Cinophile: Bloodsport

4 min read
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 “Bottom one.” Then JCVD Dim Mak’d that brick into oblivion. The Eighties had no shortage of martial arts. It was the world of Ninjas and Chuck Norris and endless Chinese kung fu epics. And yet if one were to poll a generation, the decade’s top martial arts movie is very likely to be Bloodsport.

After the death of his Japanese trainer’s son, Frank Dux steps in to represent at the Kumite, an underground fighting tournament in Hong Kong. It is full-contact to the extreme, which explains why the fighters vary from a giant Korean to a beer-swilling American biker. At the same time Dux, who went AWOL in order to compete, is being chased by two government men. An attractive journalist, destined to sleep with our hero, is also trying to dig her way into the shadowy underworld of this contest.

But those are only side distractions, resulting in a chase here or a sexy curve there. The story and the real action is all in the arena. Bloodsport‘s unique appeal was in how it brought a variety of martial arts experts to star as the various combatants, leading to the claim that it fathered VS-style games like Street Fighter.

The meat and potatoes came from the bloody brawls, yet Bloodsport is also a masterful example of how to tease an audience. Other than the training montage of the opening credits, there is no actual fighting until the second act. Instead we are entertained by exploding bricks, insane splits and the most awesome coin trick in cinema. Before a single punch has fallen, you are already drawn into this world of extreme athleticism. Then it just starts getting better.

Almost every fight is fluid, physical and brutal. Granted, when stacked to the modern wonders of Ong Bak and Ip Man, it seems a little light. But even with that in mind, Bloodsport stands strong, despite having the most Eighties soundtrack ever conceived.

Again the critics hated it. In fact, Van Damme both got a Rassie nomination for Worst New Star. Rotten Tomatoes still gives it 33%, but the audience meter is far more appreciative. At the end of the day Bloodsport outlived its critics and stands as a martial arts classic. Even as other contenders of the age, like American Ninja, have faded due to mediocrity, JCVD’s debut remains an undisputed champion of movie brawls.

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Bloodsport was Jean Claude Van Damme’s breakthrough role as a lead in a movie. He got the job by doing a spinning kick over a movie executive’s head, who was impressed enough to hire him. But the film took more than 19 months to be released and in the interim Van Damme, needing work, signed a contract to do several low-budget films. These including (fortunately) Kickboxer and (unfortunately) Cyborg, until the spell was broken with the blockbuster Universal Soldier.
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Bolo Yeung, who portrayed Bloodsport’s iconic villain Chong Lee, was a particular coup for the film. A renowned bodybuilder, he was also a fixture in Hong Kong movies and remains one of the industry’s icons. A good friend of both Van Damme and the late Bruce Lee, Yeung also played a main villain in Lee’s legendary Enter The Dragon. Almost always cast as a villain, in reality Yeung is said to incredibly nice. During the filming of Bloodsport he brought his young son to the set, whom he spent time with between takes.
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There is substantial controversy over the ‘real life’ tag fixed to Bloodsport. At the start it proudly proclaims to be based on the real-life Frank Dux and finishes the film with a series of Dux factoids. Dux claims to be a multiple champion of the Kumite, the illegal all-styles tournament portrayed in the movie, which he first won in 1975. In contrast, a writer named John Johnson claimed Dux made everything up and even produced a receipt for the trophy Dux alleged to have won at the Kumite. But the receipt was later exposed as a fraud. Still, only parts of Dux’s version could be verified.

Best Scene: When Van Damme destroys the brick. NOW the movie has our attention.

Best Quote: “Very good. But brick not hit back!”

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: May 5, 2014

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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