Friday nights in my house was movie night! Dad would come home from work via the local video store and bring home the weekend’s entertainment normally comprising of shed loads of fighting or stuff getting blown to pieces!
After having completed series of films starring the likes of Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee, and having run out of the American Ninja film series, Dad brought home something different…someone new!
Enter the muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme in what was my first introduction to him in Bloodsport.
Bloodsport was a pretty low budget, balls out martial arts movie. My favourite kind. The film is loosely based on the real life events of Frank Dux, a US military soldier who was trained in the martial arts. Frank went AWOL (see what I did there) from the military to fight in a secret underground mixed martial arts tournament called “the kumite.”
The Kumite was an event only for the elite fighters throughout the world and the participants were there by invitation only. Serious injury and death were not uncommon at this full contact tournament.
Allegedly the actual Kumite that inspired the film was won by Dux in 1975 and hosted in the Bahamas far from the Hong Kong setting of the movie. (I say allegedly because there are many accusations flying around the web and even court cases over the validation of Dux’s claims that he won or even attended this highly speculated tournament).
But I digress, instead of all the rumour and speculation surrounding the real events of the film, lets focus on the 80’s music; one liners; karate video games and amazing fight scenes that made Van Damme’s Bloodsport a real hit in my opinion.
The film has all the classic flash back & montage scenes that make any great 80’s action movie. We go back to how Frank met Tanaka his master when he broke into his house and was caught trying to steal a sword. Instead of the police being called he uses Frank to help train his son Shingo. Shingo then dies as a teenager and Frank persuades Tanaka to train him as his own. We then have the “I’m really bad but look how I progress to an ultimate fighting machine in a 5 minute montage” including Van Damme’s trade mark splits move, which features again later in the film when his friend Jackson winces and makes the comment “You might want to have kids one day!”.
Then we move to the heart of the film which has the meat and two veg character base of any action film worth its salt. The buddy relationship between Frank Dux and fellow competitor Ray Jackson played by Donald Gibb, an all American, beer swigging biker whose friendship with dux becomes something not unlike brotherly love throughout the film. Originally the two bond over a badass video game which would make the old Atari look like a high powered all singing, all dancing games console! Dux constantly beating Jackson and somehow with his nimble fingers earns Jackson’s respect.
The love interest in reporter Janice Kent played by Leah Ayres. We even have good cop, bad cop roles in the shape of Norman Burton and a young Forest Whitaker who offer the film some brilliant comic relief as the bumbling duo out to bring Dux back to his duties at the US army. And my personal favourite in the film’s ultimate villain Chong Li played by the brick toilet from Enter The Dragon fame Bolo Yeung. A man of very few words but in the scene where Frank has to prove that he is infact a prodigy of the Tanaka family by performing a move called the “Death Touch,” which entails him crushing a brick of choice from a stack, Bolo delivers one of my favourite lines paying homage to the late Bruce Lee “Bricks don’t hit back.”
One character who for me was like the Leo Getz of the film was the Chinese guide who was there to help the fighters find their way through Hong Kong and keep them fighting from outside the ring which would result in disqualification from the tournament, slightly annoying but would miss him if he wasn’t there! The perfect recipe for a great action film, so far so good!
The introduction to some characters outside of the ring, like Hussein, were great ways of telling who you wanted to lose in a fight and also a great lead into showing neat tricks like the coin swap when Hussein wanted to take Janice upstairs for an…err…Interview.
We are treated to many different styles of martial arts through out the film and some that are just down right weird, like the fighter who for some reason fights like a deranged chimp! We have the obvious Bruce Lee wannabes, kick boxers and people who win just through sheer strength without style. The fight scenes are pretty short, especially the fight in which Van Damme finishes his opponent it world record time (a record which Frank Dux did break at his time in the Kumite). But the two main fights in the film are both surrounding the films villain Chong Li.
The first with Jackson as his opponent which irritatingly sees Jackson winning against the current Kumite champion but during his premature celebration his dirty opponent Chong Li strikes him hard and teaches him not to count his chickens quite so soon and hospitalises him (Who didn’t see that coming?). Enter slightly gay pining over his friends misfortune with the oh so cheesy music to accompany his pain! This gives Frank all the fuel he needs for when he meets Chong Li in the final to get one back for his friend.
But like all films this is no easy task and due to some more dirty tactics Chong Li blinds Frank during the match when it becomes obvious that he may not win this one! All looks lost for Frank but in good 80s martial art film fashion the flash backs from when a young frank dux was serving up tea blindfolded like a Jedi waiter all make sense and he wins the fight for Jackson and most of all, his master Tanaka.
So that was my introduction to Van Damme, A bloody good effort in my books and at the time a very welcome fresh face in the martial arts genre. Although I may have sounded a little sarcastic in some of this retrospective if the truth be told, I wouldn’t have these films any other way!