Welcome to the new Everything Action segment called Action Adventure Classics. With all the amazing special effects driven action movies today it can be difficult to objectively evaluate the older, less flashy action cinema. Nonetheless, some of the most amazing, suspenseful, enthralling and just plain bad-ass action and adventure films were made well before CGI. There are two types of classic movies: the ones that have withstood the test of time (That is to say, an older movie that is pure bad-ass), and your “instant classics” — say, a movie made in recent memory so immediately good that it becomes a classic. So sit back, relax and enjoy.
Today on AA Classics I am enjoying a brutal 80’s classic, “Bloodsport”. A well-oiled Jean-Claude Van Damme makes his starring debut in what may be one of the few kickboxing films to be based on a true story. The Muscles from Brussels plays Frank Dux, a very talented western martial artist and soldier in the US military. As a child, the miscreant Frank was taken in and trained by a champion martial artist, who went so far as to adopt him into his family after the premature death of his own son. At the bidding of his sensai and against direct orders from his military superiors, Frank travels to Hong Kong to participate in a mysterious, no-holds barred, highly illegal martial arts tournament in Hong Kong known only as the Kumite. While preparing for the tournament, he makes friends and meets a lovely blonde reporter (a must for any classic fighting movie) while striking man-tastic poses in several well known locations across the islands of Hong Kong. This is a testosterone driven, never-back-down action classic involving some of the most brutal and awing inspiring fighting and choreography of any of the “Arse-Kicking” movies to come out of the late 80’s and early 90’s.
I can honestly say that Bloodsport is probably in my top 5 fighting movies of all time. It sits up there with the likes of “Ong Bak”, “Chocolate”, “District B13” and “Drunken Master”. JCVD manages to pull together a semi-decent performance in his first jump as a starring actor but where he really shines is in the stunt/fighting department. One example: fighting blind… Yep, that’s right.
While admittedly “Bloodsport” is a tad lacking in the script department (to say the least), this undeniably bad-ass movie succeeds by “letting Van Damme play to his strengths: namely, minimal acting and a lot of impossibly acrobatic splits while kicking people in the head. A guilty-pleasure testosterone blast of the highest order with a memorable villain and a multitude of well-choreographed fight scenes.”1
A random highlight in this classic is a couple of the supporting actors involved. The now award-winning Forest Whitaker cameos as a hapless (and non-kickboxing) MP, who with his partner is trying to track down Dux to bring him back to the military. Donald Gibb, better known as Ogre from “Revenge of the Nerds” fame makes an appearance as the only other “American” fighter in the competition. With his over the top and brawling based fighting style and wild personality, he and Dux quickly become friends. The film also includes one of the most memorable villains from Bruce Lee lore, the fantastically huge and evil Bolo Yeung from “Enter the Dragon”.
In my opinion, you can’t have high expectations of a movie like this otherwise your in for a let down. If you went into “Ninja Assassin” thinking it was going to be of “Green Mile”-caliber, you’re dumb. You walk in expecting a film high on ass-kickery and low on acting quality. This film applie. Sure, it’s no award winner, however the simple pleasure in watching a man fight his way to the top using a series of mid air splits and roundhouse kicks is a pleasure all its own.
I can work out a couple other good things from “Bloodsport” as well. Due to its “success” for JCVD, production companies reused several pieces of the plot in other JCVD films. In “The Quest”, they used the tournament idea again, though the reason and location were a tad different. They also mimicked parts of the training regime from this movie and put it in the 1989 film “Kickboxer”. In “Lionheart”, they reused the idea of him running away from the military (a different military) to help someone. They also have two hapless agents chasing him again. I am sure there are others but that’s all I can think of at the moment. A side note: did anyone notice how the recent movie Fighting is a direct plot rip-off of “Lionheart” with a bit of a modern twist? Look into it and you’ll see.
All in all, I think I can honestly say that the action in this film saves it from the dialog. “Bloodsport” is one of the few action movies to not try and mask what it is behind fancy dialog or a amazing set. It is a movie about beating someone’s arse to prove you can and it doesn’t try and hide that. If you like great action, fantastic fighting, a legendary bad guy, Hong Kong, and tasers (you will see) then check out Bloodsport on Amazon (for $6 right now), Netflix and in most of your local rental joints. As always, make some popcorn, kick back, relax and turn on a classic.