In New York City, an elderly man walks into a bar, the only customer, and orders a coffee. The barman asks him if he'd like a spot of whiskey in it and he goes along with that, sitting down to wait to be served, but before he can settle three young punks walk in and start hassling the bartender. The old man warns them not to cause any trouble, then proves he means it by beating two of them up and scaring off the third. The barman gratefully asks him where he learned to fight like that which prompts the man to tell him a tale of 1925, when Christopher Dubois (Jean-Claude Van Damme) was young...
Wait a minute, this film was released in 1996 and Monsieur Van Damme is recalling the time seventy years ago when he looks about thirty, which would make him over one hundred years old in the wraparound sequences. It's a miracle Dubois is still alive, not least because of the amount of punishment his body takes in the bulk of the story. The Quest was his directorial debut and he made it count with a film that was essentially a retelling of Bloodsport only with a bigger budget and a period setting, the first half being an adventure yarn.
And the second half being about forty minutes of people pretending to beat each other up. In the early stages of that first half we realise that what Van Damme really wanted to be was Father Christmas as Dubois works the streets as a clown to provide for his gang of urchins - we'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn't want to be the next Fagin. Anyway, he has to run for it from both gangsters and the police (talk about unlucky) but promises to return with enough cash to take care of the kids. He ends up unwittingly stowing away on a ship to the Far East, where he meets one Lord Dobbs, played by Roger Moore in what he claimed was his least favourite role (does that include Boat Trip? Good grief).
Dobbs is a rogue and a pirate posing as an English gentleman (what else would he be with Sir Roger in the part?), and he abandons Dubois on an island where he is taught the ways of fighting in much the same way of a million martial arts movies before and since, so when Dobbs meets him again he has a proposition for him: take him to the tournament in Tibet and help him win the very expensive solid gold dragon that is up for grabs. This is all an extensive lead up to the head kicking and gut punching, so once the characters reach Tibet, joined by journalist Carrie Newton (Janet Gunn) and champion boxer Maxie Devine (James Remar) it all gets very repetitive.
What happens in this tournament is that representatives from a variety of countries lay into one another to see who is the best, although for some reason left unexplained Jean-Claude does not represent Belgium, but the United States. Maybe he's standing in for both as he still has the accent. Among the others are a Korean, a German, a Sumo wrestler from Japan, and various other stereotypical-looking stuntmen, so the Spaniard is dressed up as a flamenco dancer and there is a kilt-wearing Scotsman in there, but it pains me to say that he is rubbish, getting in a few jabs before having his bollocks crunched. Funnily enough nobody else thinks to use this move, as the climactic combat could have been much curtailed if they had. There are no surprises as to who wins, which makes this either enjoyably satisfying or achingly predictable depending on your point of view. Music by Randy Edelman.