Monday, August 17, 2009

Bloodsport (1988)

Frank Dux (pronounced "Dukes") is a martial artist, fight choreographer, ninja-school opener, and in his spare time, if his pseudo-biography Bloodsport is to be believed, does the splits pretty much all the time.

Okay that's pretty cool.

Our story begins in a military base, where Dux (a young Jean-Claude Van Damme) makes his escape. He ends up at the house of his dying master, where seeing a sword prompts him to have a ten minute flashback. Years earlier, a possibly retarded Belgian in a Yankees cap and a couple of regular teens break into a Chinese guy's house for no reason. The Chinese guy's son shows up and scares off the non-Belgians, then whales on young Dux until his wise Chinese father stops him. Dux asks for training which generally involves being whaled on by a tiny Asian boy until he can't stand up any more. The Chinese boy shares his dream of being in the Kumite, a specific secret fighting tournament. Then the Chinese boy dies. Is this whole movie going to be told in flashback? Young Frank Dux agrees to replace the dead Chinese boy. He has to learn to actually fight, and the old man forces him to wear a blindfold and serve him tea for no reason. He also forces him to do the splits a lot.

This isn't part of training: he's just a mean guy.

The flashback finally ends, and the old man is dying, and Frank's his only hope. No sooner has Frank left than Forest Whitaker and a veteran character actor show up at the old man's house to tell Frank that under absolutely no circumstances is he to fight in any illegal Hong Kong fighting tournaments.

Finally, an American shows up!

In Hong Kong, Frank meets Ray Jackson, a big angry beer-swilling biker who immediately becomes Frank's best pal. The two find the Kumite at the end of a long and creepy tunnel. When Frank signs up he uses his trainer's name, which prompts the judges to scoff until he shatters a brick at the bottom of a row of bricks using the "death touch." Ray smashes a brick with his head. At a nearby bar, a nosey blonde reporter chats up some Kumite fighters who are predictably rude. Frank protects her by impressing the bad guys with a magic trick. Frank and Ray play video fighting games.

Bloodsport's play within a play: a fighting game within a fighting game

Forest and his co-agent follow Frank to Hong Kong, where apparently they have jurisdiction to take Frank back to the US? Frank forces them to chase him around Hong Kong until they fall into the ocean. Frank trains for the upcoming Kumite by doing the splits on top of a building.

Manhunt or Hong Kong Vacation?

The Kumite begins and we see quite a few front-runners for the finals: an Argentinian kickboxer, a big fat sumo, a black man with a "monkey" inspired fighting style, and perhaps most impressively, the current champion, a big Chinese dude named Chong Li (Bolo Yeung). There's also at least a dozen generic Bruce Lee clones. Frank catches Li's attention when he sets a new record by beating one Lee clone in a matter of seconds without even taking off his jacket. Presumably, shirtless Jean Claude is an unlockable attire that he's saving for a more important match.

Insert racist joke here.

During Kumite interludes, Frank does the splits in his hotel room, then stops doing the splits long enough to sleep with the intrepid reporter. We don't actually see anything except Jean Claude's butt and some red undies. Back at the fighting arena, she surprises him by showing up. Her distraction almost costs him a fight against the sumo guy, but by taking off his shirt and hitting a fat man in the balls he perserveres. Ray has a fight against Chong Li, and while he takes control early on he goes on a victory lap which gives Li the opportunity to beat the crap out of him. Ray ends up in a hospital and Frank swears to avenge his... injury? Weak.

Seriously this is a movie about doing the splits.

Ray makes his way to the final showdown but gets interrupted by Forest Whitaker and company who plead with him to stop. After he beats up some local police they decide to take some seats to watch some homo erotic violence. Frank beats up Li for awhile, but then Li temporarily blinds Frank to pummel him for awhile. Frank eventually remembers that he learned to fight while blindfolded, and forces Li to give up. He meets up with his bud in the hospital then goes off with the federales to do whatever it is Belgian men who can do the splits do in America's army.

Dux's training finally pays off as he hits a Sumo in the groin.

This was Jean-Claude's leading man debut, and it's questionable what qualifications he had to carry a feature film. He could barely speak English, has about three different expressions, and to this point had only been a glorified extra with parts like "Gay Karate Man" and "Spectator in First Dance Sequence." On the other hand, Jean-Claude looked like a video game character: he was ridiculously muscular, good-looking in a flamboyant way, and could do the splits. Somehow he parled that skill-set into being a third rate action hero. Jean-Claude is really the most flamboyant action star out there. He's just too "pretty" to be taken seriously. Stallone wouldn't prance around in red briefs or a low cut shirt. Guys like Arnold and Dolph Lundgren aren't "pretty," they are just square-jawed, hugely muscled dudes. Jean-Claude just seems to be trying too hard.

Jean-Claude reprises his role as "Gay Karate Man"

The most interesting part of the movie is the actual fight sequences, and they're reasonably well-done. I thought it was interesting that we never see any cliche "tournament brackets" to frame the story, just a bunch of fights. The last fight is pretty awful, transitioning into melodramatic slow-motion as Dux has to remember his training to overcome the bad guy's cheating ways. I also really liked the international flavor and contrasts in fighting styles that made the movie seem more like a fun videogame and less like an awful movie about karate.

What's gay about wearing low-cut muscle shirts? Or hanging out with hairy, burly men?

Bolo Yeung also deserves a shout-out as the villain. The Bruce Lee-trained former bodybuilder was closing in on fifty when Bloodsport was filmed, but he looks great and is perfect as the intimidating local that the good-hearted gaijin has to beat up.

What to Drink:

Smirnoff Ice

Quotable Quotes:

Ray Jackson:
I ain't your pal, dickface.

(has just cut off brim of a child's hat while it was on his head) You didn't flinch! You have fighting spirit!

Chong Li:
You break my record, now I break you, like I broke your friend.

Chong Li:
Very good. But brick not hit back!
Ray Jackson: (about doing the splits) That hurts just lookin' at it.

Arbitrary Ranking System:
4 splits out of 5


  1. I think Dolph Lundgren is pretty. :-(

  2. You forgot the part where Old Man and Sleepy Bear chase JC around Hong Kong while the latter teasingly prances about like a kindergardener playing "miss me miss me now you gotta kiss me."

  3. Sorry, I forgot to post this. A passing reference to Bloodsport in a Van Damme-heavy article: