In the first of many reviews about film on here, I decided to start with movies that are near and dear to my heart. You will all undoubtedly know about the great action films of the 1980’s and 1990’s because, let’s face it, they were all pretty awesome. Ignoring some exceptions, most of the films in the martial art/action genre that came out around this time were pure gold because of their action, but also because of their humor. Here’s a movie if you haven’t seen, you need to and if you’ve already seen, chances are you’re going to want to see again soon.
The story: Jean Claude Van Damme made his starring debut in this epic classic about honor, friendship, romance and above all, kicking ass. Van Damme plays Frank Dux who travels to Hong Kong for the Kumite, a tournament held once every five years where the best fighters in the world come to prove who’s the best. Dux, also a captain in the U.S. Army goes to visit Senzo Tanaka, his Shidoshi, a man we come to learn about in flashback. The training montage starts off by showing Van Damme as a slightly retarded kid who comes in with two buddies to steal a sword. Senzo and his son Shingo come in, where Van Damme is quickly stomped because he has no idea how to fight…yet. His training becomes an arduous task of doing splits and fighting blindfolded, which of course, Van Damme catches onto very fast. He sheds his former shell of a boy and becomes a Belgian killing machine that can also serve you tea while blindfolded.
After Van Damme promises Shidoshi victory at the Kumite, we learn that two army officers, (played by Norman Burton and a young Forest Whitaker) are right on Dux’s heels trying to prevent him from fighting because the Army can’t afford to lose their only ninja warrior. Meanwhile, Dux heads off for Hong Kong, only to run into future best friend Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb aka Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds). He runs into Jackson while he’s trying to score a date with a lady on a bus, but their friendship really takes shape when Jackson tries to best Van Damme in Karate Champ, the video game. Van Damme is too young for full contact; Jackson’s too old for video games, ergo, a life-long friendship begins.
Before going to the Kumite, which happens to be held in the rundown, back alley slums of Hong Kong, Dux needs to stretch a little. After a good warm up (see pic), Dux and Jackson go through this shady alley to get to the Kumite. Upon entering, Dux is asked for his invitation and is challenged because they don’t believe he’s Asian. To prove his worth, he’s asked to perform the Dim Mak, which translates to “Death Touch.” The judges instruct him to break the brick at the bottom of a stack, at which point Dux displays unprecedented power as he palm strikes the stack causing the bottom brick to explode. The story really could have ended there because it was so incredible, but guess what? Chong Li (Bolo Yeung from Enter the Dragon) is not impressed. His only response: “Very good, but brick not hit back.”
The Kumite starts in glorious fashion with 1980’s music pumping and plenty of guys starting to feel each other out. Of course Dux, Jackson and Chong Li go through the entire tournament relatively unharmed…that is until Jackson is matched up against Chong Li. Side note: I must say Bolo Yeung really portrays a great bad guy–man of few words, and let’s the ass kicking speak for itself. He was almost 50 years old when filming finished up, which is insane considering he’s now 70 and looks just about the same. I guess when you’re a Hong Kong bodybuilding champion, you can do anything you want. Anyway, Chong Li beats Jackson within an inch of his life and to put the icing on the cake, he takes his Harley Davidson bandana and taunts Dux with it. Fast forward to the hospital where we find out nothing is serious, Jackson’s fine, but Janince and Dux have some issues about the Kumite. Van Damme really showcases his acting range by giving Janice a lesson in upholding honor. Cue the reflecting music where Van Damme needs to get his head right if he’s ever gonna be able to topple Chong Li. If you haven’t already guessed it, performing a split on top of a stone building is just what the doctor ordered.
Skip ahead to the final fight where the only way Chong Li can beat Van Damage is to throw some sort of blinding powder in his eyes. That doesn’t stop Dux though… blinded and yelling, he takes a moment right in the middle of fighting to meditate and remember everything Shidoshi showed him about grabbing fish out of the barrel and fighting blindfolded. Thank goodness he had that training, cause now he can win the match easily and continue hitting Chong Li with those jumping roundhouse split kicks. And Van Damme doesn’t just beat him; he makes him say uncle… no one wants to lose like that. Thank god Van Damme won though, because otherwise, Ogre wouldn’t have gotten his Harley Davidson bandanna back. Drinking beer in a hospital bed = badass.
Okay, so this movie has its awesome moments, but to be a fair reviewer, one must note the obvious–Bloodsport is even better than it sounds. You can try all you want to come up with a movie which evokes intense action sequences, adventurous chase scenes, story-depth, character development, heart-wrenching drama, laugh-out-loud comedy, a kick-ass soundtrack, and a list of actors that would come to create the most amazing movie caught on film, but the truth is one will never be able to do it. Bloodsport was made from start to finish knowing full well it was going to be the archetype for any and all movies trying to consider themselves masterpieces.
Van Damme set the benchmark for the next ten years on how martial art/action movies could and should be made in America. Okay, so maybe it was like five years. Bolo Yeung really brought in a great character role, which we’ll see again in Van Damme’s 1991 epic, Double Impact. Ogre brings in some post-nerd humor and we see future Oscar winner Forest Whitaker in one of his first roles. This being one of the first martial art/action movies I’d ever seen, Van Damme really does hold a place in my heart. The 1980’s was truly the only decade that loved you back and Van Damme was an action hero that continued to give me movies to watch throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. Also, it seems JCVD is coming back with a movie that parodies his life self-titled JCVD. I guess if you’re gonna parody a kick ass life, why not Van Damme’s? I know… you’re going to your shelf of DVDs right now and taking your personal copy you bought at Target for $5.99 and are thinking about putting it on. My suggestion is to do it and remember the glory days of classic action.