Round 1, final competitor, Team Blanks vs. The Red Fist Club
“I didn’t come here to box. I gave that up a long time ago. I came here to find his killer.”
I’m not sure, but could BLOODFIST be the first movie to include sports achievements in the credits? Because it lists the star as DON WILSON – WORLD KICKBOXING ASSOCIATION LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT WORLD CHAMPION.”
(Rob Kaman, Billy Blanks and Kris Aguilar get similar credits.)
Of course, we call him Don “The Dragon” Wilson for short, and he stars as Jake Raye, a retired boxer who works pathetically giving faked fight demos for bullied kids at Hal & Jake’s Self Defense in the Valley. He coulda been a contender or whatever but he selflessly donated his kidney to his half brother Mike (Ned Hourani, BLOOD CHASE, BLOOD HANDS, BLOOD RING, FIST OF GLORY, ETERNAL FIST, LIVE BY THE FIST). With only one of those things he could die if he went back in the ring.
One thing that really sucks about that: fuckin Mike went and wasted the kidney. He got beat to death in Manila, wandering around drunk after a rigged tournament fight. Jake flies in to claim the body and sticks around to investigate. Wearing his Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt he’s an obvious tourist, and gets his bag stolen while watching street gamblers, but he gets it back. To be safe he hides it in some bushes, like how kids used to hide their stolen Playboys.
Mike’s circuit was the Red Fist, a fighting club going back to the 18th century. Jake can’t get into their compound so he stands up on a wall spying on their ENTER THE DRAGON style outdoor training. Eventually some guards see him and he fights them on top of the wall, earning applause from the fighters inside.
In a nearby bar, Jake gets accosted by a gambling gwilo Red Fister named Baby Davies (Michael Shaner, ANGELFIST), who calls him “faggot” and picks a fight, but he turns out to be faking it to get out of a bad hand, and they become such instant buddies that Jake stays at his apartment with him and hitting on his dancer sister Nancy (Riley Bowman). He also hooks up with Kwong (Joe Mari Avellana – also the production designer!), a self-proclaimed “man of peace” who convinces Jake he has to train him to be a “warrior” to avenge his brother in the Red Fist’s competition. Like UNDISPUTED II he’s a boxer who has to learn how to add kicks to his repertoire. There’s a great scene that oughta be in all the tournament movies where he brings him into the gym and all of the different characters are sparring at the same time so he’s able to point to them and tell their backstories as we get glimpses of their different fighting styles. By the way, one of them is Billy Blanks.
The training montage: Running 3 km up a hill “before the sun reaches its apex” to get one mango. Weightlifting. Leg roping. Climbing. Jogging. Small bag. Heavy bag full of goat shit. Kicking vases and bottles. Kids throwing things at him. Kwong watching with binoculars or ignoring him to draw pictures. This is all intercut with the other fighters doing their own training. After the montage he also learns stretching (and kissing) from Nancy and spars with Baby on the roof.
The tournament: Fights chosen by clay tablets chosen at random. “In Ta-Chang there are no rounds, no rules, no referees, no points. Now, you fight until one of you go down… Four matches in four days. Lose one and you’re out.” They fight on a flat mat.
Also, it should be noted that this is not a secret tournament. They advertise in bars. Check out the cool poster:
That’s be cool if it was sponsored by Budweiser or something.
Unlike some of these movies I’ve been watching here, this story really is primarily about the tournament. It’s a real classical take on the genre, like BLOODSPORT or KICKBOXER, and that’s a good thing because it’s a template that works.
In the first fight there’s a part where he’s getting beat up pretty bad but he wipes blood from his lip and smiles. Holy shit, is that what the Bloodfist is? I don’t know. I guess probly not. This fight has a cool gimmick because his opponent listens to music on a headset that inspires him to fight and gives him the rhythms (see also THE KICK), but there’s some kind of interference to his headset so it throws him off and dooms him. You kind of feel bad for him although, come on, you must know the risks of relying on a weird crutch like that. For his part, Jake feels guilty that he’s enjoying fighting. He didn’t come here to enjoy fighting.
There’s another fighter named Chin Woo (Kris Aguilar, BLOOD RING, FIST OF GLORY, LIVE BY THE FIST), a scary dude in the vein of a Tong Po or a Bolo. He eats a roach before the match (not for real like Nicolas Cage, though). He crushes poor Baby into a coma and the filmatism gets all crazy: fog machine, wind howling like a horror movie.
Jake’s business partner from back home, Hal (the peerless Kevin Peerless) suddenly shows up in town but don’t worry, it’s not like he’s not watching the self defense school – it got shut down by the IRS. Great job, Hal. I mention him because he figures into a humorously weird climactic moment/plot twist reveal. In an unprecedented-to-my-knowledge tweak of the tournament movie formula the mentor, Kwong, turns out to actually be a villain, training Jake just to get him into the tournament and set him up to lose. Hal figures this out because he recognizes him as a gambler from the old days, and he yells it to Jake from the stands during his fight. But Jake has already eaten a drugged mango, he’s losing it so we hear the entire speech in hilarious sloooooowwwwww mmmmooootttttiiiiooooonnnnn. Anyway, it’s they type where we get to see the tournament and then the climax is an extra-tournamental duel. In the rain.
It’s a great badass idea that Jake was told he’d be killed if he tried to fight with only one kidney, yet he fights anyway. It’s kinda like this action movie I try to write sometimes, I thought about having a character who has a hobby of beekeeping even though he’s allergic and one sting would kill him. That’s how confident he is in his abilities. But weirdly they don’t really do anything with this kidney thing, I don’t think they even mention how dangerous it is once he actually starts fighting again.
I like Wilson in this, his first starring role (he’d had a bit part sparring with John Cusack in SAY ANYTHING). His skills are legit but he’s kinda nerdy. He’s half Japanese, but he’s just treated as an American, he doesn’t have some passed-down secret Asian knowledge like you’d expect in most American movies. Young Van Damme could’ve played the same character (in fact, I’m sure Roger Corman produced this to cash in on the success of BLOODSPORT).
Director Terence H. Winkless was the co-writer of THE HOWLING (along with John Sayles) several years before making his directational debut with the killer roach movie THE NEST in ’89. And this is no sophomore slump. He’s also responsible for RAGE AND HONOR and quite a few Power Rangers episodes.
The screenplay on this one is by Robert King, who also did THE NEST, PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE and even the Richard Gere movie RED CORNER. He gets story credits on FULL CONTACT (Jerry Trimble movie, not the Chow Yun Fat one) and DRAGON FIRE, which I think are both pretty much remakes of BLOODFIST. I’ll have to check those out.
symbols: dragons on the edge of the Red Fist logo behind this creepy judge guy:
Stunt coordinator: Fred Esplana (THE SISTERHOOD, NAM ANGELS). A fight choreographer is not credited, but Esplana has been credited as a “fight instructor” on alot of movies and sometimes as a choreographer, so it’s possible it was him. Ronald Asinas is credited as his assistant.
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.