Today’s my birthday so we’re gonna take it easy.
We’ve all got that one, don’t we? That one image that appears early in life and stirs in us a desire so strong that it burns into the brain for the rest of time causing you to seek it out so as to experience its thrill again and again.
For me, that image was of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s ass in the 1990 classic-in-certain-circles film Lionheart. If you’re a fan, like me, of shitty 80’s and 90’s action movies you’ve likely come into contact with JCVD’s monumental rear end. It’s featured gratuitously in many of his films, always lovingly lit, often at the end of a pan up from the feet. The shots are ridiculous, taking you completely out of the film, but tell me the truth, were you really paying attention anyway? Probably not. And let’s not forget: action films of all eras, but especially of the 80's and 90's, have been known to feature many, many more gratuitous shots of naked women. It’s a nice change of pace to openly objectify a man.
Which, to get it out of the way, I’m not here to totally reduce Mr Van Damme to a single body part. He produced several of his films and wrote many of the scripts. And he’s not a completely terrible actor. Given the right material, he could work it out. You’ve simply got to check out the film JCVD to know what I mean. Butt (ha!), somehow I doubt the man who apparently claimed he could crack a walnut on them cakes would mind my little ode to his fabulous derrière Belgique. He put it on film for a reason, non?
The first time I laid eyes on this portentous posterior I was at my cousin’s house for a sleepover. This was during those heady days of youth when no one was really paying attention, particularly to what we rented at the video store. It was a small hamlet and everyone assumed you'd gotten permission to rent whatever you wanted. We could walk up with the most inappropriate material and the bored teen behind the counter would barely look up from the Very Important Film they were watching and say, “Due back in seven days. Leave.”
We’d rented something else along with Lionheart I'm sure of it, butt (ha!) who knows what. We'd started the first video late and by the end, everyone was pretty sleepy. We figured some brutal fight scenes would wake us right up. My cousins were super into martial arts then, obsessed with playing Mortal Kombat and having epic battles on the trampoline. I pretended I was also interested in these violent pastimes because I wanted to be cool and like, masc or whatever. I didn’t realize at the time that always choosing to play Sonya Blade made that effort moot.
I remember very little about Lionheart. According to IMDb, it’s about a French soldier who takes up underground fighting to support his dead brother’s family. Sure. I recall there was a rich white lady with Soft Butch hair who was the financial backer of some of these fighters. She sees Jean-Claude kick the ass of her prized gladiator and decides to take her money and put it on his plump rump. But he’s a bit rough around the edges and she decides she’s going to clean him up, get him into some slick outfits to show the other fighters he’s someone to be reckoned with. Again, sure. None of that matters. What matters is that her effort to spiff him up gave me my first glimpse of heaven on earth.
At some point during Lionheart, my cousins had fallen asleep and I was only half paying attention. Then, JCVD stepped into frame, naked as can be. Suddenly I was completely awake. How could I not be? Before my eyes, between a broad back and thick thighs were two stacks of tan musclebound majesty. I may have gasped. Possibly even passed out for a sec.
When I came to, I checked to see if everyone was fully in dreamland. They were. I reached for the remote as carefully and quietly as possible and proceeded to hit rewind with all the force in my body. I played the moment again. Jean-Claude is in a red room, framed from the ankles up, holding a luxurious dark blue bathrobe which he eventually (and disappointingly) puts on. The light from the window is hitting him just right and there might've been angels singing, it's a bit fuzzy. I hit pause. Now, this was a VHS so the image quality wasn’t amazing. Butt (ha!) despite the squiggly freeze frame lines I knew I had never seen anything quite so parfait.
One of my cousins stirred. I hit play at lightning speed and pretended to be half asleep. He didn’t wake. I gave it a moment and eventually sat up, pressed rewind. Play. Pause. Rewind. I took note of the slight jiggle in the haunches as Jean-Claude finds his mark. Play. Pause. Rewind. I memorize the divine dimples where the sensuous curve of the lower back kisses the braggadocious buns. Play. Pause. Rewind. Play. Pause. Rewind.
I held my breath, not wanting to make any extra noise so I could bask in this jubilation a little longer. Then my cousin rolled over. I smashed the play button and was all like, “Huh? Did you say something? What?” He groggily focussed on the TV, shaking his head. The moment had passed, thank Christ. He asked me to explain what had happened so far. I told him, conveniently leaving out the part where I had had an out of body experience thanks to coming face to screen with an Olympian being of celestial birth.
I spent the rest of the movie thinking about that scene and marvelling at Jean-Claude’s body.
Because who're we kidding? His whole body is amazing. The man worked hard and it showed. He’d been doing martial arts since he was ten and had several years of ballet under his black belt. After starting to lift weights he won the bodybuilding title of Mr Belgium. He was also gorgeous in the face. Problem was, Van Damme knew he was attractive and often had a smug tilt to his head. That cockiness both repulsed and drew me to him.
I became pretty fixated, not gonna lie. I started seeking out his films just to get a glimpse of that body-oddy-oddy. Lucky for me, he didn’t mind showing it off. Some of my favourite shots include 1992’s Universal Soldier in which he sweatily strips down to nothing but a pair of white gym socks in front of an air conditioner. There's also 1993’s Nowhere to Run where he emerges, glistening in the sun, from a lake. He's caught by a little girl and backs into the water, giving us the same Poseidon-like shot butt (ha!) in reverse. And finally 1988’s Bloodsport - which might be the ultimate gluteal shot because as he's about to put on a pair of red briefs, he seems to pause for a second as if to say, “That’s right, drink it in because it is magnificent.”
Honourable mentions go out to the full or partially clothed shots that still make the heart skip a beat - starting with 1994’s Timecop, featuring a truly terrible haircut and an underwear-clad fight scene where to avoid getting electrocuted, he does the splits onto his kitchen counters. Or how about Maximum Risk from 1996 where he fights a guy in a Russian sauna wearing only a towel. If only he'd gone the Full Viggo and dropped the towel altogether. And finally, we have 1991’s Double Impact. This is probably my favourite Van Damme film since it features two big beefy scoops of Jean-Claude. He plays twins in the film, separated as babies after the murder of their parents. The family’s trusted bodyguard mistakenly thinks the one child died along with the parents and he adopts his rescuee, taking him to America. The other baby gets dropped off on the steps of an orphanage by the family maid as she dies.
One of the first shots of the American twin - who has a thick Belgian accent despite spending his entire life in America - is at his martial arts studio where he is asked to take over the stretch portion of an aerobics class down the hall. After he extolls the virtues of flexibility, he drops into a deep split. The camera sits low in the bright pink room, inviting us to bask in the spandex-clad mounds as he bounces them up and down. This bounce is presumably to show just how deep his split is, but really it’s about as homoerotic as any image I’ve seen in a mainstream film. And this despite the fact the class is full of women, ogling him hungrily.
I once attempted to rent this movie at Queen Video’s flagship location (which is now sadly closed). My friend stood beside me and made a face. As we walked out sans film, she said, “Wait, what were you trying to rent?” “Double Impact,” I said, disappointed. “Sounds like porn.” she scoffed. I spent the rest of the walk defending the film. Then, as we entered the house I admitted, “Really though, I just wanted to see Jean-Claude’s fine, fine ass.”
In other words, damn you, Mr Van Damme. I’m ruined for life because no other rear will ever be as redoubtable, no tush as terrific, no booty as beautiful.
Don’t believe me, darling reader? Then take a look. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Now tell me I’m wrong.