In the 1920s, New York pickpocket Christoper DuBois (Jean-Claude Van Damme) flees both the police and the mob by stowing away on a boat. Before he leaves, he promises a group of orphans that he will return to them. Thay promise is easier made than kept because DuBois is captured by pirates, rescued by Lord Dobbs (Roger Moore), and then sold into slavery on an island off the coast of Siam.
Apparently, Siamese slavery means being taught in the ways of Muay Thai boxing because, when Dobbs eventually returns, DuBois is a champion fighter. Not holding a grudge about the whole slavery thing, DuBois requests that Dobbs and his partner, Harri (Jack McGee), accompany him to the Lost City of Tibet so that DuBois can represent the United States in a martial arts tournament. The winner receives a statue made entirely out of the gold, the legendary Golden Dragon. Wanting the dragon for themselves, Dobbs and Harri go with DuBois to Tibet. Also accompanying them is a reporter (Janet Gunn) and Max Devine (James Remar), the boxer was supposed to represent the United States but who dropped out when he realized that DuBois was the better fighter.
In the Lost City, DuBois survives several elimination rounds against the best fighters from across the world. While DuBois always shows mercy to his opponents, his main rival, Khan (Abdel Quissi), indiscriminately kills anyone who gets in the ring with him. Meanwhile, Dobbs and Harri make plans to steal the golden dragon for themselves.
When it comes to the second-tier action heroes of 1990s, Jean-Claude Van Damme was never as good an actor as Dolph Lundgren but he was still more likable than Steven Seagal. Van Damme’s appeal was that, in real life, he could actually do all of the things that he did in the movies. For action audiences, there was never any doubt about who would win if Van Damme and Steven Seagal ever went at in real life. Movies like The Quest never impressed the critics but they did give Van Damme’s fans exactly what they wanted out of a Van Damme film.
The Quest was unique because it was Van Damme’s debut as a director. Unlike a lot of actors-turned-director, Van Damme mostly resists the temptation to get too self-indulgent. There is one scene where Van Damme wears old age makeup and another where he wanders through the slums of New York while dressed as a clown but Van Damme is smart enough to leave most of the heavy acting to capable professionals like Roger Moore and James Remar. While Moore and Remar ham it up and keep things entertaining, Van Damme concentrates on fighting and trying to return to the orphans. The fight scenes are sometimes too short but at least Van Damme makes a point of showcasing each competitor’s different style. There aren’t many films that include both sumo wrestling and capoeira.
The Quest is basically Bloodsport in the 1920s but, as they used to say in the 90s, it’s still damme entertaining.