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Bloodsport, a childhood relic revisited, held up about as well I remembered it to be. It’s still pretty corny, with lots of goofy plot devices laid to pay off in the final fight scene. Van Damme is much more obviously hiding his discomfort with the fighting than later in his career with close ups and camera angles that hide the actual impact of his kicks or never show who is doing the kicking. His acting is still in the most wooden stages, not yet covered up by the pure swagger he would develop. In particular the crazy faces he makes during his most powerful strikes are hilarious. Gibb as “Tiny” Jackson was over the top but took to the role perfectly. There were maybe two moments in the film he was without a beer and in one of those he was in a coma. Bolo Yeung’s Chong Li was comprised of making terrifying faces, bouncing his pecs and jumping up and down while absorbing the crowds cheers.

And the rest of the movie is padding. OK, not really, but there are far too many fight scenes for many of them to be memorable, with nameless schlubs pounding on each other to get their chance to get beaten up by Frank Dux or Li. Several of them could have cut out without notice to the film. And almost every scene where people talk to each other, particularly if there are only two characters, is punctuated with the most absurd pregnant pauses I’ve ever heard. A two minute conversation drags out to around seven thanks to the unpleasant staring that occurs between sentences.

Chong Li’s willingness to cheat comes from out of the blue as well. He handles every fighter with seeming ease outside of Tiny, who he beats because Tiny is too stupid to follow up on his initial momentum. It’s no wonder Li tried to kill him. He had it coming. But before he fights Dux his trainer gives him a tablet of chalk or something, about the size of the biggest pill your doctor ever gave you. He crushes this when Dux gets the upper hand and tosses it in his eyes. More precisely a small cloud of thin dust floats a few inches in front of Van Damme’s eyes, blinding him completely. Good thing this movie spent so much time showing us his mentor insisting that he learn to serve tea blindfolded! Serving tea also involves blocking deadly karate chops. I should mention that. Needless to say Dux triumphs and avenges his mentor’s loss…to cancer or old age or something. Tanaka was a Kumite winner himself, and very much alive when Dux left him.

For all of the movie’s odd obsession with callback details like blindfold training, a number of plot holes are never filled in. Army detectives or something, Forrest Whittaker and Norman Burton, are sent to retrieve Dux once he goes AWOL to fight in the tournament in Hong Kong. Why he’s so important that they bring tasers and won’t let a Hong Kong policeman shoot him isn’t really touched upon. Maybe this was the first chapter in the Universal Soldier saga, or he was already a Time Cop and they needed his valuable future knowledge. Really, though, they existed for the scenes where Dux flaunts the Man and leaves the cops in his dust. Cops who work for the Army. I should mention that again. A young Dux breaks into the Tanaka home via an open window with his friends, where they plan to steal Tanaka’s Kumite sword, and berate YJCVD for being too honest, brave and true to steal something as well. He apparently wears a San Francisco hat and jersey to try to hide the fact that he has a French accent. Yes, the movie had the wherewithal to cast a young Jean-Claude Van Damme-a-like where none was needed but I didn’t hear any reason as to why he had an accent.

A lot of the movie’s mistakes seem to be in trying to maintain a biographical nature while still being a mindless kung fu movie. The tournament jettisons a lot of back story necessity, but the movie fills that space with Dux’ training and establishing why he was allowed to learn a martial art that the audience of a kung fu movie won’t care to see. Then you pad that tournament out with anonymous fighters no one cares about. For all the pugilists presented I can tell you about two of them: Spider Monkey Jones, the guy who bounced around in a crouching position the whole time and trained by smashing coconuts in a tree, and Polynesian Pete, the Pacific Island sumo who trained by throwing laundry bags at his fellow villagers. Everyone else was pretty much a generic kickboxer. So, where they had one big problem tied up the filmmakers used that to create two more. A lot of boring padding is the end result. That’s the result of watching a half remembered movie twenty years later, though. All of the stuff not worth remembering comes flooding back. 2 stars



  1. “A triumph of the heart”

  2. 15 stars

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