The Scoop: 1988 R, directed by Newt Arnold and starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Bolo Yeung, and Leah Ayres
Tagline: The secret contest where the world’s greatest warriors fight in a battle to the death.
Summary Capsule: JVCD and Ogre fight their way through a whole bunch of ethnic stereotypes to face big bad Bolo Yeung in an underground fighting competition.
Eunice’s Rating: Three incredibly over the top slow-mo “Grrrraaaaaghhh!” noises out of five
Eunice’s Review: Not to sound all ‘back in my day’-y, but sometimes I miss the ’80s. At least the weird movie trends that came out of that time. You can’t tell me we didn’t have fun. One of the trends was the evolution of the martial arts subgenre of movies. Carrying over from the “Chopsocky” flicks of the ’70s, there came a wave of US made fight movies that (for whatever reason) at the time would launch quite a few action stars’ careers and would carry through to the mid/late ’90s. This was also a good time for underdog sports movies. So it’s no surprise that, say, Karate Kid is super successful in 1984 (or this mindset of movies eventually leading to the wonderfully insane Over the Top in 1987).
So where am I going with all this? Well I’m just trying to lay the contextual groundwork to explain the success of Bloodsport. The acting is terrible, the entire execution is completely cheeseball, it’s more than a little offensive to well everybody ever. And, yet, it made over ten times its budget back, launched the career of Jean-Claude Van Damme, and is so very ’80s. Like I explained in my Expendables 2 review, I grew up on this particular era of action films, they are like mother’s milk to me. Sweet violent badly acted mother’s milk.
So the plot: US Army officer Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), is going to a super illegal underground martial arts tournament called the Kumite. See he was trained by the last member of the Tanaka clan. Growing up alongside his teacher’s late son, he’s vowed to honor the son’s dream to fight in the tournament and carry on the Tanaka fighting style. The style is particularly famous for a move called the “Dim Mak” or Death Touch. When the Army tries to stop him from going to Hong Kong, he goes AWOL, so part of the movie has him running from MPs Rawlins (Forest Whitaker) and Helmer. While there he befriends fellow American Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb of Revenge of the Nerds fame), a quintessential ugly American stereotype, Victor Lin, a guide assigned to him and Ray and funny little street hood stereotype, and love interest Janice Kent, a female reporter stereotype.
In a montage we’re introduced to the most notable of the other fighters (all stereotypes, but the monkey technique guy is so offensive I cover my face in mortification), but the worst of the worst is Chong Li (Bolo Yeung), the undefeated champion. While the Kumite is no holds barred and anything goes, there are three accepted ways to win: KO, the other guy says “uncle,” or throwing someone off the platform. Chong Li, however, will kill mercilessly and unnecessarily. In short, he lacks honor. And he blows his boogers onto the mat too, gross.
If you’ve seen an 80s’ fight movie before you can probably guess how it plays out. Lots of fight montages with a power ballad theme song playing in the background (complete with lines about heartburn) and blood and teeth spurting, breaking bones, and guys FLYING off the platform. Added is the most happy Running From the Cops chase scene ever. Janice begging Frank to drop out so he doesn’t get hurt (’cause you know, those fragile women folk just can’t understand). And the final round coming down to Frank and Chong Li after Frank vows revenge when Ray gets hurt.
Okay JVCD’s first big movie blah blah blah – Can we talk Bolo Yeung for a minute? He gets two lines, and I’m pretty sure he’s overdubbed, but he kinda steals the whole show. He’s just so awesome. Were Bolo and Clancy Brown ever in a movie together in the 80s? If not they should’ve been and when time machines get the kinks worked out, we should rectify that. But my favorite moment is not him being evil so much as when Ray singles him out for no reason at all and his face says, “Um, ooookaaaay.” Right there, best acting the whole movie.
Him and the ref. I like the whole bit with the ref at the end, that’s actually kinda neat.
Now I’m sitting here typing snark, and yet having it play in the background I still, and yes I’m embarrassed to admit this, I still kind of like the movie. I mean I know, I shouldn’t, I KNOW that. Gosh darnit! Not to say that this movie is put together on even the same level as the first Ninja Turtles movie, but just like how I can accept that a city’s biggest crime threat is a bunch of punks stealing the crappiest of electronics and “whoops accidental performer face in the mouth” and still love it just fine, it’s a little like that.
Please don’t judge me.
- The real Frank Dux was the movie’s fighting coordinator, and JVCD helped edit.
- …Which may explain why characters who are competing, are apparently also cheering themselves on from the stands sometimes?
- Now I was just a kid when the validity of Frank Dux’s book was thrown into question, so I don’t remember the details. But I do remember it was a big deal at the time.
- The original spelling of Dux’s name is Ducks, Victor’s line is a joke about that.
- The game is Karate Champ
- There’s two sequels. I’ve seen neither of these
- Curly hair = youth.
- Oh and fighting video games skill = real life fighting prowess
- The, then required, JVCD in his underwear scene. Like EVERY movie.
- Sooo, if the Death Touch fails, you can always punch ’em in the testicles.
- So many different types of montages
Tanaka: For two thousand years, knowledge pass from father to son. Father to… son.
Frank: I too am here for the Kumite
Ray: Aren’t you a little young for full contact?
Frank: Aren’t you a little old for video games?
Victor Lin: That would make you Frank “Ducks.”
Frank: No it’s Frank Dux.
Victor Lin: Oh I get it. Like put up your dukes.
Frank: Did he tell you anything?
Janice: He said I had nice legs.
Old Guy: OK USA!
Ray: That hurts me just looking at it.
Ray: Hey, man, you better stop doing that stuff, you might want to have kids.
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