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Bad Movie Tuesday: Bloodsport (1988), Van Damme at his spin-kicking best versus the Kumite and Bolo Yeung’s pecs.

August 16, 2016

Bloodsport1988

MY CALL:  Looking for tandem jump spin kicks, perpetual muscle flexing, Belgian butt shots and a secret death match martial arts tournament?  Well, look no further!  MOVIES LIKE Bloodsport:  Other Van Damme movies, of course!  But maybe this movie isn’t bad enough for you and you want something a bit more “campy bad.” If that’s the case, try China O’Brien (1990), Outside the Law (2002), Night Vision (1997) or Only the Strong (1993).

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So you’re probably wondering “John, this is Van Damme at his best, there are real stars in the cast, he faces an iconic bad guy and the score is awesome!  How could this be a bad movie?”

Fair question.  Well, when it came out I’d say it was epic and into the 90s it was awesome…and it’s still awesome to maybe you, definitely me, and most people who saw it back in the 80s or early 90s.  But, come on.  By today’s standards this is not awesome; not to most 18-year-olds.  This is a once great movie that is sort of now bad.

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This movie opens with a serene sort of martial arts movie perfection. Most 80s martial arts movies open with synth scoring and annoying clichés.  Quite to the contrary we are practically bewitched by the completely exotic East Asian scoring (by Paul Hertzog; Kickboxer) as we enjoy scenes from busy Chinese streets and preparations being made for the legendary underground tournament.


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“But hold on, this sounds far too legit.  Didn’t you say this was a Bad Movie Tuesday?”  Well, yeah it is.  You see, mixed in with these insightful shots are two street thug-looking dudes in denim vests (a la Roadhouse) who are meant to protect the world’s most secret martial arts tournament from discovery with their puny biceps and no weapons to be found.

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The answer is YES
He IS ALWAYS flexing.

But I really need to return to the score.  The music is mystical, enchanting even, as we watch martial artists around the world breaking giant ice blocks, sparring and training for the chance to prove they’re the best.

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When we meet Captain Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme; Kickboxer, Double Impact, Time Cop) he’s spin-kicking a speed bag in a unitard, snug around the butt and sweaty biceps glistening for the ladies.  By the way, it seems that everyone and their mother knows who got invited to the “secret” Kumite and that it’s in Hong Kong.  This goes doubly for Dux’s commanding officer, who he slips with the old “I’ll be in office right after I take a shower” gag.  Psych!

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Dux is quite stylish—a common trend in JCVD characters, in fact—showing up to his Shidoshi’s (Roy Chiao; Enter the Dragon, Game of Death, The Protector) home in the kind of leather jacket you’d see a wealthy pornographer or 80s Glam Rock band member wearing.  While he waits to pay homage to his master, he reflects…aaaaaand fade to flashback!


This movie might just feature the coolest training montage ever!  It features blindfolded fighting, meditation, music that is simply magical, five tandem ridgehand chops to the stomach, concentration exercises, bare-handed fishing, extreme flexibility, some serious shinai work, the hands-down toughest white belt I’ve ever seen, the most brutal stretching exercise, and blindfolded tea parties.  Beat that, Rocky!

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Let’s touch on our supporting cast. Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb; Transylvania 6-5000) is his lovably ignorant American lug and sidekick, reporter Janice (Leah Ayres; The Burning) is the sexy love interest with a nose for a story and trying to sneak her way into the Kumite, the young and pushy Agent Rawlins (Forest Whitaker; Species, Battlefield Earth) and the older calmer Agent Helmer (Norman Burton; American Ninja 5, Deep Space) are hot on Frank’s trail, and then there’s Frank and Ray’s guide Lin (Ken Siu) who’s good for more than a few laughs and some blatant exposition.

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I guess it does make a difference if Bruce Springsteen is a Shidoshi because upon arrival to the Kumite, Frank’s round-eyed legitimacy is challenged and to prove himself he must perform the Dim Mak (death touch).  This is among the most famous moments of this movie.  Of course they say “bottom one” when picking bricks from the stack—which was conveniently already set up.  I wonder who else had to do the Dim Mak. And I wonder if Jackson assumed the old master was ordering Frank to get him a fast food value meal.


But would the top one really be so easy?  Think about it.  It’s a stack of five bricks.  To break the top one without affecting the bricks below it would be brutally difficult as well.  Either way, this is amaze-balls-tactic!  But for some reason, Chong Li (Bolo Yeung; Enter the Dragon, Double Impact) is among the audience and he looks like he could care less or maybe simply has indigestion from his large vanilla shake, Double Bacon Dee Mac and fries—he’s the only guy wearing a sweatshirt as if he just returned from a Shoney’s buffet and felt embarrassed about being bloated the day before the Kumite.  Meanwhile, wearing a male stripper tank top and slacks, Dux slams the stack for the absolute best exploding brick scene in movie history.  You should see his face: TOTAL INTENSITY!  It’s like Dux simultaneously explosively sharted and unexpectedly saw boobs for the first time—he actually makes that face several times.  And yet Chong Li is so not impressed, taunting “Very good. But brick not hit back.”  What a doofus!

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That face you make when you reeeeeally had to poop.

Well, it’s the day of the Kumite and Frank’s warming up in the hotel.  “That hurts me just lookin’ at it,” says Jackson with a morning beer in his hand. Of course we come across Frank’s two-chair straddling mediation session (not unlike his recent Volvo truck commercial) which made Jackson beg: “You know you better stop doin’ that stuff. You may wanna’ have kids one of these days.”

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About now I’d like to pause and assess how we know this is a bad movie:

  1. How is this ancient-looking marble-walled and gold-calligraphied temple somehow kept a secret when it’s basically in the basement of a poor tenement building in Hong Kong?
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  2. Donald Gibb is in this. You know?  The big Viking from the Capitol One commercials and the big jock from Revenge of the Nerds (1984).
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  3. The African martial artist prances about like a monkey and karate chops coconuts. Don’t mess with that guy.
  4. Was the guy fighting on the beach in maybe Hawaii (I suppose?) just street fighting for cash? His opponent was not impressive.  Some of these fighters aren’t as convincing as the scintillating background music. The smallest Sumo wrestler ever throws a sack and knocks over two little guys—soooooo we’re establishing that his big and strong? FML.
  5. Shidoshi Tanaka’s 12-year-old son is his home security system and instead of sounding an alarm he expedites kicks to the stomach.
  6. The flashbacks to Frank’s childhood feature the gawkiest actor and the worst lines ever. Based on meeting young Frank, you’d assume he’d never have sex in his life…EVER!
  7. If the tournament is held in Hong Kong, an epicenter of Chinese martial arts, why does the Kumite winner receive a Katana, the quintessential Japanese weapon?
  8. How did Shingo Tanaka die??? Frank basically claims Shingo’s ticket to the Kumite and we get no explanation!
  9. If you pay close attention, you’ll realize that Frank was a white belt for years. But then, presto! He’s a black belt just in time for the Kumite.
  10. So is the Kumite a secret or not. Janice calls it a secret and two fighters won’t say a word. Jackson meets a stranger (i.e., Frank Dux) at an arcade game and mentions the Kumite casually in passing like “come see me fight in the Kumite.” The investigators are trying to find the secret location, yet everyone seems to know everyone who’s invited.
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  11. The fights feature completely gratuitous tactical rolls (by JCVD), needlessly hurling people out of the ring, the Sumo wrestler gets punched in the nuts by TWO different opponents, the Sumo wrestler also performs TWO back-breaks and no one bats an eye at it (foreshadowing Kickboxer???), and silly grandstanding.
  12. The entirety of Bolo Yeung’s lines are: “Very good, but brick not hit back…You are next…You break my record, now I break you like I break your friend…Matte.”
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  13. Dux finishes off Chong Li with four tandem jump skin kicks to the head, which I’m pretty sure would be fatal.
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The first couple fights are laughably weak.  But then, as if it was the first day in the prison yard, Chong Li straight up kills a clearly inferior opponent for all to see, as if he was just making a point.

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For the most part, this is not a movie for technical fight choreography snobs who live for the likes of Tony Jaa (Ong Bak), Scott Adkins (Universal Solder: Day of Reckoning), Michael Jai White (Undisputed 2-3) or Iko Uwais (The Raid: Redemption).  The fights are generally unimpressive by today’s standards, although quite decent outside of Hong Kong cinema in the 80s.  Although, a couple of fights (e.g., the one between two obvious martial artists who had almost no dialogue) were of higher caliber.  And, of course, Van Damme dances about with the sleekest and smoothest choreography in the movie—whereas Yeung enjoys the more brutally abrupt fights.  The style of the music trades between them accordingly.  Already in his 40s when he made this movie, Bolo Yeung brings his “old man strong” game as he busts his opponent’s knee in one of the worst leg breaks.

Now let’s lighten things up…

How about some highlights…?  I just love the playful and quite polite chase scene through the streets of Hong Kong, prancing in the streets and running across chains of small boats to Steal the Night; there’s an obligatory Van Damme butt shot for the ladies after the least action hero-iest “love scene” ever; and Van Damme’s fight against the Sumo wrestler is unforgettable.

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This is the movie that established the Van Damme staples: a Belgian butt shot (with the reporter), splits during a fight (vs Sumo), tandem jump spin kicks (vs Chong Li), and a sappy closing scene with the subject of his motivation (with Jackson).

BLOODSPORT, Leah Ayres, Jean-Claude Van Damme, 1988. ©Cannon Films

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This is one of Van Damme’s best and most rewatchable movies.  What’s odd is that this was the only movie in which Van Damme was totally dominating his final bad guy—until, of course, Chong Li cheated and blinded him.  Typically, Van Damme gets his ass handed to him then suddenly finds mid-fight motivation to save the day like Hulk Hogan back in the early WrestleManias.

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In either case, this movie is a spectacle that every man over 30 should own and love.  Buy it, watch it, then join our nostalgia by listening to our Van Damme podcast episode!

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