Saturday, 21 March 2009

Bloodsport (1988)

Bloodsport is a late-1980s martial arts flick produced by Cannon films as a vehicle for the talents of Jean Claude Van Damme, his first lead role, and it’s basically the umpteenth remake of Enter The Dragon. The soundtrack is traditional "Oriental" wind chime music intermixed with 1980s Phil Collins styled drums. Fight fans should know the drill: there’s a secretive competition to which fighters of all styles and nationalities are invited to, which inevitably boils down to our virtuous hero, competing for reasons of honour and respect, and the monstrous villain who strikes his opponents down with sadistic glee. The location this time around is Hong Kong where there is a hidden underground fighting pit where the fighters and gamblers assemble, “a no-man’s land in the middle of a tourist’s paradise” as one character helpfully explains. The tournament is Kumite, which is a full contact physical fighting challenge where only the best compete and there can only be one winner. The losers usually leave the arena dead, paralysed or struck in the face so hard they spit out copious amounts of blood accentuated in slow-motion close-up. “That’s why they call this thing bloodsport, kid!” is one line of dialogue we hear that subtly explains the idea behind the title to the audience in case they were confused that this was a Merchant-Ivory film and not a violent martial arts flick.

Jean Claude Van Damme is our hero, Frank Dux. Now before you mispronounce it as “duck”, be forewarned, it’s Dux as in Dukes as in “Put up your dukes!”, you follow me? He’s a soldier in the United States Army who goes AWOL in order to pay his respect to his mentor and trainer, Tanaka (played by Lao Che from Temple Of Doom), a tough but kindly martial arts expert who caught Frank Dux as a young kid breaking into his abode and attempting to steal his samurai sword (the flashback sequences that take up the first fifteen minutes are pretty great as the kid they pick to play the young Van Damme has an atrocious Belgian accent that makes him sound like a retard). Tanaka teaches Van Damme all sorts of helpful stuff like catching gold fishes with his hand with lightning fast super speed, serving tea to his Japanese faux-family with a blindfold on, and having his hands and feet tied to ropes, stringing him up like he was drawn and quartered. Of course, Van Damme beats this obstacle with his super-power of doing the splits, no problem. For the record, Van Damme does the splits about seven times over the course of Bloodsport both as an act of meditation and as an act of defiance. Jackson (Donald Gibb), the burly, hairy American fighter who becomes Van Damme’s buddy and the movie’s comic relief interrupts Van Damme in his hotel room while he does the splits, no problem, and has to comment, with a beer in his hand, “That hurts me just looking at it.” You said it, chief.

Anyway, skip to Hong Kong and the Kumite where Van Damme is to honour Tanaka who is now confined to a bed as he is old and sickly. But the fight organisers don’t believe that Van Damme is a student of Tanaka because Van Damme is a round-eye and they ask him to hit a pile of bricks but only break the bottom one, which Van Damme does in a glorious low-angle slow-motion shot that has his eyes wide and his mouth open mewling like a cat in that convention of all kung fu movies that Bruce Lee patented. Speaking of Bruce Lee, Bolo Yeung, the mountain of flesh that starred in Enter The Dragon is the villain here, Chong Li, a sadistic son of a bitch who is said to have never lost and killed a guy in the last Kumite, which has set a negative precedent for the guy since he can’t seem to leave a fight without breaking a limb in half or snapping a neck sickeningly. Once Chong Li puts Van Damme’s buddy, Jackson, the bruiser with the Harley Davidson head-band into the hospital in critical condition, the stage is set for a slow-motion high-kick climax where both Van Damme and Bolo Yeung wear short-shorts.

What else do we have here? You’ve got an awesome montage of all the fighting at the Kumite that is scored to the fantastic song ‘Fight To Survive’ performed by Stan Bush, king of the 1980s movie montage songs, which is thankfully repeated over the closing credits. You have Forrest Whitaker and another older white dude playing government agents assigned to bring Frank Dux back to the military in a number of scenes that basically pad out the movie to feature film length, the worst of which is a hokey chase sequence through picture postcard locations of Hong Kong with Van Damme in a yellow jacket cheerily leading them on a merry chase until the two agents fall into the water. You’ve got a love interest American female reporter with big blonde hair and the facial features of a second-rate cheerleader who wants to find out about this Kumite tournament but ends up falling in love with none other than Frank Dux. This leads to a bullshit highpoint where they go out to a candlelight dinner and cut to the next morning, the female is in bed, her body covered by a blanket. She turns and looks to see, as the audience does, a glistening butt shot of Van Damme as he puts on some tight red underpants (something for the ladies, no doubt). You’ve got Van Damme doing the splits, no problem, in slow motion for one contestant he faces and then punching up into the dude’s groin. You’ve got Van Damme screaming “Noooooooooooo!” when his best buddy is creamed by Chong Li and then a trademark Rocky IV montage where he rides a subway train in a moment of melancholy, flash-backing to scenes that happened ten minutes beforehand, and being haunted by the maniacal visage of Chong Li in reflective surfaces. You’ve got the gruelling climactic fight where Chong Li cheats like the scoundrel that he is and temporarily blinds Van Damme with some hidden dust, but thankfully Van Damme had all that blind fighting training even though it takes him ten minutes of eye-popping screaming to remember this fact. And then you’ve got the freeze frame last scene where title cards pop up telling us that this was based on the true story of the real Frank Dux, a retired kumite champion, whose record-breaking stats are helpfully given to us as well.

Bloodsport is very generic as far as martial arts movies go, but it’s a well-made bullshit action flick and a well-oiled Van Damme sticks mostly to doing the splits, no problem, and high kicks to the rib-cage of dozens of stunt people. But if you just want the fight scenes with Stan Bush warbling over the time, trust in YouTube to provide:

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