Bloodsport (1988), or Based On A True Story?!?!?!

30 03 2009

I cannot accurately express how much I love some of this 80’s cheese. Hell Comes To Frogtown was an extreme example of what was coming out in the B-movie vein during the Reagan decade, but it was by no means atypical of the era. There were many other completely crazy films out there that not only broke into a wide theater release, but were accepted by filmgoers at large. Today’s film is one of those accepted films of the era, a modestly popular martial arts film that has people shouting the over-wrought tap-out phrase “Matte!” to this day. Bloodsport is one of those films that, despite being ridiculous and laughably bad at times, is easily palatable and fun.

Frank Dux is a man who has spent his entire life training in the martial arts. His master, the affable Tanaka, saw much promise in him as a mischievous youth, and trained him to keep him out of trouble. Slowly, his prowess in the art grew, and by the time he reached adulthood he became a force to be reckoned with. His master, witnessing his potential, decides to tell Frank of the ultimate martial arts tournament, the Kumite. It is an extremely illegal freestyle martial arts championship that can sometimes turn deadly. Its ranks are filled with the best of the best, however, and Frank wishes to honor his master and see just what he is capable of. Unfortunately, the Kumite falls smack in the middle of Frank’s stint in the Army. He decides this is more important, though, and goes AWOL. Escaping to Hong Kong, he finds the Kumite in the disgusting and fascinating Kowloon Walled City. There he meets all the participants in the match-ups, including a behemoth vale tudo fighter he befriends named Ray Jackson and his manager, Victor Lin, as well as a very dangerous opponent named Chong Li who won the previous Kumite and is known to have killed men in the ring before. Between he and Chong Li, however, lie a number of dangerous opponents that are highly skilled and trained in various forms. Can Frank Dux take on these ruffians and claim the honor of victory for himself? Will Chong Li kill Frank if they face one another? And will the Army catch up to him to take him back?

So, this is purportedly based on a true story of the life of the real Frank Dux, a martial artist and founder of his own school of fighting, who alleges that he, in 1975, engaged in a real life underground Kumite. I highly doubt this. I am by no means a martial arts film expert, to my shame, or an expert on martial arts tournaments, but it strikes me as very convenient that the things that Dux alleges are, by their very nature, unverifiable. After all, if anybody knew that this was going on, there would probably be police action taken against this incredibly dangerous and possibly lethal den of iniquity. Therefore, he can allege all he wants without fear of reprisal or inquiry. Not to say that the man is a cad; he spends time with disabled children, keeps a scholarship open for needy kids, and invests in clean, renewable energy with the money he has made off his many entrepreneurial excursions. But this is yet another movie that makes a mockery of the idea of putting the words “Based on a true story” in front of something. If we don’t KNOW something is fact, then it is not necessarily true. So until we clear this up, lets just call this film Bloodsport: Based On An Allegation Pending Investigation. Does that roll off the tongue, or what?

But besides the whole “true story” thing, its not a bad flick. I really got into the idea of being a greasy white guy in Hong Kong beating up dudes left and right with my indomitable skills. The Kumite is an interesting concept, and the characters it attracts are equally as interesting.  Frank’s friend Ray is weird enough in his own right. Played by Donald Gibb of Revenge of The Nerds fame (He played Ogre. “NERDS!?!?!?!?”), Ray Jackson is a mountain of man who uses the martial style vale tudo like he was made out of bar-room kung-fu himself. It’s weird to watch a behemoth like him move so fast; it’s like seeing your house win a marathon on TV. Chong Li is played by Bolo Yeung, and he is an ass-kicking machine. The character is really brutal; he makes people SCREAM “Matte!”, which is my favorite thing about this movie. Much like the film Gymkata‘s cry of “Yakmala!”, the repetition of “Matte!” as the way to tap out and leave the Kumite ring was used to the point where I thought that they might have wanted to start a catch phrase with it. That didn’t exactly work, but I still get a giggle when I see a grown man versed in the arts of combat cry “Matte!” like a seven year-old.

This was one of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s first starring roles. He is still young here and just itching to kill someone. It makes you appreciate the skill that made him famous. No, not his acting, of course! I mean his ability to do a complete split and punch people in the balls while he is still low (!!!). He does this gruesome deed at one point and merely watching it made me proud to be an American (note: Jean-Claude Van Damme is Belgian, so perhaps my patriotism is misguided…) Seriously, though, Van Damme here is very good here, and I cannot imagine the grueling training that took him to that point in 1988 where he looked ready to rip a man’s heart out. He has since gone on to a roller-coaster ride of a career and a lot of rejection, but here he is still fresh-faced and ready to take on the world.

So, are you ready to submit to the power of Bloodsport yet? All you have to do is say one word… It’s a fair martial arts film, out of the few I’ve seen, and it combines a mix of various world styles to really emphasize the international aspect of the Kumite. Check it out if you are interested in martial arts films or, as in my case, you love to watch a lot of faux-intimidating 80’s badass dialog. If you’re not sold by this review, just watch the music video above and I guarantee you’ll be sucked in. I give Bloodsport 7 quote-unquote “true stories” out of 10.

Tomorrow is the end of my third month straight reviewing movies, so I’m going to treat myself by watching one of my favorite movies EVER! That’s right; the one, the only! Magnolia!