Thursday, April 30, 2009

80's Trash of the Week: Bloodsport

You are nex!
You break my record, now I break you, like I break your friend.

I like to know how to say "Hello," "cheers," and "screw you" in every language. But in Belgian I only know how to say four words: Jean-Claude Van Damme. Which means "cheesy spinning kick split monster," and Bloodsport is where I first learned to say it. Van Damme had been in the awful Sho Kosugi vehicle Black Eagle as a Russian assassin, but Bloodsport is where he spun onto the martial arts movie scene. Slightly less intelligible than Schwarzenegger but with plenty of fight cred, his eagerness to do his trademark splits at every opportunity made him a hit with the '80s ladies as well as their beaus, who were amazed that someone with a French accent could kick so much ass.
The story as such is this- as a young boy Frank Dux gets caught fiddling with a neighbor's samurai sword, and to pay penance, becomes his student- if only to be a punching bag for the man's young son. He stole from the wrong guy- Tanaka, a ninjutsu sensei and keeper of the secret death move, the Dim Mak. Through an extended montage we watch him learn to do splits while suspended by ropes, to catch goldfish with his bare hands, and to serve tea blindfolded. And this makes him the greatest fighter of all time.
Frank Dux- pronounced "dukes"- wants to fight in "the Kumite," which means "the sparring" in Japanese. It is held in Hong Kong, and is a secret underground fight club where practitioners of all the deadly arts converge to pit their skills against each other in battles to the death. On ths bus he meets Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds, a brawling biker also there for the "secret" Kumite, which everyone seems to know about. There's even a blonde reporter using her sly investigative skills at the hotel bars, asking every tough guy where the Kumite is.
The path they follow through the underground to the Kumite matches is like the famous long take in Goodfellas where they enter the Copa, except there are lots of cuts, no one says anything, and I think they walk through the same hallway three times. To prove that this round-eye devil has really been trained by Tanaka, Van Damme must show them the fabled "death touch." The Dim Mak or "death touch" is changed from the classic kung fu move to a sort of Tetris brick-breaker maneuver. It's closer to dim sum than Dim Mak. But who cares, all you have to do is see JCVD's crazy brickbreaking face to know this movie is going to be awesome.
Bolo Yeung always plays the bad guy, Chong Li, but he gets more lines here than he usually does.. He's most famous for being the huge opponent of Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, and here he gets to say all the best lines. He's also the one guy who can look crazier than Van Damme, as evidenced in this freeze-frame:

We get a lot of bloody fights, including one where a rapey Arab gets his gold tooth knocked out, which is scooped up by a scurrying Asian fellow. There's an African guy fighting "monkey style" which sort of looks like capoiera, except really offensive. The two cops following Dux to stop him from competing- including a young Forrest Whitaker- eat something at a restaurant that makes a dog whimper.

But racism was all in good fun in the '80s! This movie isn't about that, it's about seeing karate vs. boxing. Prior to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Bloodsport was the only way to decide which martial art could kick the ass of all others. And the answer was Van Damme ninjutsu. As the competitors are winnowed down- either whupped by honorable white folk or cruel Asians who kill you for the bloodlusty crowd- we get to see Ogre be a complete idiot and turn his back on Chong Li after knocking him down. Slowly the inevitable match between Dux and the murderous champion arrives, and the final fight is a glorious example of '80s chop socky.
They say that the movie languished for 2 years until Van Damme helped them re-cut the film; I'd love to see the original version! When evil Chong Li blinds Dux, it takes him so long to remember all that blindfighting training we watched in the montage that I like to think it originally took him 2o minutes of getting his ass kicked before he realized he can fight blindfolded. There's another slow motion shot where he windmills his leg like Popeye winding up a punch.
The movie is also controversial because it is supposedly "based on true events," as reported in its end credits:
This motion picture is based upon true events in the life of Frank W. Dux.
From 1975 to 1980 Frank W. Dux fought 329 matches. He retired undefeated
as the World Heavy Weight Full Contact Kumite Champion.
Mr. Dux still holds four world records:
Fastest Knockout - 3.2 seconds
Fastest Punch with a Knockout - .42 seconds
Fastest Kick with a Knockout - 72 mph
Most Consecutive Knockouts in a Single Tournament - 56
Subsequently Mr. Dux founded the first American Ninjitsu System. Dux-Ryu.
The 80s were the prime time for bullshido, and even Soldier of Fortune went after Dux for his claims of secret military service. Who knows? Here's an incredibly lengthy article on it. A 72mph kick? I guess there was a cop with a radar gun in the ring. It all sounds very impressive, and we all wanted to be ninjas after watching it. Personally, I think the movie is better as the insane fantasy it is, where if Americans travel to exotic lands they can fight to the death in Kumite, or wind up as victims in Hostel. Foreign places were scary in the '80s! Bloodsport is an original, maybe it's awful it many ways but it is unique, and a must for martial arts fans.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? It should be. Over and over.
Quotability Rating: mild
Cheese Factor: Jean-Claude Van Edam
High Points: Fights
Low Point: yellow peril crap
Gratuitous Boobies: We was robbed.


Peter said...

"Welcome to Hong Kong. Are you here for business, pleasure, or the Kumite?"

I wish I'd known you were going to watch this. I want to see it again, but I'm 100% sure I can't get through it alone. Let me know before Kickboxer, eh?

Tommy Salami said...

Sorry dude. I still have it, we can watch it again before Boxkicker.
I have JCVD - a movie, not a disease - at home, maybe we can watch that. Its Van Damme as himself, down onhis luck and embroiled with bad guys. Supposed to be very good.

PIPER said...

Bloodsport is Enter The Dragon on two lines of blow. I think I saw this twice in one day when it was in the theater, I loved it that much. Of course I was in high school. But I still love this movie. No beers needed.

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