Posts Tagged ‘Fight choreography’

Review of BLOODSPORT (1988)

March 5, 2012 15 comments



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.”


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)!


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.


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.


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.


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


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.



March 4, 2012 Leave a comment

GREAT NEWS! I have been green lit to write my second book. The book is titled THE FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHER’S HANDBOOK and is more of a practical approach to creating your own fight scenes for your films. Please keep coming back here to see news on the progress on who I interviewed and when the book will be released.

How not to interview Writer/Director Ben Ramsey!

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.

So Why Can’t I See You Kicking His Ass?

January 11, 2011 35 comments

Here’s the typical scenario… The star will go on a TV show to do an interview to hype the next biggest and best action film.  Great!  There’s nothing wrong when someone shills their project for the world to know about it.

Then they will talk about the many months it took for them to practice and train to make the fight scenes look great.  Sometimes we’ll get to see some behind the scenes footage of them rehearsing the fight scenes to tease us so we can  get excited about it.  I’ll often see some friends working on it in the footage doing the stunts.  I’m already hooked!  Mission accomplished!

By now, I’m excited, my hopes are really high, and I can’t wait to see it!  Somehow, they accessed the little boy in me who wants to see buildings blow up, cars crash, and bad guys get their butts handed to them by the hero.

So when the film comes out, I go to the theater, eager to suspend my disbelief.  However, when the fight scenes come on screen, we do not really get to witness the action unfold, because the camera was much too tight on the action for the audience to make any sense of it and/or the editing was so fast and choppy with no continuity flow that it could easily induce an epileptic seizure.

Many of my friends usually know what to expect when they go see a film with me when I see the action.  They usually hear moans, groans, and mumblings of varying degrees of objection coming from me.

Unfortunately, this “style of action” is status quo about 95% of the time for any type of action that has come out of the US and Europe.  Because of this, many film-goers I have discussed this issue with make a separation in their minds between the action and the rest of the movie.  The only time we get a chance to see how the fight scene will unfold is when we see the behind-the-scenes rehearsals in the DVD’s special features.

Because of the close-up camerawork and choppy editing, the audience has to work it out in their minds and figure out what happened instead of witnessing the action unfold right before their eyes.  Often times the audience just tunes out.

Why is it that we continue to see this artistic crime happen repeatedly (despite a movie critic’s rant every now and then)?

Here’s some excuses/explanation that I have heard while “in the trenches” of why they do what they do followed up with my counterpoint on why those theories cannot hold any water.


This is the usual response when asked why filmmakers are so addicted to getting in so tight on the action.  Sorry, I’m not buying this propaganda.  The problem is the camera lens does not have peripheral vision or depth of field like the human eye has.

Not all filmmakers know how to shoot action.  Filming action sequences is not a curriculum taught in film schools.  So they try fall back on what they already know, which is the traditional angles they were taught to shoot dialogue (master shot, camera left, and camera right).  Depending on the type of action, this often times is not adequate in capturing the essence of the scene.  In addition, there are many traditional rules on how to shoot a non-action scene that often times does not apply to shooting an action scene that the filmmaker has to let go in order to make the action scene look effective.

What happens when you get too tight on the hero during an action scene is you cannot see the impact of what they have done to their opponent.  The reaction from the opponent is an extension of the hero and the scene, which says a lot about the characters when choreographed and performed effectively.  With the close-up, they can only rely on the hero’s facial expressions to sell the scene, which is not the complete story.  It’s much like filming only one person during an intense conversation–we are missing a bigger picture.

Originally, the reason why you get in tight close-ups with an actor during an action scene is because they aren’t skilled enough to perform the physical movements.  So to make it look like they know what they are doing, they get in close and have the actors move around to fill up the camera space and not have much interaction with the stunt actors.  This was very evident with the late David Carradine in the iconic TV series “Kung Fu.”

BUT unfortunately, this practice also extends with actors who can perform their action quite convincingly.  Check out any Jackie Chan’s or Jet Li’s American films (with the possible exception of “The One”) and Matt Damon in the Jason Bourne series.


It’s true, MTV has changed the face of how we visually see and process images we see on the screen.  But that does not necessarily have to make everything look manic.  A great editor can close up the dead gaps in a fight and make it feel more immediate.  But when you edit an action scene that resembles a hyper kinetic highlight reel for A.D.D. patients, you lose the emotion of the scene created by the actors and fill it in with an artificial one created by all those cuts.  This leaves the audience breathless but unemotional about what just happened because they are not emotionally connected.

An editor can easily change the way an action scene comes across on the screen.  This can be good and bad.  Unfortunately, in many instances, the editor is taking away from the performance by calling more attention to their editing techniques than to making the action more enthralling and connecting with the audience.  Many fight choreographers have told me that their scenes have often been edited out of order or simply put together backwards.

A typical example is with “The Last Samurai.” According to IMDB, Tom Cruise trained almost two years to prepare for the film.  Too bad, we do not get to see any of the fruits of his labor.  I am referring particularly to the scene in which Cruise is attacked at night in the alley.  You hardly get to see Cruise finish his sword strokes or and see a reaction from the stuntman, while the editing did not have a natural flow and continuity.  The same thing can also be said for all the fight scenes in Sylvester Stallone’s recent film, “The Expendables.”

This blog is meant to open up conversation on this topic, which is too complex an issue to wrap in a nice little bowtie and say “case solved.”  I will continue to delve into in future blogs about this until it is stopped…OK, well…maybe I’m dreaming.

Copyright 2011. 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.