OK guys, today is THE DAY, 23 years ago all fans were blew away with the new martial artist Jean Claude van Damme and his martial arts movie Bloodsport. On February 26, 1988 nobody knew about mixed martial arts, but Jean knew and with a help of Bolo Yeung showed us what is best martial arts movie of 80s looks like and how to make a classic film from this, that nowadays fans quote characters of this movie to his kids.
For those of us who grew up in the late 1980s or early 1990s, there was an inescapable genre of film that constantly found it’s way onto TV screens, either via rentals from the local video shop (you rarely actually seen these films for sale) or TV broadcasting them (this was in the days when TV showed things other than home makeover programs), and have, as such, become almost a sub-Pop Culture amongst us. The genre of film is the martial arts movie.
Now I know you are probably thinking “what? they still make action movies”, but I’m talking about a specific kind of action movie. Nowadays they are called Direct-To-Video(DTV), for self explanatory reasons, but back in those days, they actually played in cinemas. The DTV world is host to an abundance of ‘Stars’ all of whom are more renowned for their martial arts prowess than any acting ability. While such characters as Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson and Gary Daniels have their own little followings, the undisputed leader of the pack is Belgian born Jean Claude Van Damme, who made a few significant appearances as villains in the Sho Kosugi vehicle ‘Black Eagle’ and in the ‘Karate Kid’ rip-off that was No Retreat, No Surrender, before really hitting the big time with his first leading role in 1988’s Bloodsport.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Bloodsport is the story behind it. You see, it’s often billed as being based on the true story of a man named Frank Dux, who claims to be the first Westerner to win the underground Martial Arts tournament known as the Kumite. Some people doubt the truth in this, but it is his story ‘Bloodsport’ is based around, and he choreographed the fight scenes for it.
We follow Dux (Van Damme) as he goes AWOL from his post in the US Army to take part in the Kumite in Hong Kong at the request of his sensei Tanaka (Roy Chiao) who is on his deathbed. After a flashback to his training, off he goes to Hong Kong, where he meets fellow American participant Ray Jackson(Don Gibb) and a reporter named Janice(Leah Ayres) desperate to get a scoop on the Kumite.
As the tournament goes on, it becomes apparent that the reigning champion Chong Li(Bolo Yeung) is a favourite to take the crown, leaving a trail of serious, and in one case fatal, injuries, but Frank has some moves of his own up his sleeve, but he’ll need them both in and out of the ring as two American agents are on his tale to try and take him back to the Army.
While the plot of Bloodsport is rather predictable in places, the fact that it is one of the father figures of the tournament genre, with only Bruce Lee’s ‘Enter The Dragon’ being a more high profile entry. Indeed ‘Bloodsport’ didn’t just inspire countless rip-off movies, but also where the immensely popular ‘Mortal Kombat’ videogames began life. The first game was scheduled to tie into the movie(hence the fact Johnny Cage, a character based on Van Damme, wears an almost identical outfit to the one seen in the last fight here) until something fell through and it was released separately with no links.
To be honest I’m sure you could try and pick holes in the film’s plot like any other films, for example No Retreat No Surrender 3, but to be fair the plot is really little more than an excuse to have as many martial arts sequences as possible, seeing as that’s what the film’s stars are actually there for, not their acting ability.
The martial arts movie could be accused of being highly derivative and unoriginal, but to be fair, it actually probably inspired, or was ripped off, by many of the movies you are thinking it resembles, and ‘Bloodsport’ does manage to pull things off with a bit more panache than the average tournament flick.
Perhaps this is down to the calibre of fighters involved. While many have questioned Van Damme’s credibility as an actual martial artist, whatever it is he does, it lends itself well to entertaining cinematic flying kicks and moves, and you’ll see all your favourite Van Damme-isms(I’m sure you know the 3 trademark kicks he does in almost every movie that I’m talking about) as well as the type of slick moves he pulled off well before he got addicted to drugs and making crap movies. Anyway, even if you question Van Damme, the same cannot apply to co-stars such as Bolo Yeung, Paolo Tocha and Michel Qissi, all of whom are accomplished fighters, and most notable is easily Yeung, who was reportedly around 50 years old when the martial arts movie was made! While the fights may not have gritty realism, they also aren’t as ridiculous as your overdone wirework that pollutes martial arts cinema these days, and find a happy medium where things are flash enough to look cool, but real enough to actually be believable.
Even if the fights are the main attraction, the acting isn’t that bad. I mean Van Damme is, well, Van Damme, he really is a kind of take him or leave him style character, well apart from that period in the 90s when he was too drugged up to even deliver lines right, but personally I’ve always found him somewhat affable, definitely moreso than the majority of his action hero brethren. He gets some solid support from Forest Whittaker and Norman Burton as the American agents sent to bring Frank back, the likable white-trash Gibb, the sneering Yeung and to a lesser extent Ayres as a love interest.
Of them all, Whitaker and Burton lend the most credibility as real actors, although Gibb is rather fun, and I defy anyone not to take some enjoyment out of Bolo Yeung villainous turn, where he manages to combine the stoic and hammed up styles of villain with aplomb.
It is worth noting that Bloodsport makes it’s age blatant to all, not only via the haircuts, but most notably the wonderfully 1980s soundtrack, courtesy of everyone’s favourite 1980s Pop-Rock movie muso Stan Bush, whose other cheesy and fun rock tunes provided backing for Van Damme’s ‘Kickboxer’, Charlie Sheen’s ‘The Wraith’ and ‘Transformers: The Movie’. His Bloodsport score is one of my favourites though, from the anthemic ‘Fight to Survive’ to the more, uh, ‘emotional’ numbers, Bush crafts a score so 1980s and unforgivabley cheesy…but at the same time magnificent.
Also Known As:
Contacto sangriento Colombia (imdb display title) / Ecuador (imdb display title) / Spain
Bloodsport – Eine wahre Geschichte West Germany
Bloodsport – Mehri telikis ptosis Greece (transliterated ISO-LATIN-1 title)
Bloodsport – Tous les coups sont permis France
Bloodsport – kamp til døden Denmark (imdb display title)
Bloodsport – viimeiseen asti Finland
El gran dragón blanco Argentina
Força Destruidora Portugal
Krwawy sport Poland
Mehri telikis ptoseos Greece (DVD title)
O Grande Dragão Branco Brazil
Retroceder nunca, rendirse jamás 3 Peru (imdb display title)
Senza esclusione di colpi Italy
Véres játék Hungary (imdb display title)