January 9, 2015

Movie Review: Bloodsport

There was a time (probably ongoing in some circles) when everything was an either/or decision. Coke or Pepsi. Star Wars or Star Trek. Superman or Batman. Jason or Freddy. Schwarzenegger or Stallone. Seagal or Van Damme. It is this last one that brings us to today. You see, sometimes when you make a choice you dismiss the output of the other almost out of hand. That is what I did with Van Damme, I was a Seagal guy. This dismissal of many Van Damme films has led me to discover, so many years later, that I never saw Bloodsport. I have no idea how I got this far in life without seeing this classic mini-masterpiece of martial arts cinema.

All right, that might have gone a step or twenty over the line. Bloodsport is no mini-masterpiece, it might be a little bit classic, but certainly not in the traditional sense. Bloodsport is a simple, straightforward action vehicle that banks on the fights at the expense of pretty much everything else. There is no character development, the bits that are supposed to fill that role are merely comical bits meant to manipulate you into caring. Let's face it, many of us love films produced by Cannon, but they are not well thought out masterpieces, they are more about macho posturing and cool fights on a budget.

The movie was directed by Newt Arnold, who only has two other titles to his directorial credits, a pair of budget drive-in types from the late 60's/early 70's. He spent most of his career as an assistant director working on everything from The Godfather Part II and Blade Runner to Invasion USA to Sixteen Candles to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. Quite the gamut of films. Writing duties were handled by Sheldon Lettich, based on the real life exploits of Frank Dux (pronounced Dukes), who founded the first American Ninjitsu system (at least that is what the credits tell me).

Jean Claude Van Damme stars as Frank Dux (in the movie that made him an action star), a military officer who goes on leave to fight in the Kumite, an underground martial arts tournament held in Hong Kong. Through flashback we learn of his time as a troubled youth, righted by a martial arts instructor named Tanaka. Dux wants to enter the tournament as a tribute to his former master. Of course, his commanding officer is not happy with his decision and sends a couple of men (one being Forest Whitaker) after him to bring him home.

In Hong Kong, Dux fights his early round matches while making pals with a big red neck fighter dude and the reigning champion, the ruthless Chong Li (Bolo Yeung). When not fighting, he makes nice with a reporter (Leah Ayres), who is trying to get the inside story on the fight. It all plays out in typical fashion, with the obvious climactic fight between Chong and Dux.

Bloodsport is really ridiculous. The dialogue, especially in the first half, is laughably terrible. I could barely contain myself when Jean Claude tells the officer guy he has to take a show and run off, leaving the officer to explain how he disappeared. It does not get any better when the young Van Damme actor appears with his complete ineptitude. Fortunately, once they get to Hong Kong the dialogues evens out a bit as we get to the fights, but the fun lives one! Watch Jean Claude play blind, if that isn't some of the funniest stuff you've ever seen... well, I don't know. I thought it was hysterical. Oh yeah, Bolo Yeung plays a great cocky bad guy.

Overall, Bloodsport is an entertaining action film. It is easy to see why Van Damme became the action star he is. He can't act all that well, but his fights are fun. I am just not sure I will be able to forgive myself for getting this far in life before experiencing this.


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