Thursday, April 4, 2019

"Bloodsport": Why I love this '80s "classic."

I revamped my site over a year ago for three reasons. 1. I wanted to get some use out of my overly large and neglected collection of movies. 2. I wanted to be able to contribute to my site more often because I don’t make it to the theater as often as I would like now that I have a child (and another on the way). 3. I wanted an excuse to write about Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that last (and most important) reason. From here on out, I will write about a Van Damme movie from my collection once a month until I run out of movies to write about. I’ve only covered Universal Soldier: The Return, and that’s just uncalled for. So I’m getting back into Van Damme with Bloodsport. With these articles I will try to come up with something interesting to write about, but they will mostly just be me nerding out about why I love these movies, even if I admit that many of them are not traditionally “good” movies. With all that written, here’s my take on Bloodsport.

Why I love Bloodsport.

Jean-Claude Van Damme is one of my favorite actors, and I mean that sincerely. Growing up, the debate was usually Van Damme or Seagal (later on, some foolish friends of mine would try to include Jet Li into the mix, but that’s just silly). It was no contest for me. Seagal was a whispering clown. Van Damme could do the splits! And he had that badass roundhouse kick! More importantly, he had charisma. Van Damme is simply likable. Sure, like Schwarzenegger, he often played all-American characters despite his obvious accent (he even played Guile in Street Fighter!), but I never cared that it didn’t make sense for a man named Frank Dux or Kurt Sloane to talk like they’ve never left Belgium. Van Damme’s natural likability made it work.

And that’s why Van Damme is still my favorite part of Bloodsport. His banter with Jackson makes me wish the movie was more about the two of them hanging out. But with Van Damme’s early work especially, his fight scenes are what impressed me the most. In particular, that final fight scene stuck with me. Mainly, it’s Van Damme’s insane reaction to being blinded by Chong Li. He goes into a wide-eyed frenzy that I love. His reaction is as if his eyes had been gouged out rather than just had some powder blown into them, and it’s great. Oh, and that part before the final fight when he punched a guy in the nuts to win? That was great.

Beyond Van Damme, there is plenty to love about this wacky movie. Jackson is clearly the high point after Van Damme. First off, it makes no sense for him to be at the Kumite. He doesn’t appear to have any martial arts skills, yet he was invited to a secret martial arts tournament? Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he got the invite. Without Jackson, there’s no “I ain’t your pal, dickface!” He’s simply the funniest part of the movie. Rewatching it, I think my favorite two moments of Jackson’s occur during the fights. First, when he wins his first match he calls out Chong Li, and Chong Li seems thoroughly confused about Jackson yelling, “Yeah! You, man! I want you!” Chong Li, rightfully, is wondering why this dude is even here, much less why he’s calling out the reigning champion/murderer. It makes the later interaction even funnier. When Jackson knocks Chong Li down (not out, and it’s very clear that Chong Li is not knocked out), he starts jumping around yelling about how he won. He even says he killed him! This, of course, is followed by Chong Li nearly killing Jackson. I know it’s meant to be a serious moment and the motivation for Van Damme to beat Chong Li’s ass, but I still laugh every time Jackson starts hopping around like an idiot.

I have also just found the training montages in these types of films to be funny. They always include some stupid element. In this case, Van Damme is trained to serve tea blindfolded and stop an attack while doing so. (By the way, how many times was Van Damme backhanded during this particular training before he got the hang of it?) I get having hands fast enough to catch a fish or being able to take repeated hits to the body. But serving tea blindfolded? Of course it all makes sense when he is blinded later on, but did Tanaka know this would happen or something? Is it that common in martial arts tournaments? Maybe I’m just ignorant about martial arts…

Speaking of the training, the flashback sequence is this film’s funniest moment, though not intentionally. I go into plenty of detail in the Random Thoughts section, but I’ll still point out here that the young version of Frank Dux has to be the worst actor I have ever seen, and I love it.

Obviously, the filmmakers thought the film was too serious, so they included the Army guys (you know, the old guy and Forest Whitaker) bumbling their way through Hong Kong trying to catch Van Damme. They even add in a Mentos commercial type chase scene in the middle of the movie. I like these moments, but looking at the film as a whole, it would have been better if these moments had been devoted to Van Damme and Jackson. I do love it when they break out those oversize tasers, though.

I know it sounds like I’m making fun of this movie, and I am, but I do sincerely love Bloodsport. It’s truly a mess of a film. According to IMDb trivia, Van Damme had to help edit the movie to even make it watchable. I can’t find any other evidence of this, but it sounds plausible, which says it all. The movie thrives on fight scenes (which, judged by today’s standards, aren’t that great) and likable characters. So without Van Damme and Jackson, this movie ends up forgotten. This was one of the first Van Damme movies I ever watched, and it stuck with me enough to make me a fan to this day.

Is Chong li a bad guy?

Let me start by stating that Chong Li is definitely the villain of Bloodsport. I’m not going to try one of those clickbait things where I claim the bad guy is really the good guy. I am going to try to point out some elements that might make Chong Li a tad more sympathetic.

I have to say, though, I love how into being a villain Chong Li is in this movie. The way he hops around and gets chants going is hilarious. And the crowd. It’s refreshing to see a villain who just likes kicking the shit out of dudes and wants some recognition for being so good at it.

But why is he the bad guy? Sure, he killed a guy in the ring during the last Kumite. But we don’t know how that went down. We just hear that he killed a man. It obviously did wonders for the Kumite, because everyone was talking about it. It added a dangerous, exciting element to the tournament. And I think the leaders of the tournament liked it.

My evidence for this is when Chong Li kills a guy during the Kumite in the movie. First off, it was a bad look for him since he clearly intended to kill the guy. But when he did it, he looked up to the leaders, expecting their approval. They turn their backs on him a la the Russians to Drago in Rocky IV, and it’s clear: Chong Li is a bad guy, and everybody hates him now. But why did he look to the leaders in the first place? I think they loved Chong Li in previous tournaments, but now that Frank “I made all this shit up to get a movie deal” Dux is winning the hearts and minds of the audience, they can take the high road and shun Chong Li. I don’t think Chong Li would have killed the second guy had the leaders not shown their approval after the first kill. It’s still not a good guy move to kill a guy, even if it is at the behest of tournament promoters. I’m just saying there may have been some motivation aside from just wanting to be evil.

The other way we know Chong Li is a bad guy is the way he takes out Jackson. Sweet, lovable Jackson, right? Wait? Isn’t this the same Jackson who called Chong Li out for no damn reason earlier? Is this the Jackson who claimed he had killed Chong Li after knocking him down? Chong Li was simply retaliating. Jackson should have kept his big mouth shut. And he’s actually lucky that Chong Li didn’t shut him up for good.

Finally, Chong Li does cheat at the end, using a blinding powder on Van Damme. This one is hard to defend. (This is my life right now; I’m having a harder time defending cheating than murder.) Cheating is wrong, but Chong Li was pushed to his breaking point in this fight. The leaders and crowd had turned on him, and he was desperate to salvage his popularity. He made a mistake, and he paid for it.

So yeah, Chong Li is a villain, and he’s pretty much a bad guy. But there are elements in play that people should consider before they automatically root against the guy. We don’t know what Chong Li was going through leading up to this tournament. He still got what he deserved, but maybe he also deserves a little sympathy from the audience. He at least deserves some credit for developing those disgusting pecs.

Why do I own this?

It's a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.

Random Thoughts

I get the opening shots of people training for the Kumite, but the shots of people mundanely setting up for the tournament are pretty lame. “Now set up the decorations for the ultra secret tournament (that everyone knows about) that can result in death, common worker character!”

My God, that kid playing young Van Damme is terrible. First off, he looks nothing like Van Damme. And his accent is even worse than Van Damme's, which is probably why he was cast. “Look how much his accent improved with age!”

And why the fuck is he wearing a New York Giants football jersey and a San Francisco Giants hat? He's just a fan of giants in general?

There is so much going on with that fight with the bullies in the flashback. First, there's the kid rocking the Bartles and James t-shirt. Then after Dux saves the day, Shingo talks about fighting in the Kumite. Why? He just got beat up by common bullies; he has no chance in the Kumite! And then they shake hands? Why? What kids shake hands?

And in the next scene Shingo is dead for some reason. Why leave this unexplained? Why not have him go to the Kumite and get killed by Chong Li or something? I know a revenge plot would make this even more similar to Kickboxer, but who cares? Van Damme doesn't, which is why he basically remade this movie when he made The Quest.

By the way, there's a hilarious Facebook page dedicated to the actor who played young Dux. It hasn't been updated in a couple years, but what's still on there made me laugh.

The music that plays when Van Damme is getting all stretched out while Tanaka stares at him made the scene oddly romantic.

According to IMDb trivia, which you should check out as it's mostly jokes about the movie, Van Damme had to edit the film himself into something watchable. I can believe it because this film is a mess. It's not just the bad writing and terrible acting. The film is a tonal disaster. It's deadly serious, then a Mentos commercial breaks out, then back to death.

I still love it. I just wish the script was better. The dialogue is so strange and awkward at times.

The focus should have simply been on Van Damme and Jackson at the Kumite. The flashback stuff is bad, and the Army guys chasing him down just add unnecessary silliness to the movie.

Why did Van Damme have to prove he was worthy of his invitation but Jackson didn't? I get that Jackson had been there before (I think? He mentions stuff about the last Kumite like he was there, but it's not entirely clear.), but if you were putting on a martial arts competition and you saw Van Damme and Jackson showed up, which one would you question?

Hossein's dialogue and performance is laughably bad.

This movie has one of my biggest pet peeves. A scene takes place, then it cuts to the characters walking in an entirely new location, but they start talking about what just happened. In this case it's the scene in which Van Damme “wins” the female reporter from Hossein. After he wins, it cuts to them walking outside. So they walked for ten minutes then Van Damme decided to bring up what happened with Hossein? Wouldn't that be the first thing he brought up?

“That's why they call this thing Bloodsport, kid.” Thanks, Jackson, I wasn't sure how the title connected to the movie until you said that.

Chong Li looks genuinely confused when Jackson calls him out. Something tells me the actor genuinely had no idea what was going on when they filmed that scene.

Man, Forest Whitaker is really having fun with that food.

“I ain't your pal, dickface.” Easily one of my favorite lines, but I also like how Jackson calls the two Army agents in suits “scumbags.”

The tasers the agents have are the Zack Morris cell phones of tasers.

It's crazy how much the chase sequence is like a Mentos commercial. I'm not sure what came first, this movie or those commercials,  it whichever one did it had to have inspired the other.

What the fuck was Jackson thinking jumping around celebrating like that? He clearly only knocked him down, yet he even yelled, “He's dead!” What a dumbass!

Janice suddenly trying to keep Frank from fighting and the subsequent montage are clearly inspired by the Rocky movies.

Janice does a pretty quick turnaround from “You'll get hurt!” to “Yeah, kick him again, Frank!” But then again, that is the classic Adrian story arc.

The crowd reactions and the audio of said reactions during the final fight are awful. First off, the army dudes are way too into it. And why can’t we hear them? The older one is clearly yelling shit the whole time, but we never hear it. But during one reaction shot of them clapping we can hear the individual claps. So was that guy just mouthing things? God, this movie is a mess.

How fitting this crazy movie ends with some wacky (and since proven fabricated) facts about the real Frank Dux. He has the record for “Fastest punch with a knockout - 0.12 seconds.” What does that even mean. Then there’s the “Fastest kick with a knockout - 72 MPH.” So why (and how) is a kick measured in miles per hour, but a punch is measured in seconds? Nevermind the fact that neither record makes any kind of sense. But my favorite is the “Most consecutive knockouts in a single tournament - 56.” Fifty-six?! How long did this tournament last? What tournament even has that many fights overall, much less for a single fighter? My God, how did anyone ever believe Frank Dux’s bullshit? I’m glad they did, though. Because without his glorious and idiotic lies, we wouldn’t have Bloodsport.


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