Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Van Dammage: Black Black

(roughly translated by a co-worker) 
"Sleepy? Refreshed! Black Black!"
     Jean-Claude Van Damme

Strolling around a Japanese market in Los Angeles today, I came across the usual snacks like Koala Yummies or whatever they're called now, those fruit flavored gum balls that come in packs of 4 in little boxes and of course, the chocolate covered biscuit stick known as Pocky.  Something else familiar yet totally unknown to me caught my eye, a variety of Black Black products.  Originally a gum found in Japan since 1983, Black Black is caffeinated and contains gingko, chrysanthemum flower extract and B vitamins to give you a kick in the mouth and noggin.  Why the heck would I be aware of a product only sold and advertised for in Japan?  Why, like all other things in life, Jean-Claude Van Damme of course!  In the early 90's, JCVD, like many famous in America movie icons, starred in a slew of commercials for the Japanese market.  Contemporaries Arnold Schwarzenegger hocked lunch noodles, Bruce Willis sold Subaru's and Sylvester Stallone displayed the classy side of Ham.  The likes of Mel Gibson, Sean Connery, Brad Pitt and George Clooney have all collected millions while advertising scotch, jeans, watches and more.

Just a week ago, Van Damme's UK only campaign for Coors Light returned with a hilarious, 80's style workout montage complete with uplifting synth score that finds The Muscles From Brussels building an ice castle to try and recapture the ice cold refreshment of The Silver Bullet.  In recent years, Van Damme's garnered more attention for commercials than he has for film roles.  What's not to love?  I'm sure a few days work nets him a hefty paycheck without having to travel for months on a shoot, nobody is asking him to do a press circuit after and there's a guaranteed audience.  Going back to the 90's when Van Damme was at the peak of his box office prowess, overseas commercials saw him karate kicking for energy drinks, joking around for caffeinated gum, smoldering for Versace and charming on behalf of chocolate.  In the 2000's JCVD was kicking fruit for Virgin Mobile, discussing his fondness for Mages in World of Warcraft and doing the splits on top of foam mattresses.  In 2010, Van Damme was recruited by Australia's DVD Amnesty program that offered $5 cash back for unwanted DVD's in a bid to clean up the country's epidemic of stockpiled movies in a series of entertaining spots that showcased a fake serious Jean-Claude getting amped to rid the country of their old movie collections.  A 2011 Gillette spot captures a faux irritated Van Damme recorded without his permission which ends poorly for the cameraman while DASH detergent showed off his funny side and comedic timing while dealing with a touchy feely fan. 

It was only last year that Van Damme experienced a resurgence thanks to his Epic Split between two moving Volvo trucks set to Enya in a spot that has won awards and racked up 75 million views.  Shortly before that it was a series of weirdfunny ads for GoDaddy that featured an out of nowhere Van Damme helping small business owners via playing the bongos, slicing flowers with a samurai sword and spiking his eyebrows.  While Van Damme worked hard to build up his brand and persona, he unfortunately was never able to shed his 90's image of the muscle bound Frenchman showing his butt, kicking people in the face and performing the splits whenever deemed necessary; even if he has matured into the greatest actor from the action star era of the good ol' 80's and 90's.  Without a signature role or franchise a la Arnold's Terminator and Conan, Stallone's Rocky or Rambo or Willis' Die Hard, viewers remember the moves if not the movies when it comes to the world's most famous living Belgian. 

Now at nearly 54 years old, Van Damme's brand of muscular karate grace combined with a self deprecating sense of humor and knowledge of self, along with the ability to still do the splits, is again serving him well as the Volvo ads come off surprisingly thoughtful while GoDaddy is plain goofy and a bit odd.  Like the mid 90's when Van Damme tried to split his onscreen persona in two, giving fans martial arts fest The Quest while trying to move further into the mainstream with guns over kicks action thriller Sudden Death, Jean-Claude Van Damme continues to subtly remind the public why they knew who was in the first place while letting them know he's grown up.

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