Friday Fisticuffs: Bloodsport (1988)

Bloodsport jcvd vs bolo

I could have sworn that I’d seen Bloodsport before, but actually sitting down and watching the movie on Netflix felt like a new experience, so who knows? This movie, which was said to be based on a true story that turned out to be BS, is about a guy named Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who traveled to Hong Kong to compete in a secret underground fighting tournament called the Kumite. He’s there to honor his teacher, a man who started training him after he broke into his house as a kid (who was NOT a good actor BTW). Along the way, he makes friends with another competitor, Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) and gets with reporter Janice Kent (Leah Ayres) who wants to find out what this whole Kumite thing is all about. There’s also the requisite, over-the-top bad guy champ Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) who is basically Roger Rabbit with giant pecs and the ability to destroy dudes in the ring. Oh, there’s also a subplot about Frank ditching the US military so he can compete which results in two agents — one of which is Forrest Whitaker! — pointlessly chasing after him.

bloodsport art posterI can’t really say that this is a great movie, but it has good parts. The pacing and structure are super weird. The movie, directed by Newt Arnold, starts with a multi-person training montage that visually introduces many of the competitors and their fightingh styles before shifting over Frank breaking away from wherever he’s stationed (his bosses don’t want him to get killed, thus making the government’s investment in his training pointless) and then a prolonged flashback of him as a kid, his teacher and then him training as an adult as well. It takes FOREVER. And then he’s traveling and meeting Ogre from Revenge Of The Nerds and the pretty reporter lady and his mulleted guide.

Eventually we actually get to the fights and they’re pretty cool, but by this point I’m a little tired and these fights don’t hold up to the ones you see today. Hell, Arrow has faster, more intense scenes in many cases. I can contextualize all that given that this is still a pretty early example of a western fight film, so it went through so many of the conventions we’re used to (many of which are also in Kickboxer which I watched last week and will write about soon).

bloodsport-posterBloodsport does greatly benefit from Bolo Yeung’s presence. This dude fought Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon and certainly has the chops, which is rad, but he also gives better crazy face and infant-like ring dance moves than anyone I’ve ever seen. His pecs are also insane. You could serve dinner off of them. Speaking of the cast, I really enjoyed Gibb as well, which is surprising considering I have a longstanding dislike of him from his Revenge Of The Nerd days (though he did win me over with his turn in the sequel). Even JCVD is pretty entertaining. He’s wooden at times, which is to be expected, but these were the days when he was actually super expressive and had softer features even than he had in movies like Hard Target or The Quest. In other words, dude might not act like a movie star, but he sure looked like one.

In addition to the fights, there are some interesting moments that made me smile. Frank makes strong bonds with relative strangers VERY quickly. He’s besties with Ray after playing a karate video game and falls hard in love with Janice almost immediately and would face a crazed killer for them in a heartbeat. He also gets into some ridiculous antics with the officers, like leading them on a wild goose chase through the city that looks like something out of a cheesy 80s comedy (and trust me, I’ve seen plenty of them). Still, if you can forgive the slow-ish-by-today’s-standards action scenes and some of the cornier elements, it’s a pretty fun martial arts movie from the 80s that helped launch JCVD’s career. Here are some of my favorite moments from the film.

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As is the case with Kickboxer, there’s also a remake in the works, which is a pretty good call. We don’t have enough martial arts tournament films these days and the advancements in film making will allow for faster moves to be captured more fluidly. Here’s hoping, though, that they carry over some of the bonkers nature of this final fight into the new one!

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