Action Movie Fanatix Review: The Quest

A Lost City.  A Man Of Destiny.  A Test Of Honor.

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Roger Moore, James Remar, Janet Gunn, Jack McGee, Kristopher Van Varenberg, Louis Mandylor, Brick Bronsky, Stefanos Miltsakakis

Director: Jean-Claude Van Damme

1996  |  95 Minutes  |  PG-13

“Chris, I don’t know about you but I’m planning to see Times Square again.” – Maxie Devine

With a story written by Jean-Claude Van Damme and the real Frank Dux as well as being the directorial debut of Van Damme, The Quest was set up to be an instant Van Damme classic but never got the same recognition as Bloodsport.  And in viewing it, one can’t help but make comparisons to Bloodsport.

Chris Dubois (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is a good-hearted, juggling, acrobatic, clown thief who looks after a group of young orphans in 1925 New York.  He is forced to stow-away on a ship while fleeing a New York mobster.  Chris is found by the ships owners, a group of gun-smuggling pirates who enslave Chris.  Chris is told that when his work is done he will be killed but before that happens the ship is attacked by Lord Edgar Dobbs (Roger Moore).  Dobbs in turn sells Chris and leaves him in Siam where Dubois is trained in Muay Thai Kickboxing.  6 months later Dobbs sees Dubois in a kickboxing match and decides to have him enter in a fighting tournament in Tibet called the Ghan-gheng where the winner is awarded a large golden dragon.

As a kid I liked The Quest more than Bloodsport.  I actually think it does a better job of having a wide variety of fighting styles shown and while watching each fight I couldn’t help but pick who I wanted to win.  It is much less violent than Bloodsport but does a great job of capturing an Indiana Jones sense of wonder and adventure.  This probably doesn’t translate as well as an adult but as a youth I could just imagine these cities where very few outsiders had ever visited.

The story has some obvious holes.  The fact that Dubois is able to master Muay Thai kickboxing in 6 months is laughable.  But who am I to doubt JCVD’s power.  The beginning also plods along a bit until the tournament fights finally begin.

Chris’ biggest tournament rival is established as the Mongolian by him breaking the table Chris & Co. were having dinner at.  A dastardly deed indeed.  It is then further hammered home when the Mongolian kills Chris’ former Siamese muay thai training partner.  This scene is VERY similar to the scene where Chong Li curbstomps Ray Jackson during their fight in Bloodsport.

The fights are all fun and showcase the different styles of fighting well.  It is unfortunate that most fights are less than a minute long.  It would have been a much better showcase of all styles if each fight had gone back and forth a bit before having a winner.  Frankly, it would have been more entertaining too.

Van Damme relys more on his usual fancy spinning, split-legged kicks than he does true Muay Thai moves.  If he were to stay true to style he would have used more leg kicks, clinches, knees and elbows.  Tony Jaa has shown us that these techniques can work very well on film.

As an adult Bloodsport is always the superior martial arts tournament movie.  The Quest does bring some new ideas/themes to the table which help differentiate itself from its predecessor.  Where Bloodsport is more of a modern martial arts tournament movie, The Quest is a period action adventure martial arts tournament movie.  It is also much more kid-friendly and would be an excellent way to introduce young ones to Jean-Claude Van Damme.  And who wouldn’t want to do that?