Darkness of Man (2024) 

An Interpol agent gets involved with a witness, getting close, and eventually taking on a father figure role for her son after her passing. As he reluctantly gets involved further into the child’s family business, he soon discovers there are more dangers awaiting his protégé than he expected. 

Based on a story by Jean-Claude Van Damme and James Cullen Bressack, the film itself is written by Bressack and Alethea Hnatko-Cho, with Bressack also directing. This action-thriller doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does create something interesting to watch out of the recent trend of JCVD as a reluctant father figure. Here, he takes on the responsibility out of duty to the dead mother, protecting a son who doesn’t want to be protected, which soon leads him to find out that there is more than one gang willing to cause him trouble for being in their way of their business. However, not all is as it seems. The writing here is basically as expected, giving the star some emotional moments, some fights, and generally working with his strength to make this a decent story for the viewer. The direction is on point, clearly knowing action films and how to get a Van Damme film out of Van Damme, be it the current slightly grumpier, more life-worn version of the early Van Damme most first met. The film is about his character and most definitely a vehicle for his skills, so between the writing and direction, the most is made out of fun it all. 

On screen performances-wise, the lead is the star here, giving a bit of a more vulnerable performance, one where we see Van Damme as someone who can still fight, but also someone who gets hurt and has to heal, someone who has seen some fights and been in some fights that didn’t all go his way. He’s hardened by life yet shows a softness when it comes to those he loves. JCVD gets to act here, it’s decent, but do not expect something on par with the film called JCVD. He does well here though, so it’s a solid watch for his fans. Joining him and giving solid performances are Ji Yong Lee and Emerson Min, as Mr. Kim a quiet and calm store owner who happens to be the lead’s protégé’s grandpa and Jayden the grandson who is straight up annoying at times and disrespectful, giving exactly the right performance for the part, making him a kid who thinks he knows better, but really needs help. Playing the love interest for JCVD is Kristanna Loken who is good here and makes you wish there was more of her. In cameos, fans will spot Cynthia Rothrock as a nurse (a waste of her fighting skills to be honest) and Shannen Doherty as a teacher. Both are fun to spot and bring a little extra to the film. In terms of the gangs, we get two sides, the Koreans and the Russians and the Korean side of thing is more interesting in terms of writing and in terms of performances. The Russian side seems somehow less important here even though that’s not the case story-wise. The accents on the Russian side are uneven and anyone with Russian folks in their circles will notice this. Yes, a small thing to pick apart, but something that is quite obvious in a film filled with different accents (from Van Damme’s to the Koreans’ to the Russians’).  On the technical side, the film is well shot, lit, edited, etc. It’s one of those films where the right team was brought on board to make it look solid. The lighting allows the viewer to see even the darker scenes, playing with things like streetlights and car taillights to bring the action into view while keeping the realism of the scene. The cinematography works well here, along with the editing, giving viewers proper views of the scenes, with most fights and action sequences being fairly well seen. A few bits here and there are overly edited or have a camera that moves too much, but this is something that can easily be overlooked here and there. 

Darkness of Man is a good action thriller that may have less action than Van Damme fans have come to expect, but what is there is done well. The story works, most of the performances are good, and the cameos are fun. The film is one that is made with a very specific audience in mind and that the core audience will find and enjoy it. As a fan of 90s Van Damme, seeing him age and allow himself to be just that little bit less badass is something positively interesting. The fact that he co-created the story here makes sense and shows that he’s evolving his career along with himself, giving into the reluctant father figure image he has had for a few years now. This is part of the good current Van Damme films, one that will be easy to watch more than once. Even with the annoying teenage character…