What is it with ‘80s/’90s stars and twin roles? Long after the iconic “Doublemint Twins” TV ads had lost their luster, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nicolas Cage, Jackie Chan, and even Ernest P. Worrell himself, the late Jim Varney, all played twins on film, yielding dramatically different results. My favorite instance of an egomaniac playing his own twin, however, is Jean-Claude Van Damme in 1991’s Double Impact.
Double Impact is far from Van Damme’s most popular movie and is consistently eclipsed by the likes of Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and even Street Fighter. While I hold all three of those movies embarrassingly close to my heart, there’s a certain charm to seeing “the muscles from Brussels” attempting to play identical twins with polar opposite personalities that catapults it to the top of the high-kicking heap for me.
Can They Give Him Two Oscars?
Double Impact begins with a flashback showing the family of a British businessman named Paul Wagner, alongside his wife and infant twin boys, Chad and Alex, at the opening ceremony for the underwater Hong Kong Victoria Harbour Tunnel, which he helped fund. While driving home after the ceremony, Paul’s family is attacked by Triad assassins, led by the sinister Moon (played by the inimitable Bolo Yeung), who is the personification of bulging pectoral muscles. Moon kills Paul and his wife, but his attempt to murder the twins is foiled by Paul’s bodyguard, Frank, who blinds one of Moon’s eyes and flees with Chad. Alex is rescued by the family’s maid, who wastes no time dumping the baby off at a French Catholic orphanage.
25 years later, Chad is living a life of luxury in Los Angeles, teaching aerobics and karate to groups of what can only be described as EXTREMELY HORNY women (one of which is B-movie legend Julie Strain). And by teaching, I mean graphically spreading his legs in front of them repeatedly while wearing the tightest pants possible. At this point, you might be wondering why someone born to British parents in Hong Kong who now lives in Los Angeles has a very thick French accent. Well, because Frank raised Chad in Paris before moving to America, of course! It’s the little script details like this that show how impeccably-written this movie is. Eat your heart out, Tarantino.
Double Your Impact, Double Your Fun
Frank convinces Chad to go to Hong Kong with him on a “business venture” a little too easily, and the two immediately fly to the island. While hanging out in a mahjong parlor by himself, Chad is surprised to see people reacting as if they know him, including a young blonde woman who seems to think he's her boyfriend. Not reacting like this is odd in the slightest, Chad leaves the parlor with the woman and is attacked and knocked out by a man named Alex, who looks identical to himself. Frank arrives shortly after Chad regains consciousness to clear up the confusion, informing the two men that they are long-lost twin brothers. Although raised in Hong Kong, Alex conveniently has an identical French accent to Chad due to growing up in a French orphanage. Huh.
Frank informs the twins that their parents were murdered by Triads sent by their father’s business partner, Nigel Griffith, who wanted all of the money earned from the construction of the underwater tunnel for himself. Frank’s plan to reunite the brothers and take down Nigel Griffith and the Triads at the same time is dismissed by the hot-headed Alex, who has his own shady business dealings in Hong Kong, smuggling cognac and Mercedes cars. Chad helps Alex with his smuggling operation to earn his trust, and the two, along with Frank and Alex’s girlfriend Danielle (the blonde woman who had earlier mistaken Chad for Alex), hatch a plan to take down both Griffith and Triad boss Raymond Zhang.
Danielle, who works for Griffith, snoops around his offices to look for incriminating evidence, but gets caught and, uh… thoroughly “searched” by his bodybuilding bodyguard, Kara. Meanwhile, Chad and Alex attack an island drug facility belonging to Zhang and then sabotage one of his clubs with explosives disguised as crates of cognac. The action in these sequences is derivative of John Woo’s films of the time, with a mixture of acrobatics and dual-wielding gunplay, and while it’s nothing compared to, say, 1989’s The Killer, it’s undeniably fun when Van Damme tosses the guns aside and starts jump-kicking people in the face. After their successful sabotage missions, the pair return to the abandoned hotel off the coast that they are using as a base.
This is where things get weird. Chad sets out alone to assist Danielle while Alex and Frank are away. When Alex finds out that his girlfriend is alone with his twin brother, he flies into a jealous rage, furiously drinking and sweating while having fantasies about his brother and girlfriend having the most “Skinemax”-worthy gratuitous sex possible. The scene takes up approximately two hours of the 110-minute total and leaves everyone involved feeling incredibly uncomfortable, including the viewer.
When Chad returns to the hotel, he is viciously attacked by Alex. The two fight each other for what feels like an eternity, and Alex leaves in disgust after knocking out his brother. But we all know it was the words and accusations that hurt Chad most, right? With the group separated, the Triads move in for revenge, kidnapping Frank and Danielle and taking them to Zhang’s boat where they can be used as bait to draw out Chad and Alex.
The twins set aside their differences in order to rescue their friends from Zhang’s clutches, and wouldn’t you know it, Griffith just happens to be on the boat as well! The remainder of the movie is pretty much all action, with one big one-on-one fight after another. Chad fights Moon, who does his best Donkey Kong impression by throwing barrel after barrel at the relatively scrawny karate man before accidentally (and hilariously) electrocuting himself. Alex is attacked by a guy with killer spurs, who we’ll just refer to as “killer spurs guy.” This sequence is surprisingly artfully staged, with “killer spurs guy” leaping in and out of a blue-lit frame from the darkness to slash at his opponent with his spurs.
Divide and Conquer
After dispatching all of the henchmen and rescuing Frank and Danielle, the brothers set their sights on Zhang and Griffith. They once again split up because digital technology is expensive, and we need just a few more action set pieces. Alex and Zhang fight in what is a much more even match than you would expect. Never underestimate a middle-aged man with a cane-sword, I guess. Zhang’s weapon proves to be his undoing as one of his thrusts is deflected into the gears of a gigantic contraption and he is crushed to death.
Chad and Danielle have a much less climactic “fight” against Griffith, who uses a crane to V E R Y S L O W L Y push them off the boat with a shipping container. Assuming that a short drop into the water killed his adversaries, Griffith leaves the crane to look over the edge of the boat, unaware that Chad is stealthily climbing back aboard. Taking over the unmanned crane’s controls, Chad picks up a shipping container and drops it onto Griffith, who is too busy looking up and screaming to bother getting out of the way. Chad, Alex, Frank, and Danielle all celebrate into a freeze frame as a cheesy referential rap song begins to play over the credits.
Feel the Impact
Double Impact perfectly represents what I love about Van Damme’s films. It’s full of fun martial arts action, laughably bad writing, and enough ‘90s cheese to dip a pound of nachos into. Van Damme’s ego is on full display here, and while he has never been a great actor outside of the surprisingly self-reflective JCVD (2008), it’s fun to watch his snarling, brooding Alex and privileged, hoity-toity Chad. The supporting cast is fun as well – especially Bolo Yeung, who also played Van Damme’s nemesis in 1988’s Bloodsport.
Most of Van Damme’s films are highly derivative of other action/martial arts films, and Double Impact is no exception. The gunplay feels like it’s straight out of a John Woo movie (Van Damme would, uh… woo Woo shortly afterward to make 1993’s Hard Target), and there is quite a bit of Lethal Weapon influence to be found as well. The climactic action on Zhang’s boat feels suspiciously similar to Lethal Weapon 2‘s final act – especially Chad’s shadowy fight against “killer spurs guy.” Flaws aside, Double Impact is a blast from start to finish, and a great introduction to Van Damme’s filmography. It’s trashy, action-packed, and full of questionable acting – everything a scholockoholic could want!