Let’s take a trip back to the 1980’s. It was a more vibrant time and was the golden age for the traditional slasher flick and Action movies. This was the era of your Schwarzenegger’s, your Stallone’s, and your blow them up beat ’em up type of movies. Conan the Barbarian, Predator, Aliens, Lethal Weapon, Rambo, First Blood, Death Wish II, and I’m just skimming the surface. This was the time of the action star and they were being churned out day after day. While you had your big time heavy hitting action heroes like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, who were basically the big brutes who would just pile drive all the puny bad guys into submission, you also had your more technical action heroes like Jean Claude Van Damme.
Jean Claude Van Damme might not been as big as Schwarzenegger and Stallone, but by god he was way more badass on a technical level. Van Damme was the more martial arts style action hero. He wasn’t going to bulldoze over bad guys with a gatling gun, but he sure was going to round house kick them to the face, do a split, and punch them in the balls all complete with his goofy Belgian accent. Van Damme’s success came on in the late 80’s and on into the early 90’s with films like Kickboxer, Cyborg, and Universal Soldier. But really what brought his career into the mainstream crowd was the 1987 action/martial arts movie, Bloodsport. Created by now defunct company and all around tribute to the 1980’s Cannon Pictures/Golan-Globus Productions, Bloodsport is the ‘true story’ of Frank Dux (Jean Claude Van Damme), a soldier in the military who is trained by Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao) after the death of his son in the way of martial arts. He enters a top-secret ancient Chinese competition known as the Kumite where fighters from all over the world and with vastly different fighting styles come together to fight in a full contact tournament tell only one remains. In the midst of the fight he befriends a fellow American biker type of bar room brawler named Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) and gains the notice of the former Kumite champion and all around bad guy asshole Chong Li (Bolo Yeung). The story then follows Dux through the Kumite, his relationship with a reporter named Janice Kent (Leah Ayers), and the military attempting to bring the AWOL Dux back to the USA.
While the film has not gone over well with critics and still sports a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, I have always enjoyed the hell out of this film and watched it when I was a kid and as I have watched it as an adult… Yeah I can see flaws in the film but my enjoyment of it has not subsided over the years. So I thought now would be a good time to talk about it and look at the film from a critical eye.
The Film is Just a Fun Beat ’em Up Action Film
I do enjoy films that are up front with how they are presented. This film does not pretend to be something it is not. It is a straight up, feel good, action movie. You are there to watch fighters beat the crap out of each other in this tournament. There is the fun of watching each of the fights, with the fighters wearing their different outfits, and representing very different fighting styles. It is fun to watch Dux’s journey through the tournament, his friendship with Ray Jackson, and his rivalry with Chong Li.
This film really doesn’t have a lot more to it than that, it is a fun martial arts movie that features a Belgian guy beating the shit out of people. It doesn’t pretend to be something that it isn’t and that is OK. Sometimes we just need to see people fight and see the good guys win and when that moment arises for me, this is a movie that I choose to watch.
In My Defense
The Great White Warrior
In my Far Cry 3 review, I stated that one of my biggest pet peeves in anything that tells a story is the whole ‘white guy warrior is the one’ type of story where just because some guy is caucasian, he is automatically chosen by some ancient non white society as the great white warrior meant to save the world and it still is one of my most hated plot points in anything that tells a story. Well I can see many people crying foul over me enjoying this movie. I can see people saying, ‘Wait Tanner, this movie stars Jean Claude Van Damme! His real last name is Van Varenberg and is Belgium and he wins an ancient Chinese tournament! Surely this is a classic example of the plot point that you hate.’ Well no, I do not think that it is and I want to explain myself now.
Unlike Far Cry 3, Frank Dux has a back story where he has been training most of his life in martial arts. He isn’t like Jason where he is just some over privileged white guy who finds himself on an island and is just automatically assumed to be this great warrior. Dux has been training and he has been working hard. Nobody immediately assumes that he is this great warrior, he has to earn it by fighting in the Kumite. He has to train with Senzo Tanaka, who only reluctantly trains him after the death of his son. He earns his victory at the Kumite through his own blood, sweat, and determination. He has nothing handed to him and he asks nothing to be handed to him. He earns everything that is given to him and in all honesty, nobody gives a rat’s ass that he is a westerner. In fact, the only time it is mentioned is after Jackson is defeated by Chong Li and his manager says ‘You can be the first westerner to win this’.
Stories like Far Cry 3 make me mad because they really haven’t earned the admiration and the prophecy that is given to them and it makes such a point to say that the white guy in question is destined to do this. Unlike Bloodsport where it is really just a minor point to the entire story at large.
Pacing is Terrible in the Beginning
While this film is called an action film and by all accounts a pretty fun beat ’em up type of movie… The first third of the film is SO DAMN SLOW! It starts off with the people preparing the for the Kumite… Okay that makes sense. Then it goes to Frank escaping the US Military Base, okay that is important too. But then it goes into a long, drawn out, poorly paced, and poorly acted flashback as it shows Dux in his teenage years, his agreement to train with Tanaka, the death of Tanaka’s son, then Dux’s real training. This thing goes on for nearly seven minutes of little to no action and what action there is rushed, poorly choreographed, and brings the film that is just starting to a dead stop. A lot of the stuff in those moments is VERY important as it establishes Dux’s motivation for entering the Kumite in the first place. But man it could have been told in a much quicker fashion than a huge 7 minute long exposition dump seen that just drags its heals. There are many moments where I just fast forward or skip that scene because it really is difficult to watch when you want to get to the action sequences.
Lots of Badly Shot Action Scenes
I have a bit of advice for anyone who ever wants to make an action movie and ESPECIALLY a martial arts movie where there is a lot of ‘full contact fighting’ going on. If you have a slow motion action scene, you need to make sure that the two body parts are at least connecting whenever you shoot it. There are several moments during the fighting scenes where you can OBVIOUSLY see that nothing is connecting, though it is knocking them out. One of the best ones is where a guy kicks a guy in the face and no part of the kick connects, yet he goes flying backwards with blood shooting out of his mouth. If you have an action movie and you have close-ups or slow motion shots, you HAVE to make sure that they look realistic or else they come across as unintentionally hilarious.
Why are is the Government Chasing Dux?
Throughout the whole film, Dux is being chased by two ‘bumbling cops’ or federal agents in suits named Helmer and Rawlins (Norman Burton and Forest Whitaker… Yes THAT Forest Whitaker). The reason he is being chased is because he is apart of the US Military and did not get permission to join the Kumite because they feared that he would be seriously injured in the fight. They explain multiple times that they need to take him back unharmed and never once convey that is he going to face ‘justice’ for going AWOL, but instead insinuate that Frank Dux is too important to the military to be harmed in any way… Okay why? This is never explained in any real detail why he is so important to the US Government. He is one hell of a fighter yes and can be one hell of a trainer for the US Army, but really I don’t think there is a martial arts instructor so important to the US Army that they are willing to send federal agents to bring him back unharmed with little to no consequences for his actions. It is a pretty big part of the movie as it acts as an outside force attempting to prevent Dux from realizing his dreams of honoring Tanaka and in many ways acts as the more comedic moments of the film, but is never really addressed. I just feel that a small line of dialogue or exposition could have satisfied my need to know why he is so precious to the American Forces.
Does this film have flaws? Oh hell yes, it has plenty of flaws. But ultimately it is a lot of fun to watch. Like I said, this is one of those films when I just want to relax and watch a movie that I enjoy, this is one of the first movies I reach for. It is a martial arts movie with just that right amount of the 1980s to make you keep coming back for more.
Final Score 2.5/5
That does it for me. Remember, if you are in the Roanoke area to come out and see me at the CUPS Quiz tonight. It should be a lot of fun.
If you enjoyed this review, please like and subscribe for more and you can follow me on Twitter @TannerReviews.