ROUND 1, FIRST BOUT, BLOODSPORT SEQUELS VS. TEAM BOLO
aka FINAL FIGHT
“Stop him! You mustn’t let him keep practicing martial arts! Please! Please! Ryu is not a fighter. He’s a warm and caring person!”
BLOODFIGHT is from Japanese director Shuji Goto (FIGHTING BLACK KINGS) and star Yasuaki Kurata (HEROES OF THE EAST, EASTERN CONDORS, FIST OF LEGEND) but it’s a Hong Kong production featuring Bolo Yeung and Simon Yam. I rented it on a triple feature called Great Martial Arts Movies, and it had a warning about the picture quality not being up to modern standards, so I expected the worst. But other than being cropped it looked fine.
I also thought it might be dubbed, and there’s not any dialogue for the first ten minutes or more, so I was in suspense. Turns out it’s one of the rare Hong Kong movies that was actually filmed in English. Some of the actors sound like they’re just repeating it phonetically, so it’s hard to understand some of it.
It’s the story of the 1989 World Championship of Free Fighting in Hong Kong. There are some colorful characters including a sumo and an Indian giant who somebody throws an orange to and instead of appreciating it like Rocky he just crushes it in one hand. Bolo comes up to the guy’s belly button. Bolo’s character is named Chang Lee (wait a minute… in BLOODSPORT he was Chong Li), and he looks like this:
That’s right, he has a tattoo of a cobra on his forehead. And the same exact tattoo on his right arm. I don’t know if he got a discount that way or what. The same snake is also the logo on the walls and windows of his gym, the Snake Gym. Also note the beaded braid on the side of his hair. I don’t know if that’s a Padawan braid or a Mr. T thing.
Our first impression of Chang Lee, besides that he likes cobras, is pretty comedic. There’s a good joke where the sumo does that thing where they squat and then rock back and forth stomping their feet. It causes the flags to shake and the hanging lights to swing back and forth. Seeing this Chang Lee tries to do the same thing, and observes as the flags and lights just stay motionless.
Chang Lee is not that smart, because he runs over and tries to lift the sumo. And he can’t do it. This was before the invention of UFC, so he didn’t know that a kickboxer fighting a sumo just has to kick a tooth out or break the guy’s nose. Instead he unties the mawashi, the ceremonial loin cloth thing, and wraps it around his head. Not very honorable, but you can see why he’s desperate.
Because of all this goofin around I wasn’t sure Bolo was really going to be playing an evil character, but he is. He and the legendary Masahiro Kai (Kurata) both breeze through the tournament until they’re gonna face each other. Before the fight, Kai flashes back to two years earlier.
So this is actually a story of a tournament within a story of a tournament. Like that Sam Raimi baseball movie where Kevin Costner remembers his career while pitching a perfect game. (I think that’s what it’s about. It’s the only Sam Raimi I haven’t watched yet. I don’t know why. [just kidding, we all know why we haven’t watched that one yet])
Kai has alot of trophies and was the ’77 world champion, but now he’s kinda washed up and his wife is gonna divorce him. In town there’s this gang of cartoonish punks who drive around in a Jeep with “FUCK YOU” spray painted on the back, steal food from street vendors and bully people. For some dumb reason Kai sees their leader and thinks he should teach him to fight. Maybe it’s a challenge to teach the undisciplined, maybe it’s a cool gimmick because it’s a white guy. Whatever the reason, it’s this dumb asshole:
Unfortunately it doesn’t go well, the guy just uses his new training to improve his bullying. His punk friends are funny, they talk in funny voices and their English is indecipherable. One of them has a red mohawk and kinda acts like a monkey. Another one has one side of his jeans torn out with “DON’T TOUCH” written on the exposed butt cheek.
A girl who knows kung fu stands up to the bullies, and the white guy comes in and punches her in the face! Later they go after some other girl in an alley, and her boyfriend Ryu (Yam) has to take them all on.
Suddenly Kai appears, and instead of stopping his asshole student he just stands there and admires Ryu’s skills. Oh shit, this is the guy I should be training. There’s a comedic montage of him following Ryu around, suddenly pouring his tea at a restaurant or standing behind him in a public restroom, trying to recruit him, but he’s not interested. Later, when the bullies beat him and his girl up again, he crawls to Kai’s house all bloody and calls him sensei. But suddenly he has ethics, doesn’t want to train Ryu for revenge so now the wacky montage is reversed and it’s Ryu following him around trying to get him to be his teacher.
Of course they eventually come to an agreement and we get some good training montages: going up stairs wearing weighted sandals, punching through boards, etc. But he enters the tournament and Chang Lee Drago-Creeds him. Gives him the old Boom Boom Mancini/Butch Coolidge treatment. This is where we know he’s not just a comedy character, because he breaks his neck after the towel has already been thrown in. Then he pulls off his special headband, twirls it around and throws it. Not a sportsmanlike way to kill a man in the ring. The fights in this are well done, lots of energy, and some clever shots like in this one there’s a POV shot as Ryu gets flipped.
Okay, so now Kai is a broken man. His student is dead. The girlfriend blames him. His ex-wife is remarried and rich now. He starts drinking. On the positive side he is still able to beat up a bunch of thugs who attack him while he’s drunk.
But a friend convinces him that he could shape up and try to defeat Chang Lee in the ’89 championships, so now we get an even better training montage: jogging in front of a sunset, running up a steep hill, the Van Damme thing where they tie ropes and pullies to his legs and yank on them, balancing in a kick pose with the weighted sandals for an unexpectedly long shot.
Meanwhile beefhead Chang Lee just lifts weights at the Snake Gym. He also has time to relax and enjoy himself. Here’s how he’s livin when he gets interviewed:
Chang Lee has not grown as a person during these two years. He’s still a dick. He shows up with the late Ryu’s headband and arrogantly ties it around his waist. After knocking Kai off the mat he gets the crowd chanting his name, then abruptly signals for silence. And it works.
I’m not gonna give away what happens, but you know what happens. Okay I’m gonna give it away, Kai wins, chooses not to murder him and reclaims the headband. Here’s the weird thing: His ex-wife is in the crowd and doesn’t join in the with the polite applause of the crowd after Kai’s victory. Then she can’t help but smile a little, but she’s looking over at her new husband and making sure he doesn’t see. So why did they come, then, if she can’t root for him? They thought he was gonna get killed and they wanted to watch it? That’s not cool.
In the grand tradition it goes to credits on a slo-mo victory pose, although I think he’s faking the slo-mo. Not sure. There’s a nice little epilogue during the actual credits.
To be honest I watched this one first because I thought it would be crappy and that I should get it over with. So this is a Cinderella story here. This is actually a good one. I liked the protagonist and his student, it’s a good ridiculous bad guy, good training montages, good fights, good inspirational keyboard rock score. It’ll take some doing to beat it.
tournament details: No ring, just a mat with a Yin-Yang-ish logo in the center. Regular sports arena with bleachers and various flags. Fight until one fighter can’t get up. Gong at beginning.
training montage techniques: jogging in front of a sunset, running up steep hill, leg ropes and pullies, weighted sandals while balancing and going up stairs, punching through boards
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.