Whether you know it as “Léon,” or “Lionheart,” or “Wrong Bet,” or “Full Contact,” or “AWOL,” or “Lion,” it’s tough to argue that this is one of Van Damme’s sillier roles. And this is a man who once played twins in an action movie vehicle (“Double Impact” is the best Van Damme movie ever made, I’ll argue that until I’m blue in the face). “Lionheart” is such an odd movie that I fondly remember loving back in 1990, but now in both versions, it’s kind of a weird movie that skips through various sub-genres of action cinema that feel awkward. At one point it even feels kind of like a “Rocky” wannabe.
After his long lost brother is burnt to death during a bad drug deal, Van Damme as Léon Gaultier, gets a letter from his sister in law, while in the French Foreign Legion. Despite wanting to go see his brother, his superiors insist that he finish his tour, but Léon goes AWOL and conveniently trudges through the desert for what seems like a day, and ends up at the docks of a steam ship that happens to be going to New York. There, Léon realizes he has no money and is having trouble tracking his sister down, and conveniently walks in to a group of homeless people staging fights and betting money. Using his massive martial arts skills, Léon with his new friend Joshua turn him in to a bonafide street fighting champion. He soon begins combating various warriors as a means of earning money for his family.
Along the way he gets involved with evil wealthy people, seeks out the people that murdered his brother, and dodges two soldiers looking for him from the Foreign Legion. That’s a lot of plot! While a lot of Van Damme’s movies were more hyper violent and vicious movies, he also starred in a lot of movies that set him as a family man or someone fighting for a noble cause. This isn’t a bad thing, but when you compare it with the dark and brutally violent “Death Warrant,” this comes off kind of goofy every now and then. The whole idea is clumsy to begin with, and even begins to feel like a weird “Rocky” clone with Léon overcoming the odds in a climactic final fight. There are also some odd plot holes; it’s never quite clarified how he ends up in New York, and how he made it across the African desert in a mere matter of hours on foot without being detected.
That said, the smaller details are less important and “Lionheart” is a pretty okay ation movie about street fighting that—you know–probably should have been called “Street Fighter.”
There are various cuts of “Lionheart” all over the world, but the MVD Rewind Collection supplies fans with two versions, the US theatrical cut, and the nearly two hours Director’s Cut. Both feel pretty different tonally, and it’s not a guarantee the Director’s Cut is the definitive Cut at all. “The Story of Lionheart” is a forty seven minute segment with a series of interviews with Van Damme and various others. “Inside “Lionheart” with the Filmmakers and Cast” is a twenty five minute continuation of the previous feature with more insight in to the production.
“Lionheart: Behind the Fights” is a ten minute look at the action scenes in the film, and there’s an archival behind the scenes with candid footage and interviews. There’s an interview with Sheldon Lettitch, co-star Harrison Page, and a Behind the Scenes look at the making of the audio commentary. There’s a Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery, Five Promotional TV Clips summing up to ten minutes, and finally an audio commentary with Sheldon Lettitch, and Harrison Page. The latter is available on the extended cut only. Finally, there’s a folded mini-poster is included in the keepcase.