Lionheart A.K.A. A.W.O.L. (1990) Universal DVD Review
We all know Lionheart is classic JCVD and this release from MVD Rewind is arguably the definitive version and a must-have for fans.
Plot: Léon Gaultier (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is a soldier in the French Foreign Legion, serving abroad in East Africa. But after his brother is cruelly murdered, Gaultier deserts his assignment and travels to the United States to help his widowed sister-in-law (Lisa Pelikan), who is now struggling to care for her children. But the job market is tough, so Gaultier takes his hand-to-hand combat skills into the brutal world of bare-knuckle fighting, where the paydays are nearly as big as the risks.
Review: Legionnaire Leon Gaultier (Jean-Claude Van Damme) deserts his post in Africa to try to make it to Los Angeles before his brother dies from wounds inflicted in a drug deal gone bad. Leon hops on the first ship he sees and as a stowaway he’s forced to work hard labor. He eventually jumps ship, lands in New York, and without a penny to his name or a green card, he stumbles into the underground fight circuit, where he immediately causes a sensation with his martial arts abilities. He picks up a scoundrel of a manager – a been-there-done-that guy named Joshua (Harrison Page) – who introduces him to the big leagues of the fight circuit. There he meets a vixen named Cynthia, who stages high-stakes fights, but before he can get to work for her, he goes to Los Angeles with the little money he’s earned, and he tries being a good Samaritan to his sister-in-law and his niece. When Cynthia comes down to L.A., she begins putting Leon to work, fighting bigger and badder opponents, until he faces the undefeated champion of the circuit: Attila (Abdel Qissi from The Quest).
This was the movie that got me into Van Damme. It’s bigger and slicker than Bloodsport and Kickboxer, and it gives Van Damme more room for dramatics. Director Sheldon Lettich manages to evoke a sense of scope and fills the screen with a solid supporting cast and fighters who are well matched against his star. Harrison Page is great as a genuine sidekick, and there’re plenty of moments where he’s stealing the scenes away from Van Damme. John Scott’s big, orchestral score gives the film a wonderful texture, and without it the movie might just be a run-of-the-mill tournament film. One of Van Damme’s very best films, Lionheart was co-financed by Imperial Entertainment, and one of the producers was Eric Carson (also in the film as a doctor), who helped make Oliver Gruner a star with Angel Town. Also starring Michel Qissi, Brian Thompson, Billy Blanks, Paco Christian Prieto (from Only the Strong), and Deborah Rennard. If you look closely, you can spot future action star Jeff Speakman (The Perfect Weapon) at the very end of the film.
MVD Rewind has pulled out all the stops for a deluxe, ultimate edition of this film. With the original theatrical version (104 minutes) as well as an extended cut (110 minutes) – both in HD, this is the fan’s dream come true. With a ton of interviews – both archival and newly produced – trailers, behind the scenes documentaries, and a mini-poster, no one can ask for a better edition than this.