Below is a guest post by James from Gentlemen Gorilla, reviewing the Jean Claude Van Damme film ‘Bloodsport’.
Jean-Claude Van Damme is Frank Dux. Frank is trained by an old Japanese neighbor in the art of ninjitsu. While serving in the military, Frank wants to participate in the Kumite, a sort of secret, invitation only, style vs style ultimate martial arts tournament. Basically UFC1.
Franks deserts the army and has to constantly elude the MP (a young Forrest Whitaker) and travels to Asia, where he befriends another contestant (Donald Gibb). The reigning champion Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) immediately takes a serious dislike in Frank. Frank handsomely beats everybody put in front of him, while Chong Li savages his opponents, including Gibb, which makes it personal for Frank.
Frank finally meets Chong and in an epic final fight, Chong blinds Frank. But the ninja retaliates and kicks the living crap out of Chong, as he conveniently trained in fighting blind.
Wait, didn’t I watch this movie before?
You sure did! There are many movies and TV shows using the same format. A hero faces a number of other foes, each one a bit more difficult than the last one, until he finally meets the ultimate enemy, often someone bigger and cruel and almost always there’s a personal vendetta going on. Famous examples are Enter the Dragon, where Bolo Yeung plays the exact same role and the Quest, where Jean Claude Van Damme just remakes Bloodsport. Never Back Down and the Karate Kid are other well known examples.
Actually, this format is one of two ancient story formats which are used over and over again in books and movies. In the 3rd century BC, a Greek poet wrote the Illiad (or better known as Greece vs Troy) and the Odyssey.
The Odyssey is the tale of a group desperately trying to get home, facing many dangers on the way. Some famous examples are The Warriors, Lord of the Rings, O Brother where are Thou and Adventures of a Babysitter.
The Illiad’s most known scene is the fight between Greece’s and Troy’s champions, Achilles and Hector, where the fight was made personal by Hector killing Achille’s nephew in battle.
A martial arts tournament is of course the perfect vehicle for this template.
Just tell me about the fights
Bloodsport is filmed in 1988. Reviewing the fight scenes in 2017 is, well, rough. I have vague memories as a kid that the fight scenes were awesome, but 2017 me cringes while re-watching these scenes. It’s a collection of what people in the 80’s thought was martial arts: he who can kick the highest, preferably while jumping, is the best fighter. Mix that with weak backhands, guys trapping punches and lots of weird fighting stances.
Interestingly, there’s also a muay thai fighter looking decent (Paulo Tocha), a sumo guy and a dude fighting some sort of monkey style.
Check out for yourself:
The fight choreography is pretty bad (remember this) and a lot of the techniques very obviously miss. Bonus points for those who spotted the actor playing Tong Po in Kickboxer! Apparently, a close friend of Van Damme.
The finale between JC and Bolo even involves a part where JC is blinded, but luckily he was trained for this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EthAuVE2y98 . I’m guessing his screaming works like some sort of sonar. Wonder why he wasn’t cast as Daredevil.
So is the movie any good?
It’s pretty bad. As said, the fight scenes don’t hold up, the acting is pretty bad, the story is thinner than a coked up model and the budget was probably a stolen credit card. Van Damme is clearly a martial artist getting his first baby steps as an actor. Forrest Whitaker is by far the best actor, even given the limited screen time he gets.
So why even watch this? JC is physically pretty impressive: his physique is top notch and apparently without the help of Mexican supplements. Plus his kicking technique is awesome. There’s a scene in the beginning where JC is kicking a speed bag and yeah, that’s pretty damn cool. He might not have been the best real fighter, but boy he could make it seem so. And Bolo Yueng is the perfect scary villain. I wish I looked like that in my 40’s.
It’s also the movie that put JC on the map as a major action star.
Plus, Mirko Crocop cites Bloodsport as the movie that got him into martial arts. Anything that compelled Crocop to create his violent art is just fantastic.
But above all, Bloodsport is a movie showing what you wanted martial arts to be as a kid. Humble zen-like guys throwing flashy kicks and knocking bullies out.
And there’s that line at the end ‘based on a true story’.
Yeah, Frank Dux is an actual person claiming to have participated and won in secret and very violent martial arts tournaments. He was also the fight scene choreographer of this movie. He claims over 300 wins in these sort of fights. And he sucks at fight choreography.
There are some wild interviews with him online and numerous sites claiming he’s a fraud (just check out Bullshido). He also claims the blinded fight actually happened, that he was a secret CIA operative and could perform the Dim Mak death touch. Alarm bells are ringing.
To me, he’s one of those martial arts frauds that were able to claim exploits before there was google and youtube and make a handsome profit out of it. This day and age we know what works in a fight thanks to the real kumites out there: UFC, Pride, Pancrase and others and it took years before fighters could make those flashy kicks work.
Review Written James from Gentleman Gorilla.