Christopher Dubois is an American for sure who just wants to do right by the gang of street urchins under his care. After finding himself sold off to a muay thai trainer in the Far East he becomes determined to get into, and win, a big tournament where the prize is a golden dragon. Can he beat the baddie and win the gold before it’s too late? Find out in… The Quest.
How?! Christopher Dubois is a clown who uses his physical clown training to help the children of New York and not to help the local mobsters who want to use his big muscles for their own devices. When this gets him on the wrong side of the law he accidentally stows away on a boat headed to the Far East on which he becomes a prisoner. When some pirates led by Lord Dobbs and his ally Harry pick him up they immediately sell him off to a muay thai trainer. Meanwhile fighters across the globe are getting invites to the Ghang-gheng, a fighting tournament where the prize is a big ol’ gold dragon. Dubois is determined to get in the tournament and win the dragon for the children back home. Falling back in with Dobbs, they intercept Maxie Devine, a boxer invited to the tournament, and a reporter, Carrie Newton. On the trek to the tournament it is eventually revealed that Dubois meant to steal Maxie’s invite and the two have a brawl and a falling out, with Maxie eventually giving Dubois his invite. At the tournament Maxie shows up again only to ask that Dubois legally take his place as he is the better fighter. They give Dubois one shot and if he falls in the first round then Maxie will pay the penalty. From here a bunch of people punch each other. Mostly Dubois wins through sheer determination and Khan, a Mongolian fighter, totally owns everyone. He even straight up murders Dubois’ muay thai frenemy. Dobbs and Harry get spooked by how monstrous Khan is and decide instead to steal the gold dragon using a zeppelin (for real). They are caught and sentenced to death, but Dubois asks that they allow him to fight for their lives. If he wins, he’ll give up the gold dragon for them. Everyone agrees and of course Dubois ends up beating Khan against all odds. Despite not getting the dragon he explains that everything turned out A-OK. THE END.
Why?! For the children, obviously. Who wouldn’t look at The Quest starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and think, “Well obviously he needs a really good reason to fight in this tournament… perhaps a long introductory scene where he’s a clown who creepily lives with and cares for a gang of street urchins.” All the rest are pretty standard motivations, but JCVD’s are pure insanity.
Who?! There are a number of former fighters and stuff in this, which makes sense. The most interesting is Koji Kitao, the Japanese sumo wrestler. He has kind of a sad story in that he rose to prominence in sumo wrestling at a young age and was granted the title of Yokozuna even before winning a major championship. After that there was a lot of turmoil with him and never did win that championship before getting unceremoniously ejected from the sport. He then became a wrestler and stuff. He later started coaching sumo, but it was a wild journey.
What?! Pretty good MacGuffin action in this guy with a giant golden dragon as the prize for the tournament. The obvious quibble is that it’s not a MacGuffin at all. It clearly has no power other than making someone rich and making waves in the gold market. So it’s no mystery or anything. It’s just money. But whatever, it’s big and gold and everyone wants it.
Where?! The best parts of the film are in NYC where Dubois operates his clown/street urchin business (which sounds a bit sketchy). But that’s pretty brief. The rest are in Thailand then in the Lost City (which is allegedly in Tibet). If I controlled the film I would have had him travel all the way to Thailand and then travel to the Lost City which turns out to be… in NYC?! Whaaaaaa? That’s right in the sewers of NYC and then all the street urchins can come and cheer him on. Three thumbs up from me. A-.
When?! The internet says that it’s set in 1925. I think that must be right because everywhere says it, but I can’t remember if JCVD just says it in his weird old man voice or if it’s given to us as an intertitle. But whatever, that’s the best we’ll do cause the whole film takes place over several months and I don’t think the invitation has a date on it. C because I honestly can’t remember when they mentioned it. When something like that is so pervasive, even in contemporary reviews, it makes me wonder if it was in the press kit or something.
I have always unabashedly loved this movie. From the opening JCVD in old man makeup to the ending JCVD in old man makeup, it’s a feast of JCVD as auteur. I’ve always thought that films like this give you a look into someone’s brain. Just like a book gives you insight into the types of things an author thinks about. Clearly here JCVD thinks “They asked me to direct! Well what do I want to direct? I guess Bloodsport because that was great and made me famous,” and then “wait, it’s too similar to Bloodsport, let’s make it so I have to win the tournament to save some kids.” And the funniest part is that the Bloodsport portion is easily the best part of the film. It’s silly in an 80’s kind of way, which makes sense as it’s just a remake of a 1988 film, but fun. The rest is fun, but mostly because it is so crazy. Even if you don’t watch the entire film, just watch the bookends with JCVD in old man makeup. It’s straight out of a TV movie or something. I love it. Patrick?
Hello everyone! We got Van Damme! We got Van Damme pretending to be American! We got Van Damme directing himself pretending to be American!!! Let’s go!
P’s View on the Preview – You better believe I’ve seen The Quest before. The stories from the preview are pretty funny though. Moore straight up dunks on Van Damme and the entire production and basically says the second unit director did the entire thing. Also they were actually sued by the Bloodsport guy (who won!) for just copying the Kumite. Awesome. What were my expectations? Popcorn stains all over my shirt because I was going to be so entertained by Van Damme’s excellent kickboxing skillz.
The Good – Uh everything? More seriously though, once they get to the tournament having the film devolve into just a guy-from-this-place vs guy-from-that-place as a showcase of fighting styles is a brilliant idea and works super well. This is exactly the same reason Mortal Kombat works as well and it is absolutely how all of these kinds of films should operate. Mini-bosses, boss fights, and tournaments. It rarely fails! Best Bit: This film is just a video game like Street Fighter and you don’t even need to know anything besides that Van Damme has a heart of gold and deserves to win that giant gold dragon.
The Bad – This might actually be the worst directed film I’ve ever seen. Everything from the wonky Dutch angles all over the place, to the cheap looking sets and ludicrous set up in fake-NYC. The whole thing is just absurdly amateurish, as one would expect from the amateur director Jean-Claude Van Damme. Do yourself a favor and watch just the open scene with Van Damme in terrible old man makeup. It is the greatest! Fatal Flaw: They allowed non-director Jean-Claude Van Damme to write a script and direct a film starring himself. The definition of a blank check given to a person who has no idea what to do with that level of power.
The BMT – If I were to choose a single film to embody the Mind of a Madman / Blank Check type of filmmaking … well, I would choose Battlefield Earth. But the second choice would easily be this film. It is the perfect combination of ludicrously entertaining and astonishingly bad. I love this film. I’ve watched it multiple times and will watch it many more times. A future Hall of Fame lock. Did it meet my expectations? There were so many popcorn stains on my shirt I had to just throw it in the garbage. Worth it, I bought a The Quest shirt off of Etsy to replace it.
Roast-radamus – I love it as a Setting as a Character (Where?) for Tibet, although that can’t really go onto the map I don’t think, decently Thailand as well. I’m going to throw it a bone and give it a small MacGuffin (Why?) for the mysterious not-Kumite invitation / giant gold dragon, even though it really doesn’t meet the definition. Whatever, this film just deserves a lot of awards. BMT for miles and miles, I think it could easily win this year.
Sequel, Prequel, Remake – Oh I think this definitely deserves a serious Remake for television. Imagine it. You set it up with three episodes of (1) what he needs money for, (2) how he finds out about the tournament, (3) getting to the tournament. Then four rounds of fights are the next four episodes with some serious martial arts action. Then a final episode where Van Damme leaves as the winner (without the money like in the movie) vowing to return the following year to defend his title and win the money. The second season is him winning the tournament and the money. The third he hears his protege has entered and returns to the Lost City to coach him. The fourth is a Tournament of Champions. And the final season is him realizing that he must stop the tournament by banding up with the foes-with-hearts-of-gold he’s met in the prior four seasons to take on the army the Lost City has assembled from the champions of the past. Boom, an easy five season order. Call me Van Damme, we’ll discuss the contract.