet everyone and Maxie outs Dubois as an imposter, to which the elder officials state that unless he “proves himself a worthy opponent” and wins the first round there will be some pretty serious consequences. But wait, does this mean that everyone who loses in the first round—half the fighters!!!—is now categorized as “unworthy?” Seems a bit harsh. And moreover, now that we know Dubois and his gang are imposters, is no one concerned about Dobbs, Harry or Carrie (the fkn undercover reporter!!!)? Isn’t this whole thing supposed to be a secret? I’m beginning to think this is the first year of this tournament!
You’ll notice a lot of these opponents have been in other Van Damme movies. It seems Van Damme keeps a stable of friends like Adam Sandler, doesn’t he? There’s the feared Mongolian Khan (Abdel Qissi; Lionheart, The Order), who seems way bigger than 6’2” the way they present him; Phang (Jen Sung; Under Siege 2) the Siamese fighter; another boringly unimpressive Sumo wrestler (Kitao Koji; Wrestlemania VII); the mean Nazi (Habby Heske; Mr. Nice Guy); the French fighter (Takis Triggelis; Legionnaire, Savate); the ripped Turkish guy who only landed one cheap hit and went down in one stupid hit; the sensational Brazilian capoeirista (César Carneiro; Only the Strong); the big Greek guy (Stefanos Miltsakakis; Cyborg, Lionheart, Maximum Risk); the stylish Spanish fighter (Peter Malota; Double Impact, Nowhere to Run, The Order) who looks a little like Antonio Banderas; the African Zulu-esque warrior (Winston Ellis; Operation Condor); that poor Okinawan (Ong Soo Han; Kickboxer, Street Fighter); the lame Russian (Brick Bronsky; Troma movies); the Scotsman (Mike Lambert; Knock Off) who gets it in the balls; and the Chinese five-animal kung fu master (Peter Wong; Bulletproof Monk) who was AMAZING!
About now I’d like to pause and assess how we know this is a bad movie:
Van Damme in old man make-up AND in mime make-up. Need I say more?
There’s no chase scene, no training splits, no dressing like a male escort, no Belgian butt shot, no splits during a fight, no sex scene, no tandem jump spin kicks…where’s the Van Damme-iness we all came to love? At least his sweaty biceps glistened. But why did Van Damme sub in the Turk for the standard butt shot for the ladies? #BareButtFail
The old “Van Damme slip” escape scene. He does using the shower in Bloodsport (1988) and now he uses a sack of grain with his jacket wrapped around it. This is some Bugs Bunny cartoon-level work.
He is caught as a stowaway on a ship and is forced into servitude…just like in Lionheart (1990). How many of his old movies will he borrow from?
After people from around the world visit the Lost City, is it still lost? I mean, these people suck at keeping secrets about secret martial arts tournaments. So it’s fair to say that once they get back, the world will know. And if the competition is always held in the Lost City, are we to assume that this was the first batch of competitors who can’t keep a secret? After all, the invitation came with a map as if no one could ask how to get there.
How heavy is the Golden Dragon…well over 1000 pounds, right? Gold is HEAVY! Today gold is about $1400 per ounce! Can these Lost City monks afford to be giving away so much gold? That’s in the neighborhood of $20 million!
They quote Bloodsport with the line: “What kind of a deal?”
They steal the Kickboxer (1989) bar fight scene when he sweeps the guy’s hands from leaning on the table.
Dubois’ fight against the Spanish fighter looked striking similar to Van Damme’s fight against the same exact actor in maybe the same shirt in Double Impact (1991)!
Maxie is basically a replacement for Bloodsport’s Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb; Transylvania 6-5000), only without the ‘Murica-level brain damage. Dobbs and Harry seem analogous to Agent Rawlins (Forest Whitaker; Species, Battlefield Earth) and Agent Helmer (Norman Burton; American Ninja 5, Deep Space), and Carrie is clearly Janice (Leah Ayres; The Burning).
This martial arts movie transforms our hero into a serious fighter, yet there is no training montage. In Bloodsport we get a JCVD montage and an opponent training montage! How is there no training montage? #TrainingMontageFail
Remember in Bloodsport how through its entirety Bolo Yeung’s lines were: “Very good, but brick not hit back…You are next…You break my record, now I break you like I break your friend…Matte.” Khan the Mongolian says even less! Not one line! And I’m not even kidding. He has zero lines! Which makes me wonder if Qissi had any lines in Lionheart (1990) when he played Attila.
Dubois clutches Phang’s Muay Thai headdress like he did Ray Jackson’s Harley Davidson bandana after the Khan Tong-Po-back-breaks Phang like he did his brother in Kickboxer (1989). Then Dubois wears it, just like in Bloodsport.
They show some of the same fighting footage TWICE during Dubois’ fight against China! And then against Khan, they play the same punch combo footage FOUR TIMES!
What is it with Van Damme and back breaks? In Bloodsport the Sumo wrestler also performs TWO back-breaks, then Tong Po in Kickboxer, and now Khan does one here.
Dux finishes off Chong Li with four tandem jump skin kicks to the head, which is the only time replaying footage is okay. So where are the tandem jump spin kicks in The Quest? Here we get only one in the final fight. ONE! #VanDammeFail
For the most part, this is not a movie for technical fight choreography snobs who love Tony Jaa (Ong Bak), Scott Adkins (Universal Solder: Day of Reckoning), Michael Jai White (Undisputed 2-3) or Iko Uwais (The Raid: Redemption). The fights are generally unimpressive by today’s standards, although quite decent outside of Hong Kong cinema in the 80s. Although, a couple of fights were of higher caliber.
The opening fights are terrible. Spain v Russia and Japan v Okinawa are super short. However, France v Brazil features some seriously cool stunts (especially for an American-made 90s martial arts movie) and China v Korea introduces us to the hands-down best martial artist in the movie, here showcasing snake-style kung fu. Peter Wong’s opening flare techniques had me rewinding a few times just to figure out what exactly he did with that jump spin kick that included attacks to the front and the rear. In Brazil v China, he does monkey-style kung fu—also a dazzling splendor of stunts, not to mention a playful monkey punch to a pair of Brazilian balls.
I don’t think Van Damme likes Scotsmen (e.g., Lionheart). Here the Scottish guy loses to a punch to the balls right under the kilt from the Turk. In fact, someone always seems to get hit in the nuts (e.g., that Brazilian, Sumo wrestler in Bloodsport). This Turk, by the way, looks like ripped Hank Azaria from The Birdcage (1996) and he goes down in the best possible stupid way against the Sumo wrestler. I think Van Damme ha a soft spot for Sumo wrestlers because they seem to get the funniest fights in his movies.
And oh my God, the Kickboxer (1989) influences! Khan the Mongolian has Tong Po hair, Phang taught Dubois Muay Thai and then loses to a back break against Mongolian, mathematically speaking Khan = Chong Li + Tong Po, Phang’s master Khao resembles Mr. Xian who trained JCVD in Kickboxer, the guy who played Khan is the brother of the guy who played Tong Po (Michel Qissi; Kickboxer, Bloodsport), and BOTH brothers were in Lionheart (1990)!
I find this to be among the most recent Van Damme movies that I consider rewatchable. It’s hokier than most, but still a lot of fun and nostalgically satisfying for me—of course, I saw this in theaters when I was 15, so I’m just the right age to love it.
If you enjoy this stuff, buy it, watch it, then join our nostalgia by listening to our Van Damme podcast episode!