Lionheart Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by MVD Rewind Collection
Directed by Sheldon Lettich
Written by Sheldon Lettich and Jean-Claude Van Damme
1990, 104 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on June 12th, 2018
Jean-Claude Van Damme as Lyon
Harrison Page as Joshua
Deborah Rennard as Cynthia
Lisa Pelikan as Melanie
Ashley Johnson as Nicole Gaultier
Brian Thompson as Russell
Abdel Qissi as Attila
When his brother is horrifically injured in Los Angeles, Lyon deserts his post with the French Foreign Legion in Africa to come to his aid. He travels to the United States on a freighter ship only to find himself in New York. Lyon finds his way into an underground fighting circuit in order to make some travel money where he meets a promoter named Joshua. Lyon proves himself more than capable in a fight and is soon introduced to a big-league organizer named Cynthia, who caters to a more upscale audience. Los Angeles calls, but Lyon arrives too late to see his brother alive. He agrees to more fights in order to raise money for his brother’s wife and daughter. Cynthia continues to book more skilled fighters, but Lyon handles them with ease until a brute named Attila is brought in. Attila has a record of killing his opponents and our hero may be next on his list. Can Lyon survive and provide for his family or will he go down in flames?
In 1990, Jean-Claude Van Damme (Cyborg) was hot off his success in Kickboxer and looking to expand his acting skills. He came up with the original story and co-wrote the screenplay for Lionheart with director Sheldon Lettich (Double Impact) and together they came up with a plot that allowed the martial artist to play a dramatic role in addition to delivering numerous fight scenes. Lyon’s motivation is not revenge, but rather to help his family with the loss of his brother. Many times throughout his career Van Damme has played the stoic hero unfazed by his surroundings, but here he is a sensitive man trying to do the right thing. His acting is solid and he does a lot to carry the picture, as he appears in almost every scene. Traditional fans will be more than happy with the numerous action sequences that are well-choreographed and effective.
The supporting cast does a fine job, particularly Harrison Page (Carnosaur), who co-stars as Joshua, Lyon’s friend and manager. The two are a classic odd-couple pairing and share terrific onscreen chemistry. Deborah Rennard (Gang Related) plays Cynthia, the icy upscale fight promoter who is using Lyon for her own gains. Lisa Pelikan (Ghoulies) is Melanie, Lyon’s sister-in-law trying to keep her head above water. She initially blames Lyon for not doing enough but is soon won over by his efforts. Young Ashley Johnson (What Women Want) makes her debut as Lyon’s niece Nicole and does well in the part. She and Pelikan play well off each other and are a believable family unit. Brian Thompson (Doctor Mordrid) usually plays the heavy, but here he is Cynthia’s right-hand man Russell. His job is to be intimidating but never faces off against Van Damme.
Lionheart remains a high-water mark of Van Damme’s early work, as it allows him more opportunities to show off his skills both physical and dramatic. JCVD helped choreograph the action scenes that feature different styles of fighting. He is in top form here and shows quite a bit of the technique that would follow him throughout his lengthy career. The film does not feature a traditional villain, just a series of increasingly skilled opponents. A few years ago, Universal released a Blu-ray that was bare bones except for a trailer. Now, the MVD Collection has put together an extensive special edition that includes an extended cut of the film and several new interviews and an audio commentary. The film has a devoted fan base and members will definitely want to pick up this deluxe edition of this classic action flick.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the film has undergone a Hi-Def transfer with impressive results. Colors are really vibrant and black levels are inky and there is plenty of small-object detail.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio from the previous Blu-ray release does a moderately fine job, but sounds a bit thin. Audiences will be happy to hear the all-new DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that MVD has included for the extended edition. The expanded soundtrack is a welcome treat that plays across the room during the numerous fight scenes throughout the picture.
Optional English, French or Spanish subtitles are included on the theatrical cut for anyone in need.
MVD has loaded this release with bonus material starting with the inclusion of the European cut (110 minutes) of the film that adds a few character beats throughout and a little more graphic violence at the beginning. The new material comes from a standard definition source and there are dips in picture quality on occasion.
An audio commentary with director Sheldon Lettich and actor Harrison Page is a fun trip down memory lane as the two old friends reminisce about the production. Their memories are sharp and they keep the banter running without fail. The commentary plays over only the European cut of the picture.
The all-new documentary Lionheart: The Inside Story (47 minutes) catches up with Lettich and Jean-Claude Van Damme, who discuss the origins of the project. Producer Eric Karson reveals the numerous titles the film carried around the world before moving on to talk about the scripting, casting and fight sequences. Actors Deborah Rennard, Brian Thompson and Harrison Page are all on hand to share production stories. The piece is very thorough and presents a lot of information in a thoughtful manner.
Inside Lionheart with the Filmmakers and Cast (26 minutes) is a companion piece to the previous documentary that features the same interview participants. The cast reflect on various aspects of the production, including working with Van Damme as an actor and not just a martial artist.
JCVD reflects on the action in Lionheart: Behind the Fights (10 minutes). He is joined by the producer, the director and various cast members who share stories of the numerous action scenes.
The vintage EPK making-of (9 minutes) features behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with members of the cast and crew pitching the film.
Director Sheldon Lettich sits down for an extended interview (26 minutes) for the German film market in which he talks about how he got into filmmaking. The piece covers a lot of ground and provides a nice overview of his approach to the work.
Actor Harrison Page is interviewed as part of the same program as the previous segment with Lettich. He shares biographical information and how he approaches performances.
Behind the scenes of the audio commentary (6 minutes) was recorded for a German release and shows the participants in the recording booth.
A photo gallery (5 minutes) presents several promotional images and behind-the-scenes stills in both color and black and white,
A collection of five short scenes are presented here as a series of TV clips to be used during interviews promoting the film.
The original theatrical trailer is included along with previews for assorted other titles available from the MVD Rewind Collection.