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‘JCVD’ Brings ‘Real’ Van Damme to Disc

22 Apr, 2009 By: Billy Gil

Mabrouk El Mechri

Writer-director Mabrouk El Mechri’s JCVD (out April 28 from Peace Arch Entertainment at $19.99 for DVD, $34.99 for Blu-ray Disc) came from a producer’s idea to do a film about Jean-Claude Van Damme starring the actor himself. But, being a fan of the action star, Mechri steered the film out of the tabloid-circus story it could have been and into the deft tribute that JCVD is.

“It was more about the media clown he became years [after his success],” Mechri said of the original script. “The producer was stuck because he didn’t like the script either. … It was more about Jean-Claude doing drugs in front of TV cameras instead of questioning his own life. I gave him some ideas about what could be done.”

Mechri said he grew up in a tough Parisian suburb in which he awaited his turn with the VCR to watch Van Damme films such as Kickboxer and Bloodsport. When Mechri was approached to become involved, the upstart director with a handful of credits to his name asked to meet Van Damme first. Mechri said he was immediately impressed by how humble, smart and accomplished Van Damme is.

“We ended up staying up very late,” Mechri said of their initial meeting. “We had a lot of wine. At 4 a.m. I told him, I want to do this film, but you have to promise me not to become involved in the casting process or get too involved, and to be an actor again. There’s no room for two control freaks like us on the set. He pretty much stood by it.”

So Mechri set about creating a film that blends Van Damme’s true-life struggles — drugs, family issues and a waning career — together with a fantastical story that involved the fictionalized Van Damme returning home to Brussels for some time away from his spiraling life, only to have the international media believe he has held up a post office. The wild plot, together with some gritty action sequences, cheekily borrows from the Van Damme body of work, with an action-packed opening sequence.

“Basically I wanted to do Dog Day Afternoon meets Being John Malkovich,” Mechri explained. “Obviously when you’re doing metafiction, you’re trying to do a lot of things that belong to the persona of the person you’re dealing with. I wanted people to feel like they got into the wrong theater for a few minutes. I enjoy it also as a director because I was a fan since I was 15, and it was my chance to shoot a Van Damme scene.”

Mechri said the disc doesn’t contain many deleted scenes because he doesn’t believe in them; however, he said he has about 40 minutes of extra footage showing the events from Van Damme’s point of view that were excised in favor of doing something punchier (the film as it stands is 97 minutes). Mechri wants to cut a two-hour-plus version of the film down the line.

Van Damme, while talking about his Sony Pictures DVD The Shepherd: Border Patrol to Home Media Magazine last year, said JCVD was his favorite film he’d ever been in. And Mechri hopes it will continue to help recharge the action hero’s career. Although Mechri is currently working on other projects, including a romantic comedy called The Midwife Crisis, he could be involved in future efforts starring the Muscles From Brussels.

“We talked about an idea of a spaghetti western, something between The Alamo and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” he said. “I’d love to do Bloodsport 2.”

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