Friday, August 3, 2012

Film Review: BLOODSPORT 2– THE NEXT KUMITE (1996, Alan Mehrez)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  The shadow of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Daniel Bernhardt (THE MATRIX RELOADED, BLOODSPORTS III & IV), Pat Morita (THE KARATE KID, MULAN), Donald Gibb (BLOODSPORT, REVENGE OF THE NERDS), James Hong (BLADE RUNNER, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA), Lori Lynn Dickerson (an episode of MEN BEHAVING BADLY, TERMINAL VELOCITY), Philip Tan (BATMAN, RETURN TO OZ), Ong Soo Han (DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY, THE QUEST), Master Hee Il Cho (BEST OF THE BEST, BLOODSPORT III), Lisa McCullough (stunts on KILL BILL and CLIFFHANGER).
Tag-line: "The honor... the spirit... the sword... the ultimate fight."
Best one-liner:  "You got a Kumite to win!"

I don't care much for the Olympics.  Maybe because it pales in comparison to that other important international sporting event, the one full of sweaty, chanting men waving Hong Kong dollars around with reckless abandon: yes, The Kumite.  Well, I'm here today to discuss the cinematic wonderment that is BLOODSPORT 2: THE NEXT KUMITE, which notably received zero votes in this decade's newly-published Sight and Sound poll.  I expect that to change in 2022.

For those of you who have not yet seen BLOODSPORT 2: THE NEXT KUMITE, I must note that while it is in fact a sequel to the Golan-Globus trashterpiece BLOODSPORT, it does not in fact star Jean-Claude Van Damme.  It stars a man named Daniel Bernhardt instead.  Now, I hear your audible sighs of frustration but fret not, kumite-goers!  I am about to quote you a magical sentence from one of the special features screens on the BLOODSPORT 2 DVD:

"Daniel Bernhardt discovered his calling as an actor after co-starring in a Versace Jeans promotion with Jean-Claude Van Damme."

I'll let you chew on that for a moment and draw whatever wonderful, bizarre, or sordid inferences you'd like.  Regardless, this is Jean-Claude-approved replacement Jean-Claude.  And what's okay with Jean-Claude is okay with me.  Bernhardt is great.  He's got a similar accent (he's Swiss, not Belgian), he makes the same sincerely gleeful facial expressions as Jean-Claude:

And he also does those patented "ohhh, no!" JCVD facial expressions, which are equally sincere:

He gets tortured, Jesus-style:

Has crazy "martial arts face":

Shit, the man even does the splits!

But don't ask me to explain what's going on in that photograph otherwise.

Truly fantastic.  Well, without further ado:  10 Reasons why BLOODSPORT 2: THE NEXT KUMITE proves itself worthy of the BLOODSPORT name despite the absence of Mr. JCVD himself:

#1.  I didn't check in advance to see what year this was made in.  About an hour into the film, I started thinking about it.  I knew BLOODSPORT 1 was 1988, but this movie– in fashion and music and tone– felt very 80s.  I hazarded a guess– 1991.  Then I looked it up and found that it was actually made in 1996!  It's a rare feat for a film so late in the 90s to capture the flavor of an 80s flick.  Bravo.

#2.  The wraparound story.  In the vein of THE PRINCESS BRIDE, BLOODSPORT 2 is told by an old man (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA's James Hong) to a room of karate-kicking children who comment on the story throughout, keeping things postmodern and "fresh."  This is a spectacular storytelling choice for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that this is a BLOODSPORT sequel and not, in fact, THE NEVERENDING STORY PART V, or something similar.

Not to get too ahead of myself– they even comment on the finale:  a little girl asks if faux-Van Damme got to "kiss the girl at the end."  Hong says that he did, and we see Bernhardt kissing the girl as the end title comes up.

Of course, this raises the question of how in-depth Hong has been describing the violence and romance and such– does he dip into Cormac McCarthy-worthy prose when relating the violence of a Kumite match?  Does he veer wildly into Harlequin romance territory when telling of faux-Van Damme's romantic exploits?  We must know.

#3.  The impetus for Bernhardt joining the Kumite.  In BLOODSPORT 1, young Van Damme is schooled in the ways of martial arts as a form of penance for stealing his teacher's sword.  In BLOODSPORT 2, Bernhardt is a cat burglar/con man

(Note suavitude)

 who steals a sword that belongs to KARATE KID's Pat Morita and the Kumite, so he goes to prison

(Shirtless prison)

for it and then is trained in the ways of the Iron Hand by James Hong

while wearing pink pants at a temple, which I guess is inside the prison or something, so that he can retrieve the Kumite sword and give it back to the Kumite so that he can compete in the Kumite and win the Kumite and thus win the Kumite sword– honorably.  And James Hong knows about honor because he competed in a Kumite twenty-five years ago.  Whew.  Anyway, there's plenty of THIS:

Some of the better-educated among you will recognize this as Chuck Norris' "crotch-thrust maneuver," popularized in DELTA FORCE 2: THE COLUMBIAN CONNECTION.

lots of martial arts groaning, and the aforementioned splits, so it kinda works out.

#4.  This guy's pajama-kumite pants

which suddenly have made me realize that "Pajama Kumite" would be a pretty rad name for a band.

#5.  Jackson.  Wait– WHAT?!!  JACKSON!  
He's back!  One of the finest facets of the gem that is BLOODSPORT is back!  Now he's kind of like a "Kumite bouncer" or "Kumite entry level employee" or something, but goddamn it, Jackson is back!  It's like seeing an old friend.  God bless Donald Gibb.  The man ought to be enshrined as a national treasure.  Sure, he's not competing here, but he provides Bernhardt with a lot of comic relief:
Ohhhh boy!

and Kumite buddy support:
He's full of infectious, good-natured energy and clad in Salvation-Army-donation-bin tee-shirts and says things like "Hey, man– let's get back– you've got a Kumite to win!"  My only regret is that neither he nor anyone else refers to the Kumite as "full-contact" in this movie.  Also, there's the whole "Jackson romance subplot–"

#6.  "WHU-WHU-WAIT.  Did you say Jackson Romance subplot?!" is the question that you probably just asked.  And the answer is:  "well, yes– yes, I did."  You see, there's a woman competing in the Kumite this year for the first time ever (played by the wonderfully earnest Lori Lynn Dickerson), and suffice it to say that Jackson is in possession of some... amorous intentions.  For your viewing pleasure, I have strung together all of the scenes that involve Jackson's Kumite Romance, which hopefully is a forthcoming grocery-line romance novel...
All I can say is...may the uncensored fanfiction begin!

#7.  And in case you were wondering what that was all about at the end with the Dolph-Lundgren-esque behemoth named "Demon," may I cordially present Ong Soo Han as: "Demon."
Sure, he's not quite Bolo Yeung, but then again, no one is.  He starts off as a guard at the pink pants/shirtless prison we were at earlier, and ends up as the primary villain of the Kumite.  
His only acting choice is wave his arms in challenge and to flash a shit-eating grin, 24/7, non-stop.  And it's a good grin.  He must've had a lot of time to perfect it.  He even does the tango with the grin and Jackson's girl-friend (which leads to the riot you just witnessed in the clip above).

#8.  The clown-makeup Kumite guy.

I don't know what his deal is, but I sorta like it.

#9.  When "The Dude" fights at the Kumite.
Two years before the Coens made a movie about him, The Dude apparently competed in the Kumite.  You can watch the blow by blow, below:

#10.  I guess there is no #10.  You see, I was hoping that we'd get to hear Stan Bush's "Fight to Survive" from BLOODSPORT 1, you know, the song that features a chorus of large, presumably sweaty men incessantly chanting "KUMI-TE, KUMI-TE, KUMI-TE, KUMI-TE!"  Well, it's not here. And that's too bad.  I only wish there was some sort of song here that could be a worthy successor... some kind of musical achievement that 'gets' what a Kumite is all about...
To quote the final sentence of ULYSSES,  "yes I said yes I will YES!!!!"  This is phenomenal.  And, as you can see, I've subtitled it for your viewing pleasure.  First, we have a song in the background that sounds sort of like the stock start-up screen to a bad NES martial arts beat-em-up game.  On top of that, there is a profusion of random utterances, most of which relate– at least tangentially– to the subject matter of BLOODSPORT 2.  But they fire away at random.  It's almost as if they had this background track, and then a sound board filled with Kumite-related bytes which were then randomly hammered out on the console by an eight-year old, hopped up on sugar and smack.  Steve Edward's song is called "The Rhythm of the Kumite," and that phrase certainly gets a workout, but there's a fair amount of "IM-PACT!"  "KICK THE BEAT"  "I THINK THEY TREAT ME LIKE THIS" and other such wonders as well.  There's a man who erupts forth with the word "BLOOOOODSPORT," in a line-reading which truly carries the strain of constipation.  There's a soulful guy whose eyes are obviously closed and whose fingertips are held gently against his headphones as he croons "Ohhhh-whoa-whoaaa!"  There's an army of men who scream in unison, "KUMMI-TAY!" with the high energy but secret derision of corporate chain waiters who are being paid less-than-handsomely to do so.   A digital voice reports, "KICK-BOX-ZING" in that wonderfully stilted way that only a robot can.  A woman (or a young boy?) announces "SLAMMMMMIT," and that's an order, dammit!   Somebody else reminds us that "THIS BEAT IS NONNNN-STOPPP," as if we didn't already know that this irresistible beat was nonstop.  It's like visiting a museum, and each exhibit is precious, each exhibit is special; each objet d'art makes you feel a different way, conjures a separate emotion.   Thanks, BLOODSPORT 2!

-Sean Gill


Henry Swanson's Glasses said...

Crikey, it's scary that I haven't seen this yet. Especially given that 1) Donald Gibb makes a return and 2) has a romantic subplot?!

Yup, sold.

Chris Hewson said...

YES! Someone else who likes this film! I think it's awesome, but most reviews I find of it bash it pretty unfairly.

Avoid Bloodsport 3 though, it's boring as hell!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I always avoided this one because of the non-Van Damme factor, but hot damn am I pumped to see it now! This looks AMAZING! Thanks, my man, and if I could venture yet another Van Damme suggestion (and I apologize if I've mentioned this one before), "The Quest" is worth a watch if only because it's a) DIRECTED by JCVD (with some very bizarre artistic flourishes) and b) prominently features Van Damme in clown makeup walking on giant stilts.

J.D. said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but the pajama-kumite pants in still #4 look a lot like the ones Diedrich Bader sports in NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. Hmmm....

Sean Gill said...

Henry Swanson,

I was originally sold on this solely on the basis of Gibb's return, having no idea what other wonders awaited– I think you'll enjoy.


Yeah, I too had only heard bad things about BLOODSPORT sequels. And though you've warned me, I suspect that one day I'll end up drinking a bunch of beers and seeing BLOODSPORT 3 anyway.


Yeah, I think you'll dig this one. I took your advice and sprung for THE QUEST this weekend, and enjoyed it quite a bit. It's kind of BLOODSPORT meets INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM meets OLIVER TWIST meets WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, if that makes any sense. Plus, there's the James Remar and Roger Moore factors– a review will be forthcoming!


Indeed I believe you are right! And something about that fits– he wouldn't be the front man, but I could see Diedrich Bader being perhaps the bass player of a band called Pajama Kumite.

Anonymous said...

Awesome! I'll be looking forward to that review for sure. A Van Damme film where Roger Moore steals treasure with a blimp, and yet that's only like the 5th most bizarre thing that happens, it's indeed pretty unbelievable. Thanks in advance!

Maurice Mitchell said...

Amazing to think an actor could be motivated by JCVD's career.
- Maurice Mitchell

The Geek Twins | Film Sketchr

Sean Gill said...


I'll try my best to do THE QUEST justice– and a fine point you make about Roger Moore and the blimp; it's just full of mind-blowing happenings.


Frankly, I'm disappointed that more actors have not followed in the footsteps (the split-steps?) of Mr. JCVD.

Mike (I used to run a Daniel Bernhardt 'fansite'... yes such a thing existed, no I am not joking) said...

You NEED to watch Bloodsport 4. It's as mad as a bottle of chips. You will question reality after watching it.

Sean Gill said...

Mike of Bernhardt fandom,

That's awesome– is it archived anywhere?

I'll definitely check out BLOODSPORT 4– indeed it is already in my netflix queue!