The 80s is famous for its pure action movie mayhem and few did fighting better than Bloodsport. The film released in 1988 with none other than Jean Claude Van Damme as the star. Though “based on a true story,” Bloodsport was a Street Fighter movie (sans whiz-bang SFX) at a time when the fighting gaming genre was in its infancy. And the truth behind it all is highly questionable.
Full disclosure, I have a deep love for this movie.
Bloodsport is dripping with 80s cheese in all the best ways possible. It stars an actor with questionable talent but endless charisma who can fake a good fight while some synth music plays away. There are great one-liners, sex, fighting, flashbacks, chase scenes, and yet more fighting with a main villain who is terrifying and unforgettable.
Full disclosure, I have a deep love for this movie. I’m well aware that’s it’s a borderline terrible film. Van Damme’s acting is painful at points. But it’s pure stupid fun. And if you’re a fan of fighting video games like Street Fighter, Super Smash Brothers, or any of greats in the genre, then Bloodsport is a cheesy must-watch.
Bloodsport begins with a montage of fighters. One by one we see these fierce warriors.To be sure, Bloodsport, like much of wrestling and action stories in the 80s, is hilariously playing on stereotypes. In just 2-3 second scenes, we learn that this guy is powerful, this other guy is agile, another is defensive. Last we meet Frank Dux played by Van Damme who is a military soldier.
Frank runs away from his superiors to honor his surrogate father, Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao). You see, Frank was a wayward child, but after showing his true self to Tanaka, the martial arts master began caring for the boy. Tanaka trained Dux as a fighter. Now, years later, Dux is invited to the Kumite, an underground tournament for fighters from all over.
Soon after his escape, Frank arrives in Hong Kong which inspires a flashback sequence. Frank grows up slowly over the course of this part of the story. From a teenager all the way up until he’s Van Damme again, the film leads us through Dux’s life with Tanaka, including some rigorous training. Van Damme shows off his signature leg split. It all ends with Master Tanaka’s death.
We’re now back to present day Dux. We leave the gentle plucks of the Japanese-influenced score for the 80s synth beats of modern-day Hong Kong. Dux is on a bus where he meets another fighter, a tall, gruff American named Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb). The pair bond over a video game, Karate Champ, get it?
Being underground, the Kumite is like Fight Club; you don’t talk about it. But being an 80s movie, that only means a plucky female journalist is trying to write a story. In Bloodsport, Leah Ayres plays Janice Kent, and the actress’ bright smile works its way through a serviceable performance. Kent also plays the requisite love interest for Van Damme’s Dux.
The military was against Frank participating in the fighting tournament. So, two agents are hot on the trail of the awol soldier. Playing one of those military investigators is Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker.
Act two begins when Frank and Ray are lead to the Kumite by Victor Lin (Ken Siu), their handler for the tournament. The tournament organizers refuse to allow Dux in unless he can perform some magical punch called the “Death Touch.” After a moment of tense concentration, with all the eyes of other fighters looking on, Dux blows up ONLY the bottom brick in a stack of bricks. The scene ends with the first words from who will become Frank’s nemesis, Chong Li: “Brick don’t hit back.” The antagonist is played by Bolo Yeung who featured in hundreds of martial arts films. Yeung even faced off against Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.
Following our moment at the Kumite, Frank gambles the life of Janice with one of the Arab fighters. Frank saves Janice from what we can only assume is a life of indentured servitude. The pair hit it off after that. It’s an odd first meeting between two potential lovers, but hey, it’s the 80s, and this is not a particularly clever written film.
“That’s why they call this thing Bloodsport, kid.”
Finally, after all that, we return to the Kumite for what is the first of many fighting sequences. There’s an exposition intro by the head of the tournament. Like a video game, he explains the reason for the tournament and how it functions. During the sequence, Van Damme and Chong Li stare at each other. Ray Jackson stares too. And it all feels a little homoerotic.
The first fighting sequences in the Kumite sets up each major fighters’ style and attitude. Jackson is the first to fight for the “good guys,” and he wins easily. However, a confident Jackson also taunts Chong Li.
As Chong Li prepares to fight next, Jackson delivers a touch of exposition. This dialogue is accompanied by a macabre change in the soundtrack. Chong Li is the bad guy and rightly deserves ominous synth buzzes.
Next up, Van Damme’s Dux. In his first fight, Frank quickly defeats his opponent. In fact, Dux breaks a world record at Kumite for fastest knockout. The record-breaking event angers Chong Li who was the previous record holder.
At this point, I’m coming to the end of my review. There is still another hour of the film. However, there is nothing more to note. Bloodsport doesn’t surprise much along the way. There is no twist. Dux gets to fight in the tournament despite the military investigator’s best efforts to stop him. He gets the girl and beats the bad guy despite all odds. Van Damme also gets a last-laugh moment to cap off what is a movie with no underlying message other than being awesome and whooping ass.
Have you watched Bloodsport? What are your thoughts on the
classic fighting film featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme?