Okay, now that J.C.V.D. has polished Van Damme’s plaque in the action hero hall of fame I can’t keep running from the inevitable, it’s time to go back and watch those early Van Damme pictures I’ve always ignored. I’ve already seen NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER, his first major role, so I’ll start with BLOODSPORT, his first starring vehicle.

BLOODSPORT is from Cannon, and it’s very much in the vein (get it, vein, BLOODSPORT) as other Cannon chopsocky pictures like AMERICAN NINJA and ENTER THE NINJA, or other ’80s chopsocky movies like THE PERFECT WEAPON. These are stories of goofy white dudes mentored by Asians to take on ancient traditions and become great warriors. They lack charisma, presence and acting ability but are good at martial arts (or at faking them in the case of Michael Dudikoff). In this one there’s not an evil villain to vanquish, just kind of an asshole who’s the one to beat in honorable competition. He’s played by Bolo Yeung of CHINESE HERCULES and ENTER THE DRAGON fame, so he’s mainly a bad guy because of his muscles and his facial expressions:

But Van Damme shows that he is a formidable foe by actually topping Bolo’s insane facial expressions. Without these faces it’s possible Van Damme would’ve never caught on more than, say, Jeff Speakman. I mean check this out:

That’s serious. That goofball there is Van Damme’s character Frank Dux (“like ‘put up your dukes'”), apparently based on a real guy. He’s a soldier for the U.S. who sneaks off to Hong Kong to compete in the Kumite, the legendary secret underground fighting tournament thing. He is pursued by 2 FBI agents (one of them played by Ghost Dog himself, Forest Whitaker) but not to bust him for going AWOL – they just don’t want him to enter the Kumite because he’s so awesome it would be a shame if he got hurt. Also there’s a gal with a bad perm who wants to have sex with him and write an inside story about the Kumite (she succeeds at both [also it shows Van Damme’s ass {SPOILER}]). Meanwhile he has flashbacks where a kid playing Van Damme (accent and all) sneaks into a house to mess with somebody’s samurai sword. He gets caught and leaves without a sword but with a new best friend and a sensei.

BloodsportSteve James must not have been available, so Van Damme’s supportive buddy is played by Ogre from REVENGE OF THE NERDS. At first it seems like they’ll be enemies, but they bond by playing a karate video game in a hotel lobby. Van Damme is so good at karate that he kicks ass in the video game too. Ogre should’ve challenged him to Super Punch Out to make it more fair.

You know, despite the title this movie isn’t out for blood like most Cannon pictures. I don’t think anybody gets murdered or even cheated. Ogre gets whupped but it’s fair and square, it’s his own fault, and he doesn’t die. There’s nothing to really avenge here. So Van Damme may lack Dudikoff’s vengeful death stare, but he far surpasses him in demonstratable martial arts skill. This really isn’t much of a character, he’s even kind of a dork, but it’s a hell of a showcase for him doing all kinds of acrobatic kicks and especially the splits. I know he did the splits in alot of his movies, but in this one he does them (it?) repeatedly. Tied up in the splits, splits on a chair, splits on the edge of a skyscraper, splits when he kicks and a guy catches his leg. He’s very acrobatic and graceful, but… I mean, I don’t want to nitpick, but I need to point out that his fighting style is pretty girly in this one, kind of like a ballet dancer. The guy’s obviously talented but most of the other guys in the tournament fight in a blunter, less prancy style that looks more deadly. So that doesn’t help.

Okay, I have always been somewhat of a Van Damme skeptic, but at the same time I am on the record as appreciating HARD TARGET, DOUBLE TEAM, KNOCK OFF, SUDDEN DOUBLE IMPACT, and J.C.V.D., so don’t take this the wrong way. But I think that at this early point in his career Van Damme had not distinguished himself as much as some of the other icons. This is 1988, same year as DIE HARD and ABOVE THE LAW. Bruce Willis created an unforgettable character and a template for a wave of imitators. Seagal created his persona, a new style of screen martial arts, and a somewhat unique mix of the cop and martial arts subgenres with ahead-of-their-time politics. Van Damme just did some fancy moves in another generic karate tournament movie.

So he’s still got to prove himself, but if you like this sort of crap it’s an enjoyable movie, so I liked it. It’s by the numbers, but they’re pretty good numbers. The relationship with the Ogre guy is especially great because you don’t see that dude in too many movies.

One silly detail I noticed that made me laugh: in one of the childhood flashbacks you see a little kid wearing a Bartles & Jaymes shirt. Yeah, that was 1988 all right.

So BLOODSPORT isn’t bad, I can see how it helped him become popular. But not legendary. We’ll see how things develop.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 26th, 2008 at 7:03 am and is filed under Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “Bloodsport”

  1. Bloodsport is way better than any of the Seagal films. At least Van Damme manages to play diffrent characters from time to time.

  2. I think there is a book that makes an argument for why it’s awesome that Seagal plays the same character over and over again. I forget what it’s called though.

    Anyway, since Van Damme only plays one character in this movie (no twins) I’d like to hear more about what you think makes it so good.

  3. Ah, come on buddy lets not bring that tedious, IMDB-esque Seagal vs. Van Damme shit here. Some people prefer cheesy “inspirartional” tournament films, others prefer cheesy “gritty” cop/eco warrior/killer chef films. You obviously fall into the former, whereas I, and I’m guessing Vern, fall into the later (though I must say I enjoyed Lionheart a lot). At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter which side of the spectrum you fall in.

  4. I just imagined Van Damme fighting his own twin in the Kumite in Bloodsport 2: Blood Sportier. It was the greatest thought I ever had in my life. Hear that, universe? I am using The Secret right now, and I am using it harder than I have ever used it before. According to Oprah, you are now legally obligated to make that thought come true.

    P.S. Me and the universe get joint story credit.

  5. I had the exact opposite reaction to Vern to the two movies: I thought Bloodsport was a good blood-n-guts tournament movie, while Kickboxer was a pale imitation of it. Just about everything that was good about Bloodsport looked anemic in Kickboxer. Heck, at the end of “Kickboxer” they have the guy’s hand wrapped in bandages with sharp shards glued to them and they still couldn’t do anything really interesting with it. I know Van Damme’s final fights tend to be identical and fashioned in the “Roper vs Bolo” mould (Bad guy kicks the living crap out of JCVD for five minutes or so before a nearly-defeated JCVD gets a supernatural spurt of energy and bad guy suddenly loses the ability to punch or block) but it’s rare that I can’t remember anything about one of them.

    What annoys me about both movies is that the final “villain” is a one-dimensional asshole. There are lots of movies out there where the guy the hero fights at the end is likeable. To make him into a comic-book bad guy detracts from the film, even if his backers are bad guys themselves. Everyone knows that the guys in charge are assholes, but it doesn’t mean the guy in the ring has to be as well.

    Also, “Marked for Death” remains one of my fave Seagal movies simply because of its absurdity, the “voodoo” set-pieces, the awesome final twist and the fact that it has one of the most deliciously over-the-top villains that I can think of. (Given that his name’s “Screwface”, I wasn’t expecting subtlety!) That’s just one Seagal movie that’s far superior in just about every way to either “Bloodsport” or “Kickboxer” IMO. I’m sure I could think of others.

  6. Ah, but you’re forgetting the scene where Van Damme dances. Bloodsport is the better movie, sure, but nothing can ever top the sight of JCVD swiveling his waxed pelvis to that funky, funky eighties beat.

  7. To quote Jules in Pulp Fiction Vern….”You a smart mother fucker….that’s right.” A real, genuine assessment of J.C.V.D. early work. I grew up on this kind of “hardcore action film” and it brings a smile to my face when you remember the CANNON logo fill the screen. True also about those characters mentored from the orient lack charisma. Segal excluded of course. Van Damme was something to look forward to despite your view that perhaps his later output was better. Sudden Death was great but really, you can’t beat the nostalgia of Bloodsport, Kickboxer and the one he he stretches his “acting chops” to play twins. Infact, isn’t JCVD king of playing more than one role in an action film? Shit, now I’m going to have to research this!! If you know, add to this blog!

  8. i kinda think you gave Bloodsport a raw deal, vern. I think its a classic from beginning to end. I understand you’re a Seagal partisan, but this is a movie with tons of pizzazz, a great sidekick character, great fights with a lot of personality, a badass unique villain who you’re dying to see go down, and a kickin’ soundtrack. I really think it’s a cut above the likes of AMERICAN NINJA.

  9. You might be right. It’s pretty good. I’ll watch it again some day. I’m more of a KICKBOXER man though. And especially LIONHEART.

  10. Oh, I think we can all get behind “Lionheart”. Definitely one of the most fun of JCVD’s early movies.

  11. I bought LIONHEART on a doublediscset with BLACK EAGLE. It was the best damn doublefeature I bought since MONKEY WITH 72 MAGIC/NINJA UNTOUCHABLES!

  12. No killings? Really? What was all the neck crunching then

  13. An interview with Sheldon Lettich.

  14. Bought LADY BLOODFIGHT on dvd. It is a pretty sweet all-female BLOODSPORT sprinkled with THE ODD COUPLE ( not the Walter Matthau) and even has a female Chong Li. Too bad the Kumite Tournament has gone down hill a bit. It used to be held in glorious tournament arenas with candles and all sorts of ritualistic nonsense. Now they are held inside a shipyard of containers. Theire budget have slipped a bit.

  15. I saw LADY BLOODFIGHT the other day. I agree that it could have done with some exotic locations. But on the other hand it’s co-written by Bey Logan, so I guess a kind of realism is the main goal. Cool little movie.

  16. Saw it as well. Count me as a fan of Amy Johnston. A convincing Martial Artist and beautiful to boot.

  17. Yeah, she is awesome AND easy on the eyes. Perfect!

  18. I think she has the makings of the Next Big Action Star. Johnston acts and performs far better than Carano and Rousey.

    Someone just needs to give her the right vehicle with a good distribution deal.

  19. Yeah, I like her already more than Carano and Rousey. I wish she had teh same kind of support from a director like Soderbergh to make a star vehicle. Even though I found HAYWIRE to be a bit stiff, it felt unusual for an A-list director like that to make a vehicle for a martial arts star.

  20. I would’ve preferred the Russian fighter in LADY BLOODFIGHT to be the Final Boss. Amy’s Shaolin opponent didn’t make much of an impression for me.

  21. She was the female Chong Li I referred to, I believe. But as the story unfolded , the two masters doing their proxy fighting through their pupils, I think it worked better. And that is why it reminded me of a more serious version of THE ODD COUPLE

  22. Was anyone else briefly fooled by this fake BLOODSPORT trailer that was doing the rounds? I did think “surely I’d have heard about this?” but it did fool me for most of its runtime. Quite impressive work.

    Bloodsport Trailer (2021)

    (Fan made trailer)Synopsis:After winning the infamous Kumite, Frank Dux was never seen in public again. Years later, a man dubiously claimed to be the great ...

  23. I had the impression Chong Li did kill someone in the ring. Not Ogre though. I think he lives, but ends up in the hospital.

    I love Victor Lin, Dux’s guide/manager. The actor who plays him, Kenneth Siu, only appears in one other thing that I’ve seen—he has a bit part in DOUBLE IMPACT.

    Bartles & Jaymes! Cool! I’ll have to look for that next time.

    Paul: I agree that KICKBOXER is like a less-good version of BLOODSPORT. It does have its good qualities but I don’t find it as watchable or as good-looking as BLOODSPORT.

    Felix: For a second I wondered if the pink Power Ranger had branched out into martial arts movies. But that was Amy JO Johnston. (Also, this Amy Johnston would have been three years old when MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS debuted.)

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