Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 92 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb (REVENGE OF THE NERDS, STRIPES), Leah Ayres (THE PLAYER, THE BURNING), Forest Whitaker, Roy Chiao ("Lao Che" in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM), Philip Chan (HARD BOILED, DOUBLE IMPACT), Bolo Yeung (ENTER THE DRAGON, DOUBLE IMPACT), and a supposed bit part by Victor Wong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS). Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Music by Paul Hertzog (KICKBOXER, STREET JUSTICE). Cinematography by David Worth (director of SHARK ATTACK 3 and KICKBOXER). Written by Sheldon Lettich (DOUBLE IMPACT, RAMBO III), Christopher Cosby, and Mel Friedman (who worked on the editorial staff of POLTERGEIST and GYMKATA). Directed by Newt Arnold (assistant director on THE GODFATHER PART II, BLADE RUNNER, and THE ABYSS).
Tag-line: "Based on the real story of the Great White Dragon."
Best one-liner: "He's the American shit head who makes tricks with bricks!"
Thank you, Golan. Thank you, Globus. Thank you, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Thank you, Donald Gibb and Bolo Yeung. Thank you, guy in the back waving all that money around.
I love you all.
BLOODSPORT is a gift.
Happy Kumite! To: The World. From: Cannon Films.
BLOODSPORT. Often is the question asked: Is BLOODSPORT the best fighting tournament movie of all time, or is BLOODSPORT the greatest movie of all time? I don't know if I can answer that. Many have discussed BLOODSPORT, and I don't necessarily want to cover ground that has been better covered by others; ground like Van Damme's ambiguously Belgian-American accent, the fact that BLOODSPORT has more per capita montage sequences than any comparable film, the idea that it's based on a true story, or all the splits.
Er- nevermind, I lied just there at the end. I will be talking about the splits.
How could I not?
In a Cannon Film, the beauty is often in the details. Sure, you sign up for it because of Bronson, or break-dancing, or the desire to see a guy with a flamethrower taking sweet, sweet revenge. But plenty of unwatchable movies might possess those broad characteristics, so what makes a Cannon film a canon film? The minutiae. The little things that lesser film companies would overlook (or not overlook, as it were). A little bit of bad dubbing here, a jazz-dancing henchman there. A wonderfully insane synth riff by George S. Clinton here, an absurd Bronson line-reading there, homoerotic eye contact out of nowhere, and a killer on roller skates when you least expect it. The element of unpredictability fuses with a real, medium-to-low-budget moxie. Anything could and will happen. These films are never allowed to settle into mediocrity because you know, just around the corner, something throwaway but totally schweet is going to cause you to do a spit-take. And so, in order to properly explain the breadth of my true feelings, I shall outline my 20 favorite facets of the gem that is BLOODSPORT:
#1. "Full-contact." The Kumite (the secret fighting tournament in question) is full-contact, and BLOODSPORT never lets you forget it. "Full-contact" must be uttered on several dozen occasions: "Aren't you a little young for full-contact?" "It's full-contact." "Kumite is a full-contact event." "You sure you up for full-contact?"
And then, just before the tournament begins, our heroes are reminded "Remember, this is full-contact!" As if they might say at this point in the game– wait, this is full-WHAT? I'm outta here!
#2. This wonderful paisley shirt, worn by a random Capoeira combatant in the "parade of international fighters" opening montage.
The guys in the back seem to like it just fine.
#3. This random, shirtless spectator also at Capoeira practice–
His slate is a blank one; he is possibly unaware that a movie is being shot. His head lolls from side to side as he blankly cheers on the senseless carnage. He is us. And we are him.
But wait a minute– is that reclusive, transcendent auteur Terrence Malick?
"I wanted more full-contact in DAYS OF HEAVEN, but Gere wasn't having it."
#4. From the same montage– is it just me, or does it seem irresponsible to practice martial arts in a space littered with breakables? I mean, these guys live here, presumably, and they're just one roundhouse kick away from destroying the fine china.
...Or is it that we needed fine china on display, so that we'd know we were in China? Hmm...
#5. The possible air of pedophilia which surrounds the young Van Damme flashback scene. I mean, TEMPLE OF DOOM's Lao Che proposes not calling the cops on young burglar Van Damme, provided they make a "deal." Now the last I saw of actor Roy Chiao, he was sending Indiana Jones and Short Round off to a fiery death. And this kid, who nails the Van Damme Belgian "American" accent perfectly, also nails the appropriate feyness. Whether or not he can do splits remains to be seen, but I suppose that's neither here nor there.
I also appreciate that young JCVD wears a ballcap for the San Francisco Giants and a jersey for the New York Giants, thus revealing his dogged devotion to all organizations bearing the nickname "Giants." While the scene does not in fact culminate in pedophila, it does culminate in twenty-odd years of S&M bondage/martial arts training that's a little more HELLRAISER than KARATE KID.
#6. Forest Whitaker as a U.S. Army representative trying to stop JCVD from participating in the Kumite. Here, he's having trouble negotiating the use of his chopsticks.
Smack dab in the middle of this Cannonsanity is Whitaker, delivering a sensitive, sympathetic portrayal. Bravo, sir!
#7. The back alley descent into the seedy world of the Kumite. Ominous synth tones courtesy of Paul Hertzog and moody, shadowy cinematography establish the atmosphere with surprising economy.
Victor (played by Ken Siu, second assistant director and non-actor) the streetwise, large-glasses-wearing guide says,
"Once you step out of the sunlight and into the narrow corridors, it's time to protect your nuts, guys!"
#8. Donald Gibb's memorable portrayal of "Jackson."
He's big, he's loud, and he's uncouth. He wears Harley-Davidson t-shirts, trains for the Kumite by drinkin' beers, and tells government officials "I ain't your pal, dickface!"
And despite it all, Gibb builds real, emotional stakes for his character. This movie is sillier than shit, and yet occasionally you will find yourself caring about a character's well-being, which is no small feat.
And who can resist the Karate video game challenge between Gibb and JCVD,
whereupon JCVD's genuine, loopy, childish grin makes possible their international friendship. I mean, American-on-American friendship. Er, I mean, American friendship.
#9. This random Kumite employee who milks his comic, gold-tooth-stealing moment for all it's worth. Sure, the combatant who lost the tooth was a cartoonish, obnoxious caricature, but apparently stealing teeth in this manner goes strictly against Kumite policy as outlined in the Kumite employee handbook.
He lets the audience know that this endeavor requires the utmost secrecy via his eyebrow-indicating and his exaggerated pantomime. Then he goes back from whence he came, just another random Kumite employee, albeit one gold tooth richer. You had your moment in the sun, my boy, and no one can say you didn't make the most of it!
#10. Gleefully oblivious racism. At least Cannon is an equal-opportunity offender. And I think it's fair to say that it's never malicious. No one can watch LAMBADA's portrayal of Latin dance clubs, MISSING IN ACTION's look at Vietnamese city life, DEATH WISH 3's perfectly-integrated street gangs, or RAPPIN's multi-culti hip-hop finale and accuse Cannon of any ill-intent. Cannon is your scrappy kid brother. Sure he took a dump behind the couch, but come on, he's like 3 years old, he doesn't know any better.
Should one dress an ambiguously Southeast Asian in a dime-store Sheik Halloween costume and pretend that he's an Arab? Cannon Films has the answer– because they never actually posed the question!
So what are the odds that there actually exists an African fighting style that involves ape-like clambering, leaping into trees, and karate-chopping gourds? Pretty low, I would guess, but I'm no Kumite expert. Fighting enthusiasts, feel free to expound upon this in the comments section.
#11. Blindfolded table service. As part of his training, JCVD must serve his shidoshi and his wife dinner while blindfolded.
Instead of looking simply impressed, the shidoshi's wife begins to look curiously turned on.
It's a beautifully uncomfortable little moment. It may also be of note that Golan discovered JCVD waiting tables in L.A. (JCVD impressed him by lifting his leg behind his head without spilling a drop from a tray of soups he was carrying).
#12. The zany chase scene. Zany chase scenes have been a staple of the Cannon diet from the early 80's (EXTERMINATOR 2) to the bitter end (HELLBOUND '94). Here, we have JCVD chased by his army handlers through Hong Kong, pausing frequently to wave to his pursuers and flash his dopey, lovable grin.
And I can't tell you how pleased I am to report that the "80's rule of swimming pools" still applies... to the South China Sea.
Wuh wuh wuh wuhhhhhhhhh... *SPLOOSH*
#13. The reflective "night bus" montage sequence is an experience that reaches even greater heights when JCVD sees the reflection of his nemesis in the window! but thank God, it's just his overactive imagination.
#14. The intrepid reporter/love interest, Janice Kent (Leah Ayres).
From one of her first lines ("I know there's a hidden, full-contact event going on in Hong Kong!") to her undercover infiltration of the Kumite to her burgeoning love affair with JCVD, the audience begins to wonder– what is the purpose of this intrepid reporter? Perhaps she will be kidnapped or used in a blackmail scheme? But around the 49th minute of this fine film, her true purpose becomes known: she is merely an impetus for a gratuitous JCVD ass shot!
JCVD approximately 2 seconds after participating in a gratuitous ass shot.
Before you accuse me of making that up, keep in mind that JCVD's big shower scene was interrupted prematurely by a chase sequence.
Cannon can be sneaky sometimes; you have to fill in the blanks yourself.
#15. Chong Li's (Bolo Yeung) crazy-face.
Surely one of the best villains of the 80's, he furthermore possesses one of the best crazy-faces. Runners-up include Gary Busey in LETHAL WEAPON, James Remar in 48 HRS., Michael Ironside in EXTREME PREJUDICE, and Henry Silva in everything.
#16. Bolo's look of begrudging admiration when JCVD manages to work a dragging split with maximized asscrackage into one of his matches.
"I really like what you did just there."
#17. Additionally, that match in question discussed in #16 may or may not end with another unnecessary JCVD split and a balls grab. So once again, I cement my status as the web's leading authority on brutal ball-squeezing.
#18. Just another random day at the Kumite. I don't know how many Kumites you fellows have been to, but the following images are pretty indicative of what's in store for you. It's about the subtle visual poetry of JCVD jamming his toes into another man's face.
It's about the ethereal majesty of aerial splits and somersaults, and sometimes in unison!
WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY FOR A KUMITE
#19. JCVD eye-bulging. Whenever an emotion is called for outside the ring (or off the mat, or whatever), JCVD usually tries his best. We know that he was hired because he can put his leg behind his head, and maybe he knows that we know that. But he's always sincere, and gives it his best shot, sometimes delivering genuine pathos.
When emotion is called for IN the ring, JCVD does it up the only way he knows how: SCREAMING AND EYE-BULGING!
#20. "Fight to Survive." Now this is a pretty standard 80's montage song, and it gets to be played once in the movie, and once over the end credits. It's the product of Stan Bush, the songster who has brought us memorable hits from the soundtracks of TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE and KICKBOXER. While the song for the most part is fairly unremarkable:
My body's ready, my heart's on fire
I'm gonna push it over the wire
Perfect timing, tight as a drum, final battle's already won
I'm taking hold of every moment
Given strength by the breath of life (breath of life)
I'm gonna stake my claim
I FIGHT TO SURVIVE
it contains a crucial element that catapults it into greatness.
KUMI-TE, KUMI-TE, KUMI-TE, KUMI-TE!
You see, a chorus of large, presumably sweaty men (and Kumite veterans) incessantly chant "KUMI-TE" in unison for the refrain, and it is fantastic. So much so, that I found myself occasionally chanting KUMI-TE KUMI-TE to myself at home, around the office, and on the streets. I was watching COOL HAND LUKE a few days afterward, and during the George Kennedy/Paul Newman boxing scene, I couldn't help but pull out great reams of Hong Kong paper money, wave it about, and chant KUMI-TE, KUMI-TE, KUMI-TE!
In the end, it's truly a profound, full-contact experience, and another wondrous jewel in Cannon's crown. Five stars.