“Kidnapping and rescuing is hard work, but what I’m really good at is killing people.”
Now the speaker of those chilling words doesn’t sound like the kind of person that you would want to upset or, worse than that, steal something from. But someone has been stupid enough to do that very thing, and I don’t mean helping yourself to an iPhone 6 or a pack of cigarettes belonging to the average Joe, no. I’m talking about Jean-Claude Van Damme here, ‘The Muscles from Brussels’ himself and some foolhardy Jacker has been audacious enough to help themselves to one of his kidneys without asking first. That is a bad move, because here’s the news: He is not a happy man and he wants his kidney back.
Pound of Flesh reunites JCVD with long-term collaborator and director, Ernie Barbarash in a full-on action-fest that gives you one more than just a slap on the wrist.
After intervening in a vicious back-alley spat between a call girl and her pimp in downtown Manila, Philippines, ex-special forces op Deacon (JCVD) is rewarded for his kindness by a night of passion with the curious victim Ana.
24 hours later. After being drugged and seduced, Deacon awakes in a confused state, in a bath tub full of ice, horrified to find a gruesome scar on his back that reveals that he has had a kidney removed. Sketchy flashbacks quickly form a mental picture of the last 24 hours, prompting him to call in a little help from a trusted circle of friends including his estranged brother George. The consequences of this are devastating, as the purpose for Deacon’s visit was to have an operation to donate one of his kidneys, a rare match, to his young niece, George’s only child, Isabella.
Recounting his steps, Deacon and co get on the trail that takes them into the murky world of black-market organ trafficking. Quick to go to work in what he does best, he acts fast to press his fiercely brutal line of questioning on Manila’s underworld in search of a man named Drake, (Darren Shahlavi)an ex-SAS mercenary, whose involvement is linked to a deceptive scheme involving some very top ranking people.
Deacon and George must put their differences aside to reclaim the stolen kidney, as time is running out for Isabella, as she has only days left to live without the lifesaving transplant.
JCDV has had a mixed career since starting out with martial arts cult classics such as Bloodsport and Kickboxer back in the 80s, then going to the highs of mainstream success of the 90s. But for me some of his best work has been within the last 15 years and can be found on the fringe of the mainstream with films like In Hell, The Order and Replicant. Pound of Flesh is every inch the type of film that suits JCVD and his particular style of action. At age 54 he is still doing those fancy kicks, and especially, able to pull off his trademark high spinning 360 kick which has helped define his skill set as a crowd pleaser.
For a man that only 24 hours earlier had a kidney removed, JCVD wastes no time in exacting his revenge. There is a real grit and determination that adds a dark and ruthlessly driven edge to him. Armed with a bible, yes, a bible, in one hand he takes to duffing-up criminal minions to get answers to his hard lined questions. It’s an unorthodox practise, and it’s not explained why, but I’m quite sure that the good book was not intended to be used this way; but when he threatens: ‘This book will leave you with bruises”, it certainly delivers the desired effect, as those minions are quick to spill their guts with information.
There are some new extras thrown in to embellish his stylish kicks with some nifty close-quarters, hand- to- hand fisticuffs that mixes-up the grappling style of M.M.A and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu. In a scene when he fishhooks an opponent, for what seems like minutes, before wrestling him to the ground, it only goes to demonstrate that although he may be an old dog, he has certainly learnt some new tricks.
It has to be said that the casting of one of Martials Arts great prodigies, the late Darren Shahlavi, who tragically passed away earlier in the year, is a swansong testament to his talents. Playing the lead villain Drake, Darren gets to show off his fighting prowess by opening with a fantastic back alley brawl with Jean Claude, which brings together the diversity and skills of two martial arts greats from different eras. His character is really comes to life with embellishments of his acting talents by playing the smoltzy and charming rogue that would kill you soon as look at you.
With the action plot being entertaining and clear cut to follow, the story offers a touching narrative of family issues and estranged relationships pertaining to George and Deacon’s differences; which is something that adds a little more credibility and range to JCVD’s acting performance. George is a good god fearing man that abhors the code of violence that his brother lives by. George is the levelling balance of conscience and reason to counter Deacon’s pragmatic brutality. But when brought together for a greater purpose, a matter of life and death, we see some courageous and moral changes in George’s character that test his loyalty towards his family. Although they are quite mismatched to start with, they grow together to form a tough and reconciled partnership.
Belgium’s best export gets his Pound of Flesh and delivers hard-hitting action that’s more solid than a kick in the kidneys.
Review by Martin Goolsarran
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Pound of Flesh is out now on VOD.