The Quest

on April 26, 1996 by Pat Kramer
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   In his directorial debut, Jean-Claude Van Damme shows versatility behind the camera using this martial arts vehicle for one of the most interesting and exciting exhibitions of world-class fighting, despite a rather lackluster storyline. As the film's central character, petty thief Chris Dubois, Van Damme struggles to show a softer, more vulnerable character. However, his trademark deadpan delivery is stiff, forcing viewers to guess about his emotional state.
   Filmed almost entirely in Thailand, The Quest opens in the slums of New York City in the 1920's where Dubois and his band of orphans flee marauding gangsters and vengeful police who are eager to jail their leader. Almost from the start, Van Damme's keen self defense moves are called into action as he, twice, narrowly escapes to a departing ship only to become enslaved by gun smugglers. Through a series of flashbacks we learn of Dubois' sad orphan past which, presumably, accounts for his desire to "do right" as he faces challenge after challenge, hoping to someday return to save the children.
   Along the way he is rescued by Lord Dobbs (Roger Moore), a charmingly slick captain of a pirate ship, who sells him back into slavery to Khao (Aki Aleong), the master of the kickboxers of Muay Thai Island. However, when Dobbs sees an opportunity to make further profit off of him as a fighter, he and Harry (Jack McGee), his righthand man, take Dubois on the quest to the Lost City in Tibet where the Golden Dragon awaits the winner of this international gladiator competition. James Remar is Maxie, the American Heaveyweight champ while Janet Gunn is newspaper reporter "Carrie" whose role does little to glamorize the film's hardness.
   While the plot wears thin in many spots with little character development, it is the final fighting scenes which merit this film worthwhile. Displaying a myriad of fighting styles from around the world, The Quest's shots of the Ghan-gheng competition provide the drama, intensity, and color that this film lacks in other areas. Each fight scene shows the stealth, finesse and cultural influence of the individual fighters as they face off against one another. While the Spanish fighter uses Flamenco-style twists and turns, the Chinese fighters recreates the movements of jungle animals, but it is the Mongolian fighter Khan (Abdel Qissi), Dubois' chief opponent, who is the most convincing and frightening.
   Unfortunately, as powerful as these scenes are they do not make up for a less than compelling storyline. Lacking in cohesion, The Quest is more a study in worldwide combat than a tribute to Van Damme's ascension as a director. Jean-Claude Van Damme, Roger Moore, James Remar. Directed by Jean-Claude Van Damme. Screenplay by Steven Klein and Paul Mones. Story by Frank Dux and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Produced by Moshe Diamant. A Universal release. Action. Rated PG-13. Running time: 95 min
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