Home > Bloodsport, Film and TV reviews > Review of BLOODSPORT (1988)

Review of BLOODSPORT (1988)


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BLOODSPORT

Cannon Films/ USA (1988)

Directed by Newt Arnold

Fight Coordinator: Frank Dux

Cast: Jean Claude Van Damme, Bolo Yueng, Donald Gibb

“You break my record, now I break you, like I break your friend.”

THE STORY

Frank Dux (Jean Claude Van Damme/ JCVD) is an American martial artist who has come to Hong Kong to enter the “kumite”, the secret illegal underground martial arts tournament, where only the best fighters (different styles and countries) in the world are invited.  During the competition, severe crippling injuries and even death befall many of the competitors.  Frank wins match after match until Chong Li (Bolo Yeung), the defending champion, brutally injures his friend, Jackson (Donald Gibb), leaving him all by himself.  Frank can be the first Westerner to win the competition.  However things are not that easy for him, also in town are Dux’s U.S. Army C.O.’s (Norman Burton and Forrest Whitaker) hot on his tail, and a beautiful journalist (Leah Ayres) determined to get her story about the Kumite.  Will Frank face the ruthless Chong Li and be the first Westerner to win the competition?  Gee, I wonder (sarcastically scratches head)!

REVIEW

I know I am in the minority about this, but I feel this movie was a formulaic “by the numbers” story that just served to justify the action.  However, with that said, this film is much better paced and executed than a majority of the Western martial arts films that came out at that time.   The martial art tournament film also a difficult sub-genre of martial arts cinema to write and make different because of all the required set pieces, character motivations, plot twists, and story procession that are usually required to happen in the story.  This creates a dilemma because it narrows the opportunities for the writer to do anything different from their predecessors.

I also felt there were many technical things wrong with this film that had nothing really to do with the story.  From a martial arts historian’s point of view, the use of the word “Kumi-te” means “fight” is a Japanese word, however Chinese men run the underground tournament.  Also Dux’s character uses the term “Dim-Mak” (Chinese) when he is a student of Ninjitsu (Japanese).   These are common oversights done by insensitive screenwriters unaware of the history of the friction and strong national pride between the two countries.  Also the cross use of terms and techniques from different countries without a care to accuracy were somewhat irritating.

THE FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY

When I first saw JCVD as the villain in “No Retreat, No Surrender”, he proved himself to be very versatile, agile, had incredible form with his techniques, and was exciting to watch. His fights had great timing and rhythm that were very kinetic, and most importantly…he never repeated a technique or combination.

However, in his Western films that followed, the fights got much simpler, nothing too complex, yet very repetitious.  This is a common problem with many martial arts films made in the West, where they unconsciously follow the rules of the barroom brawls you see in John Wayne movies. The rules are the fighters never block anything and each exchange is very short and fairly simple.** Also how many times can we see him throw a spin kick and the drop into the splits (which he does 7 times in this movie)?  The point I am making here is Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee never had a trademark technique that they carried from film to film and they were able to expand and push the limits of the action genre because they kept evolving and had the audience guessing what was going to happen next.

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I feel the set up of Dux using Dim Mak aka “the death touch,” by breaking only the bottom brick from a stack furthest away from him from was a nice set up.  However, the pay off was prematurely wasted when Dux used the technique while fighting the Sumo Wrestler, a secondary and unimportant character, who did not have any character arc or dialogue.  It should have been saved and used on Ching Li, the final villain.

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Since Dux’s character was a black belt in Ninjitsu, there were no real techniques from the style displayed to show a difference from the other styles that were highlighted.  I also felt a lot of the fights with JCVD were somewhat repetitive, had the same timing and rhythm, lacked any type of fighting strategy, and the opponents lacked any type of defensive intelligence because they would often times they would stand flat footed within striking range with their guard down, waiting to get hit.  I never once during this film, did I ever feel Dux’s character was in any real danger during an action sequence.  This is the common problem I have with many of JCVD’s films around this time.  I feel this is a typical case of being caught up and trapped in the minutiae of the technique’s “cool factor” instead of letting it be a part of the non-verbal dialogue.  As a result of everything I mentioned, the fights came off as more of a child or teen fantasy of what a fight would be like in their imagination than a serious physical conflict.

 **Note this subject will be discussed as an in depth article on this blog site.  So don’t send the mad villagers with torches to come after me yet!  Stay tuned- John

FINAL THOUGHTS

Looking back on this film, there are several things that are historically important about this film.  (1) It revived the tournament film genre in the West, first started with Enter The Dragon, (2) made JCVD an action superstar of the day, and (3) made Cannon Films a ton of cash.  This movie also caused a lot of controversy and rumblings within the martial arts community about Frank Dux and JCVD’s credibility as a fighter/martial artist and whether the legitimacy of the kumite was real or made up.

Blood Sport is an emotional favorite for a lot of fans much like original The Karate Kid is to many people.  It has its place in martial arts film history, but objectively looking back at it and for the reasons mentioned earlier, but I feel the film does not hold up today and is somewhat dated.  However, it is JCVD’s charisma and extreme athleticism that was missing from a lot of Western martial arts stars at the time that sells this film.  This is definitely your typical 80’s drive-in cinema, so put your logic on pause, set your willing suspension of disbelief on high, and regress back to your naïve teen years to enjoy this film.

Copyright 2012. All text is the property of John Kreng and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.

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  1. doug ferguosn
    March 5, 2012 at 2:05 am

    i gotta say i agree 100% about everything you said about western fights, and i think alot of that has to do with prep time, the reason why films like the matrix, blew everyone away is because they had an enormous amount of prep time with these actors who werent fighters or stunt people by trade…so you had more versatility. sometimes you get like an hour prep time the actor doesnt know the first thing about fighting for the camera, and youre so screwed…lol…

    i still love this movie even thou its 100% bull. this and kickboxer are my favorite jcvd movies.

  2. kevin lewis
    March 5, 2012 at 2:56 am

    EXCELLENT REVIEW JOHN!!..I am a fan of BLOODSPORT and i think that it is his GREATEST film next to NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER in my opinion…I also agree that it was much better than all of the AMERICAN kung fu films being made at the time..This review truly mirrors my opinion of the film and JEAN CLAUDE VAN DAMME..its a shame that he did not continue to make films with the same high level of fighting as this and NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER

    • March 5, 2012 at 3:13 am

      Kevin,
      That’s because he had Corey Yuen as the Director and Fight Choreographer in No Retreat, No Surrender. He makes EVERYONE look great!

  3. March 5, 2012 at 5:34 am

    I enjoyed “No Retreat, No Surrender”. Even though the script was insipid at best, the action was revolutionary for what was originally advertized as an American Martial Art film. When ‘BLOODSPORT’ came out I had high hope remembering JCVD’s skills in that previous film. I did not enjoy ‘Bloodsport’, I found the film cliched, and silly. And the only thing JCVD brought to the picture was his body language, which for me wasn’t enough. After seeing “BLACK EAGLE” (with Sho Kosugi), I’d had my fill of JCVD.

    That being said, I will agree that ‘Bloodsport’ is a classic in that it proved to American (and international) Producers that Martial Art Films with Anglo stars could be profitable (and cheaply made). And I think that is the legacy that JCVD has earned. He open the gates!

  4. J. Crowley
    March 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    John, really like your writing and analysis. At the time, JCVD’s “splits” was pretty spectacular and his formal training in ballet wasn’t well-known, at least to me. I remember marking out for that ‘signature move’ just like Seagal’s elbow hyper-extension. You could make it part of a drinking game!:-) Anyway, Chuck Norris noted that he stretched for decades and could not do a full split until he was 60.

    Someday, it would be interesting to learn your thoughts on Frank Dux and his place in martial arts and movies. Cheers, John

  5. J. Crowley
    March 7, 2012 at 12:50 am

    Oops, there really IS a “Kickboxer” drinking game Story of my life! I’ve been described as “original and funny”, but the original part ain’t funny, and the funny part ain’t that $#@% original!!!

    • March 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm

      I guess this is similar to the drinking game while watching reruns of the Bob Newhart Show where everyone had to drink when an actor n the show said, “Hi Bob!”

  6. March 15, 2012 at 12:21 am

    Lovely and passionate review, John. I liked this movie when I first saw it, but over time, grew to dislike both Van Damme and his movies a great deal. I do remember this interview with him in a magazine where he claimed he had re-edited BLOODSPORT and made it what it is today claiming it was crap before he got a hold of it. Not sure of the validity of that considering at the time, he had gotten a good deal of heat on him from some false things he had said such as being a European kickboxing champion in the early 80s and also claiming no one had ever been injured on a set of one of his films. This, too, turned out to be untrue since not long after saying this, he was in court for stabbing a guy in the eye on the set of CYBORG.

    I also recall the heat he had with Seagal (actually, both men had a lot of heat it seemed) and Don “The Dragon” Wilson. The latter of which was probably the funniest. I seem to recall Wilson challenging him to winner take all fight, but VD declined. Don also had a great in-joke directed at VD in his RED SUN RISING towards the end of the film. It was hilarious.

    I also recall (I’d have to dig out the magazines to confirm) there being a “dirty dozen” of martial artists including Bill Wallace who were both questioning and challenging either VD or Seagal. Possibly you can expand on this as I’d have to dig out the magazines, lol. The real stuff going on offscreen was seemingly more interesting than the actual movies. The one VD movie I did like quite a bit was LION HEART. I liked his character in that one, good storyline and the finale where he was seriously injured and kept fighting was sort of in the tradition of Chang Cheh’s bloody heroics.

    • March 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm

      Brian,
      RE: Dirty Dozen of the Martial Arts… It was the April 1992 issue of Black Belt and it was aimed at Steven Seagal who stepped on some mighty big toes in the martial arts community. Van Damme was under fire right before this about his legitimacy of his world kickboxing titles.

      The problem here also lies with Hollywood and they hype machine on their products and their stars with the grey areas with what is real or not. Many actors go on talk shows continuing the hype by saying they did all their own stunts, when in actuality they did not for various reasons. One of those reasons is the insurance bonding company actually forbids them to do certain stunts because they consider them too dangerous and will possibly jeopardize the completion of the film shoot.

      This is one of the reasons why there will never be a category for best stunt or action category at the Academy Awards. If the 2nd Unit Director (along with Stunt Coordinator, Stunt Double, etc.) gets an award for the best action, then the public will question what the Director and lead actors of the movie really did on the movie.

      • March 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm

        Thanks for that, John. Now I know which issue it is without going through all of them! Also, speaking of performers doing their own stunts, are you aware of any actors doing all their own stuntwork prior to Robert Conrad on THE WILD WILD WEST tv series? He did some absolutely amazing stunts on that show; a show that also had some impressive fight choreography that, in some instances, I think surpasses much later American action sequences. Towards the end of the series, he had a serious injury which resulted in the studio forbidding him to do anything too dangerous from that point on.

      • J. Crowley
        March 16, 2012 at 6:15 pm

        @Brian Bankston, great to read another admirer of stuntwork on WWW. My brothers and I would think we were so clever, when we watched the show and Jim West would walk into a barroom with those Haggar slacks so tight you could see the kneepads outlined. The other thing we looked for was Gene LeBell and/or Red West playing cards at the table. We also liked Robert Conrad’s martial art fighting (Savate?) with the sacrifice hand low-guard…only now, decades later, do I understand that he kept his hand low so the camera could show his face.:-) Did not know about his injury, I will pass that along to my brothers. Really enjoying John Kreng’s writing, btw. Cheers.

  7. March 17, 2012 at 2:40 am

    Brian.. Yes there were quite a few who did their own stunts. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin are the first ones that come to mind. I liked Conrad’s work on TWWW. They were very simple and dynamic. But what I heard from a few stunt friends was that he like to hit his stuntmen and as a result, many would not come back to the show because of the danger involved.

    For some stupid reason actors think they can hit their stunt partners. It’s really unfair because they are sitting targets. It’s like shooting a clay pigeon at point blank range and thinking you are a sharpshooter! I was working on a shoot this past weekend and the actor asked me, “So is it cool if I can hit the stuntman?” I replied, “Only if you let them hit you as hard back to you!” Well, he immediately got the idea.

    • J. Crowley
      March 17, 2012 at 2:52 am

      John, I have a theory on Conrad’s stiff work, and it goes like this. 1) his pants were so tight he could not carry a wallet, so only had change for one beer. 2) trouble with the cardplayers started so fast, that Conrad never got more than one sip of beer. Those stuntmen were between him and that second sip!

      • March 17, 2012 at 3:14 am

        @ J: There’s a great book out that covers the entire history of the show. Its OOP now I think, but definitely worth tracking down. The episode where he nearly got killed is in season 4. It was originally a season 3 episode, but he was in a coma for some six months if I remember right and the show was bumped up to season 4. The accident was left in the episode, too! I wrote an article about the show at my blog and have reviewed some of the episodes. I’m actually watching the show right now, lol.

        @ John: Was this from some of the stunt guys that would temporarily replace his standard crew? The stunt guys on WWW were the same guys the duration of the series save for when somebody got hurt, or whatever. J. mentioned Red West; you can spy him every time no matter what sort of disguise they give him, lol. It seemed everybody got injured on that show–Ross Martin, Michael Dunn, etc. It’s also interesting how the first season, Conrad used nothing but martial arts styles then season two was a mix of that and boxing; season three was just boxing mostly and season 4 they went all out with acrobatics and whatnot since the series was under serious fire for its violent content.

        How silly of me to forget about Chaplin and Keaton considering how much Jackie Chan adored them; but then, I’m not much of a Chan fan save for his earlier works.

        And that’s some great info regarding the behind the scenes of the things you stunt guys go through for your art!

      • March 17, 2012 at 3:18 am

        Not sure if it was the standard crew or not. But you definitely do not want to mess with Gene Lebell. I feel sorry for the poor actor who would try to knock him out. Talk about an ego reduction.

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