ROUND 1, FIRST BOUT, BLOODSPORT SEQUELS VS. TEAM BOLO
“You’re a true warrior, Alex.”
The hero of the original BLOODSPORT, Frank Dux (played by the icon of tournament fighting movies, Jean-Claude Van Damme) trained in ninjitsu as a kid after stealing a valuable katana and then impressing its owner by having second thoughts and returning it. As an adult he’s in the Army, but goes AWOL to enter the dangerous underground Kumite tournament.
The replacement hero for the Van-Damme-less part 2, Alex Cardos (Daniel Bernhardt, the Swiss martial artist and model who had been in a Versace commercial with Van Damme) is also a dirty sword-stealer, but this guy does it as a grown man, has no regrets and doesn’t try to give it back. He goes to a party at Pat Morita’s house, steals the sword from upstairs and makes a lunch date with a lady he was flirting with named Janine (Lori Lynn Dickson) as he flees.
The movie knows that he’s an asshole, though. It has a framing story where wise master Sun (James Hong) is telling little kid martial arts students a story about how a “bad” person became a “good” one.
Like Malcolm X the transformation begins in prison. It turns out Alex’s partner (Philip Tan I believe, also stunt coordinator and second unit director) set him up to take a fall for the sword-stealing, and cops come after him during his date. He has to fight them in front of the girl, but manages to kiss her hand politely. One of those gentleman thieves I guess. But nobody gives a shit how suave he is in an Asian prison (I don’t think they say what country it is, but it was filmed in Thailand). They hate that motherfucker. Everybody wants to beat his ass. At first he arrogantly squashes challengers, but he doesn’t have what it takes to defend himself against a huge guard named Demon (Ong Soo Han, KICKBOXER, THE KING OF KICKBOXERS, DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY, THE QUEST) who has it in for him like Hans Grueber did for Harry Potter.
That’s where Master Sun comes in. He knows the story because he was there. Turns out his best student used his skills for killing and raping, so he had to put him down like you would a pet gorilla or zebra that got out of control, and that is illegal to do to a human so he got locked up. But the guards there respect him, even though they’re assholes. He even has his own room suitable for training a student – let’s say Alex Cardos or somebody – in a special technique known as The Iron Hand that uses inner peace and focus to create almost supernatural fist powers.
After learning to punch in such a way that the wind created by the punch can blow out candles (a great skill for both training montages and birthday parties), Alex is abruptly released from the joint. It seems that rich and powerful Pat Morita pulled some strings to get him out. Why? Because the sword he stole – which his traitorous ex-partner still has – is needed for the Kumite ceremonies, and he thinks Alex can get it back.
Alex has another mission though: he promised Master Sun he would enter and win the Kumite to restore the Master’s honor after the whole killer-rapist debacle. He’s not even invited but manages to finagle his way in after introducing himself to Ray “Tiny” Jackson (Donald “Ogre in REVENGE OF THE NERDS” Gibb), who was Frank Dux’s friend and co-fighter in part 1 and is now a trainer.
The tournament scenes honor the original well even though nobody can replace Bolo. They got lots of different styles represented including capoeria and monkey kung fu – with monkey sound effects, for some reason. That was weird. They have a skinny long-hair guy with face paint (something tells me he was some guy on the crew, not a real fighter). They have some jiujitsu which is pretty cool because by the time this was released there had only been nine UFC events (less when it was filming) so the effectiveness of grappling on the mat was a relatively new concept to American martial arts fans trained by this series to think flying spin kicks were the best way to defeat someone.
They also have a woman, Kim (Lisa McCullough – the Bride’s motorcycle double in KILL BILL VOLUME 1), who’s the first female fighter ever in the Kumite. Ray thinks she’s hot so he starts flirting with her, which she does not respond positively too. So they fall in love when he stands up for her later. It could be problematic for a man to stand up for a woman who can obviously hold her own if she’s in this tournament, but it is truly an outrageously unsportsmanlike act by her opponent Demon (oh yeah I forgot to mention the guard from the prison is also in the Kumite) when he knocks her out, then pretends to tango with her and kiss her.
By the way, this is how you know that Demon is a bad guy: he gestures for the audience to cheer for him. Awfully presumptuous. Bolo also did this in BLOODFIGHT. I’ll be looking for villains who do this throughout the Super-Kumite. Another dick move he does: keeping his arms folded in boredom during parts of one fight. Worse: killing his opponent, then smiling and flexing his muscles instead of feeling kinda bad about it. To their credit the audience is completely silent. You’d expect there’d be at least one dumb asshole that’s a big Demon fan and can’t stop himself from hooting and hollering. But Kumite attendees aren’t yahoos.
Alex, in contrast to Demon, is a very good sportsman. You wouldn’t have expected that back in his sword-stealing days, but here he is going to sit next to a guy after he beat him and telling him it was a good fight. He’s nice enough that Cliff (Ron Hall, director of THE DOLEMITE EXPLOSION) gets badly beat by him but shakes his hand and tells him “nice fight.” During the next round Cliff even gives him ringside advice and raises his arm in victory. Fight brothers!
In between rounds he’s got this whole sword deal going on. He goes back to Janine, who still loves him from the half a lunch date he had with her a long time ago that wasn’t that romantic because of the police raid. She now works for Alex’s ex-partner, so she helps him set up a deal to try to buy the sword back. Alex has to work with one of Morita’s men, a Dolph lookalike named Sergio (Nick Hill, FISTS OF IRON), who hates him at first but later declares him “a true warrior.”
Unfortunately the way he resolves the sword conflict is kind of a storytelling copout and dishonorable act (SPOILER: he just “sets him up” back by telling the cops on him). But the real climax obviously is the final match against Demon, in which he utilizes the great fight tournament technique of starting to lose but then flashing back to the training montage and remembering a special move (also seen in BLOODFIGHT).
While he’s down he complains that “his arms are like cement!” Ah ha, but you have the Iron Fist. Iron beats cement. Think about jackhammers.
In the end we return to Master Sun and his kids. Thinking back on the movie I was relieved that I didn’t remember an Alex-Janine sex scene. You’d get that in alot of movies like this, but here it would mean Master Sun was being really inappropriate with the kids. He must’ve made Alex sound real appealing to the ladies though, because a little girl wants to know if he got to kiss the girl. Cue kissing and “THE END,” an old fashioned cornball ending.
BLOODSPORT II doesn’t add anything very original to the tropes, but it’s a solidly entertaining movie. Bernhardt (who recently attacked Jason Statham in a bathroom in PARKER) is a good replacement for Van Damme because he has a similar combination of badass fighter, vain pretty boy and dorky goofball with thick accent. He even kinda looks like him, but he’s not a total clone, he looks much taller, and long limbs work well in fight movies in my opinion.
Best of all he does pay a little homage to the original’s legendary facial expressions:
It’s great to have Donald Gibbs back, James Hong makes a good Mr. Miyagi (in a movie that even has the original Mr. Miyagi in it!) and the training taking place in the prison is a good change of setting. Headbands off to director Alan Mehrez (producer of CYBORG 3 and SAVATE) and writer Jeff Schechter (BEETHOVEN’S 3RD, CARE BEARS: JOURNEY TO JOKE-A-LOT). I also want to mention composer Stephen Edwards (composer for some DTV Seagals like TODAY YOU DIE as well as most of Isaac Florentine’s movies), who does a decent cheeseball ’80s-ish score even though this was 1996. The one concession to the era was a hilarious end credits techno song called “The Rhythm of the Kumite,” obviously based on the MORTAL KOMBAT theme. But instead of sampling dialogue from the actual movie they just have random voices saying things like “Kumite!”
tournament details: Flat mat, fight to KO, submission by tapout or falling off mat.
training montage techniques: punching buckets full of beans (?), punching out the flames of candles, padded poles, kicking bag, push ups with Master Sun’s foot on his back “until my foot gets tired.”
fight choreographer/stunt coordinator: Philip Tan (Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever)
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.