In Hell (2003, USA)

In Hell

Ringo Lam (who directed the Hong Kong Prison on Fire movies) directs this as well, but if that gives you some optimism, the fact that it stars Jean-Claude Van Damme probably won’t.

JCVD plays an American, Kyle Lord, who is working in Russia. He comes home to find a man has raped and murdered his wife, but  when a court finds the perpetrator not guilty Lord shoots him dead on the spot and is himself sent to prison for life. It is quickly established that the Russians are to be portrayed in a very similar manner to the Turks in Midnight Express; they are universally incompetent, rape-condoning and corrupt, with not one having any redeeming features. Other, it must be said, than that they all speak English in this film, which is very considerate of them. Lord is taken to the Kravavi Prison, where the staff set up fights between the inmates and take delight in seeing them belt the daylights out of each other and in betting on the outcome.

Lord soon makes himself unpopular with the staff and the Russian-mafia powerbrokers in the prison by objecting to the rape of a young American kid and other injustices. The staff put him in a cell with ‘451’, a large, quiet African American who has killed his last three or four cellmates, seemingly because they spoke too much. Personally, I would have thought that the Russians might have had him executed after the first one or two, but they are uncharacteristically merciful or squeamish and leave him to kill more cellmates. 451 also does a line in Shawshankesque narration, but Morgan Freeman he ain’t. Lord starts getting into fights with others and is regularly beaten up, but while he is in The Hole he is visited by a moth which somehow reminds him of his wife and convinces him to start making himself bigger and stronger. Of course he then fights the toughest, meanest dudes in the prison and wins… until he realises that he’s lost a bit of who he really is and refuses to fight any more.

The prison hierarchy is aghast and literally string him up for what seems like weeks, by which time all the prisoners have rallied around him and support him in his ‘no fight’ protest. The guards then play their trump card – releasing a monster-prisoner from the dungeon, who touchingly recognises Lord as a fellow-traveller and refuses to kill him. Lord duly escapes and smuggles the details of all the killings and the corruption out of the prison, and the film ends with a suggestion that this led to the closure of the prison – as if the true intent of the film was not to showcase JCVD in fight mode, but to be a serious film about exposing corruption.

An awful exercise in American chauvinism from a Chinese director and Belgian actor.

In Hell #2 In Hell #3

Posted on May 16th, 2009 at 7:25 pm. Updated on March 8th, 2016 at 3:02 pm.

#453 in the Top 500

17 Responses to “In Hell (2003, USA)”

  1. November 25th, 2010 at 5:17 pm
    Mark Coonan says:

    Very funny line:

    “An awful exercise in American chauvinism from a Chinese director and Belgian actor.”

    I’m a martial arts teacher, but I haven’t voluntarily sat through a JCVD movie in the 20 years since I was released from a life sentence in Indiana. The only reason I occasionally watched one then was that we didn’t have TVs and only got to see one movie per week, and the movies weren’t chosen by a democratic process.

  2. July 25th, 2011 at 1:12 am
    tyler says:

    this movie if fucking great 5 star best prison movie ever

  3. February 22nd, 2012 at 4:28 am
    Lincoln Campa says:

    I really enjoy the post.Much thanks again. Want more.

  4. March 15th, 2012 at 11:16 am
    J.M.Walker says:

    This is by far one of the greatest prison movies I’ve ever seen. I recommend people to take the time out to see it if you haven’t already. Jean Claude Van Damm is an excellent actor!!

  5. April 26th, 2012 at 1:50 am
    Zanna says:

    Jean claude ever…

  6. July 2nd, 2012 at 2:18 am
    vedant says:

    oh man how the hack you did not fimd this movie awesome. I guss u have watched this movie in fast forward mode..and u can’t compare it with shawshank redemption as it is completely different.take some time and see this movie again you will also find it awesome like me..

  7. February 11th, 2013 at 1:58 pm
    machi says:

    Seriously? One star!!?? This movie is the second my fav one and I’d seen 50 prison movies, at least. :/

  8. February 13th, 2013 at 9:16 pm
    eric says:

    Seriously? I think we can be reasonably sure our lists would be different.

  9. July 2nd, 2013 at 7:47 am
    robert says:

    To Prison Movies review Mr.,

    Well, I agree with your point of view on this movie if one is supposed to see it as some sort of political study of everyday life in prison.

    But isn’t it a fact that when one gets aware of that JCVD is in the lead role, it can only be expected to be a movie in the main category of “violent martial art with a twist of revenge” (as usual).

    Therefore I think your review is a little “mal placé” (even if it is correct from the point of view that you observe). Don’t be too upset about it. Everyone knows that as long as JCVD is in a movie, we have to adjust our IQ-level to that of the ordinary football hooligan niveau, in order to appreciate the content. With JCVD it doesn’t matter if it is a “Prison movie”, or “Secret agent thriller”; one can always expect a lot of;

    Kaboom – attack – kill – yo – hey – don’t be too friendly with that mama – wow!! – ratatatatatatata (machine gun fire) – smack – kick^9 – knee in the face go-wow – hey!! slaughter à la bad guy = dead in the end!!

    (Or in other words; one knows the whole scenario + the end, from the beginning)… 🙂

    Ca c’est du rocka rolla!

  10. July 3rd, 2013 at 9:35 pm
    eric says:

    It is a bad habit of mine. I see prison movies as studies of prisons, rather than studies of the lead actor. Foolish, I know.

  11. December 8th, 2013 at 11:38 am
    Si says:

    Great film, even better as it was factual.
    Yes JCVD is usually predictable but he acted rather well in this film.

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