Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ask Me a Question: Double Impact w/ Sheldon Lettich

 "Hey, bro, we did it!" 

That's about how I felt after everything was said and done on Dammaged Goods' first live event, a Van Damme Double Dip featuring 1991's Double Impact and 1988's Bloodsport with Q&A featuring writer/director Sheldon Lettich.  Hosted by the awesome New Beverly theater, this whole thing came together rather quickly.  After a false start on trying to show Lionheart (Universal has no print, lame) then attempting to recruit Bolo Yeung (out of town), we forged ahead with the special evening(s).  The New Bev had a Bloodsport poster and Sheldon provided an original Double Impact one sheet for the lobby.  At showtime, my plan was to introduce myself, the blog and the movies then move into trivia with prizes like WWJCVDD? shirts and a VHS copy of Double Impact to be signed by Sheldon himself.  Upon hearing these ideas, Mr. Lettich dug into his own personal collection and came back with awesome promos from the release like industry invites, VHS release postcards and a press kit!  Questions ran the gauntlet of number of shooting days (63), number of times Sheldon has directed Van Damme (4), co-stars and more.

The print of Double Impact was quite good, some of the colors were washed out at times but otherwise very clean.  On the big screen you realize how frigging violent this movie is.  From the opening minutes massacre of Paul and Katherine Wagner to bloody, 90's style squib hits, multiple broken necks to kicks to the throat that look just a little too real, Double Impact delivers the Van Dammage.  Being Van Damme's first big budget, more mainstream affair, the action isn't just fists and feet as we get various shootouts, fights, chases on foot and water and explosions galore.  The movie is randomly hilarious, thanks to JCVD's acting as both the Hollywood playboy, karate and aerobics instructor Chad and the cigar chomping, woman slapping, mahjong parlor owning smuggler Alex who team up to take down the evil gangsters that killed their parents and stole their birthright to an expensive tunnel project.  Fighting through thugs, a bodybuilding, maybe lesbian security enforcer, a high kicking henchman with spurs on his boots for slicing throats and the mighty Bolo Yeung as Moon, Chad and Alex finally confront the men who killed their parents and separated them at birth.

One of my favorite parts in the movie is Chad's wearing of and Alex's multiple mentions of black silk underwear as an example of how soft Chad is and how hard Alex is for having been raised on the streets alone.  I asked Sheldon about the then throwaway line and he was flummoxed it's one of the most popular lines 20 some years later.  The scope of the film is much larger than anything Van Damme had done before as the exotic and grimy locales of Hong Kong are put on full display with the crowded streets, frog slicing markets, boat filled water front, jungle filled islands complete with abandoned hotels, shipping yards, cranes and whatnot.  We had a great crowd Sunday who hooted, hollered, clapped and laughed throughout.  Monday was a little more reserved but as the movie(s) continued, they got into the spirit too.

After the film, Sheldon, who is a great storyteller and has them for days, hit the audience with candid talk about meeting and working with Van Damme, working with Cannon, developing Lionheart, Double Impact, the twinning effects, his start as a writer and director and much more.  It was all kind of a blur being up front and asking him questions so here's some morsels of what I recall:

- Has a degree in Photography then studied Cinematography at AFI but switched to writing and directing after seeing how not great other students majoring in those fields were.
- Met Van Damme over the phone who was discussing the script to Bloodsport with Frank Dux in Hong Kong.  Lettich had met Dux earlier and during a car ride on the 101, Dux was telling his stories about a secret tournament dubbed "Bloodsport" which Sheldon thought was a great title.
- Cannon's Menahem Golan did not believe in JCVD.  The first cut of Bloodsport was a disappointment, potential had not been realized.  Van Damme went off to other companies to make movies and then when Blood hit, Golan came calling but still didn't think he was bankable, dubbed him "poison" and would never be a star like Michael Dudikoff.
- Talks about Frank Dux being a Walter Mitty style dreamer but never comes back to reality and had no proof he did anything notable in the military or underground martial arts tournaments.  In fact, his discharge form shows service dates so brief that he was most likely canned.  Claims to have won medal of honor but isn't on the actual public list.  Dux claims his work was so secret it has to be kept out of public record.
- Van Damme really did reedit the fight scenes in Bloodsport to make them what they became.
- Went to Paris for first time scouting for Corsican Brothers, Cannon went under and after a lawsuit, Sheldon walked away with the rights and that became Double Impact.
- Title came from Van Damme in the editing room, saying to show a punch from another angle to give it that "Double Impact".

- Twinning effects achieved in a non-CGI, computer era where each performance was shot with VD on one side, stand in on other, had a set of twins for over shoulder stuff and stunt men for fights who learned VD's kicking style, Van Damme would have to shower and change then do scenes from other side, reacting to audio from best takes then that is put together with an optical printer.
- A stunt man is hit by/throws himself at a car, looked so real, Sheldon went to see if he was still alive but the coordinator said he was just acting and held him back to not ruin the shot.
- Said the notion of playing two characters was not Van Damme's idea or an attempt to broaden his range, all started with original script Cannon had for Corsican Brothers.
- 1/3 of the film was shot in Valencia, outside Los Angeles, the Mahjong parlor, etc
- For whatever reason, got along fine with tough guys like Sylvester Stallone, Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Mark Dacascos and Steven Seagal, maybe it was from his Marine Corp. background or that they knew he wasn't direct competition in a sense.

Of course much more was discussed over two nights so I'll try to come back and do another post to follow up.  Thanks again to the staff at the New Bev, everyone on the Facebook page, readers here, the Van Damme Fans, Action Elite, Manly Movie, Twitter and Sherdog for all the positive vibes.  It was definitely a great way to start things off and we'll do it again soon.


  1. Hey, just wanted to say thanks for putting on this event, it really meant a lot to me. You've earned a new fan of your blog and I look forward to any future events you host. Thanks again!

    1. Thanks for coming out to the movies, Chris! If you didn't get a tee shirt last night, shoot me an e-mail I'll send you one as a token of my appreciation. More awesome 80's and 90's action coming soon!