BLOODSPORT (1988)

by Jonny Lieberman on March 13, 2006

Tagline:

The secret contest where the world’s greatest warriors fight in a battle to the death.

Entire Story In Fewer Words Than Are In This Sentence:

The Muscle from Brussels kicks major ass.

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Homoeroticism:

An odd mix between frighteningly gay and dull hetero. Let’s be honest. Jean Claude spends roughly 15% of the movie doing the splits. I’m not saying having your balls on the floor for ten minutes worth of screen time is gay… wait, yes I am. First off, Jean Claude wears blush and lipstick throughout the entire film. Even when he’s fighting. Strike that, especially when he’s fighting. Early on, the following dialogue takes place between a young Frank Dux (Van Damme) and the adult Tanaka;

Dux: You’re not going to call the cops?

Tanaka: Not if we make a deal.

Dux: What kind of deal?

When I used to hang around porno shoots with TAWP, I would hear the “actors” rehearsing this kind of dialogue that was supposed to pass as foreplay;

Daddy: I told you not to borrow the car.

Daughter: But Daddy…

Daddy: You know I’m not your real Daddy.

Daughter: Please Step-Daddy, don’t tell Mom. I’ll do anything.

Daddy: Anything?

Point is, I know porn when I hear it, and that was straight up fucking porn. NAMBLA porn. If that weren’t enough for you there is this sequence where Jean Claude is doing the splits across two chairs in his hotel room. We are treated to numerous close up shots of his beefcake chest. When Jackson (Don Gibb) enters the room with a beer and sits on the bed, staring at the glistening pecs of his buddy, Jean Claude puts his index fingers and thumbs together in the universal sign for pussy. I’m serious, watch it. They also both say they love each other at the end.

Weirder than all of the above, though, is the outfit Jean Claude sports for the first third of the film. Bloodsport is based on the true life events of fighting great Frank Dux. Therefore, it takes place in 1975. Van Damme however, struts around with light-cream colored pants that Don Johnson would have balked at pulled up four inches above his belly button. Tucked into those God damn pants is a tank top so revealing that if Mila Jovovich would have worn it in The Filth Element, that film would received an R rating. Over that getup he’s got on a snakeskin jacket similar to something Kool Moe Dee would have worn circa Knowledge is King. And cowboy boots. Plus, he’s got this Hitler Youth hair going on that just would not stop. Maybe not so much homoerotic as it was fucked up. Did I mention his gorgeous chest?

However, countermanding all of that is the fact that he is really into Janice (Leah Ayres) and might of even had sex with her. Of course we don’t see the sex (hello?) but we do get treated to a sweet Van Damn! ass-shot as he’s putting on his oh-so-tight flame-red Underoos. And that chest!

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Corpse Count:

Only a single pathetic death. However, since this a “true” story, that fact needs to be taken into account. Using a matrix I have used elsewhere in the 80s Action Guide, the shear amount of ass-kicking that takes place (almost) makes up for the lack of bodies. Jean Claude himself easily beats up two-dozen opponents. And counting all the Stupid Chiefs and their henchmen you might as well double that number (OK, they weren’t Stupid Chiefs, but Forrest Whitaker and his friend did spend the entire movie trying to stop Van Damme from competing, which is metaphorically identical to taking away his badge and gun). Also, they may as well have called this movie BloodSPIT on account of all the plasma that flies through the air. Most of it in very slow-mo. Bolo Yeung (who was fifty-years old when this movie was filmed) is particularly cruel as he tends to maim his opponents. Just cause he’s so damn mean. A really great baddie. Anyhow, if you just pretend that every dude who spurts blood out of their nose or mouth is dead, the Corpse Count is like fifty.

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How Bad Is It Really?

Interesting question. I can say with certainty that Bloodsport is Jean Claude Van Damme’s greatest film. However, that isn’t saying anything. Any scene taken on its own and shown to a film class would get booed. Everything is clunky, stilted and unbelievable. Taken as a whole though, the film has a charm that is impossible to deny. It becomes obvious that Bloodsport is the work of a talent-deficient director with a small budget but tons of determination and will. Basically all you have is a story about a bunch of dudes from all over the world beating each other up for three days until the last man is standing. And somehow it works. Very well. There’s even a certain degree of drama going on, possibly even suspense, but since I have seen this film four-dozen times since it was released by in 1988, I can’t say for sure.

The beginning of Bloodsport is great. We get treated to the various fighters–who all fight in unique styles including an African guy that hops around like a baboon–training for the “Kumite,” (pronounced ‘coo-moe-tay’) a full contact marshal arts competition held in secret every five years. I have to say that I really love training sequences. After watching Spider-Man several times I realized that my favorite part by far–and what was desperately lacking from the sequel–was when Peter was learning to use his spidey-powers. I’m not awake enough to go deeper, but suffice to say I like training sequences in movies. Like here in Bloodsport where Tanaka teaches an eager yet non-Japanese Van Damme all fis ancient ass-kicking secrets. Culminating of course with Jean Claude serving tea to Tanaka and his wife while blindfolded. Also, the fact that there were at least three-dozen distinct fighters was very cool, indeed.

One-Liner:

Jackson, played wonderfully by Gibb who was Ogre in all those Revenge of the Nerds films, turns to a random woman on a Hong Kong bus and says, “Hey babe–want to go out with a really big man?”

Post-Mortem One-Liner

None really, but Bolo does turn to Van Damme after (almost) killing Jackson and says, “You break my record. Now I break you. Like I broke your friend!” I can’t believe that fucking guy was fifty years old.

Novelty Death:

More of a novelty beat-down. Van Damme knocks out this Arab fighter (who was for some reason played by a Filipino actor, Bernard Mariano) by showing the guy his palm.

Stupid Political Content

Aside from the usual nonsense about how the only way to resolve conflict is through brutal violence, no. Oh, Tanaka’s son calls a young Dux “round-eye,” which is one of my most favorite racial slurs.

Was There An Atomic Blast At The End?

No. But Jackson does break a brick over his head. Did I mention Jean Claude does the splits a lot?

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What You Learned:

Frank Dux, the undefeated heavyweight kumite champ from 1975-1980 is single handily responsible for the ninja craze that swept the USA during the 80s. Jean Claude has never been able to regain the acting chops he displayed in Bloodsport. This movie must haunt him, for not only did he star in the underwhelming Bloodsport II, but a third installment is on the way in 2005. Hong Kong looks really cool. Oh, and if you can do the splits, your opponent stands no chance.

[A Reader wrote in and told me I fucked up. There are already 4 Bloodsports. I know/knew that. My point was that Van Damme, who only appeared in the first two of the series, since his career has been a downhill slide ever since, is trying to get his game back by making a “third installment” his own self. Forget parts three and four which do not feature Van Damme. That’s like Death Wish without Bronson. To my knowledge, the only time a film series has been improved when the leading man gets replaced is the Substitute franchise. As much as I like Tom Berenger, Treat Williams just kicks ass in Substitute IV, the one about the nazi kids. Anyhow, even though the film Van Damme is currently working on does not have Bloodsport in the title, it is the legitimate heir to the first two.]

About

Jonny was the site’s co-founder and helped carry the place in the early years. There was a falling out with Erich and he left the site for good, but a lot of his reviews live on. He has moved on to a successful career writing about cars. Look him up.

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