REVIEW: Bloodsport [1988]

“Dux is my man”

I am, of course, a cinema purist. I can’t stand watching films on TV if they are going to be interrupted by commercials or edited in anyway. I won’t even start watching something I have not seen unless I started at the very beginning and went to the end. However, with a couple friends over and a little “Mystery Science Theater 3000” atmosphere, I threw all those rules out the window and experienced the last hour or so of the cult classic Bloodsport. Did I watch it as a piece of art? Not really. It was more the spectacle of cheesy 80’s aesthetic and campy acting/dialogue that kept me from turning the channel. Was the first hour something important? Who knows, and who cares. I got the gist of what was occurring and from fight to fight knew who the hero and villain were and found myself needing nothing more.

I love the tagline for the film—“The secret contest where the world’s greatest warriors fight in a battle to the death.” How misleading is that statement? The connotations to Mortal Kombat are unavoidable—with rumor being that Johnny Cage is mirrored off our lead character Frank Dux—but to the death is a bit of a stretch. One fighter dies in this film, ONE. When he is murdered, the judges and crowd turn their backs on the killer, unable to condone the brutality. I want to know who marketed this and give them a high-five for skewing the truth to sell some seats. The movie could never be a to-the-death fight and work. Not only would we lose all respect for our hero, but also he would never be able to take a life as shown onscreen. The tournament would have been shut down too, with American military cops showing up, people everywhere knowing about the event, and reporters going undercover for a story. If death was prevalent, not even the Triads could keep it up.

The beauty of the film, though, is in its soundtrack. Synthesizers and falsettos abound transporting you back in time to bad acting, teased hair, and crazy characters. Every second is chock full of unintentional comedy and my friends and I had a blast with it. Jean-Claude Van Damme made a name for himself off this film, and he does not disappoint. Deserting his army post in order to go to Hong Kong to fight and avenge his master’s death, this American fighter has the thickest Belgian accent possible. Maybe they explain that he was naturalized as a US citizen in the time I missed, but either way I guess it doesn’t quite matter in the grand scope of things. You cannot get enough of his slow-mo shaking body and wide eyed defiance on the battle mat nor the hammy looks of fear once his adversary Chong Li gets embedded in his head to the point he even manifests him on the bus. His romantic involvement with a reporter is also laughable. There is no chemistry between them at all—I think there might be more between he and friend Ray Jackson played brilliantly by Donald Gibb—and the relationship culminates in a horribly orchestrated scene of them bowing to each other hand over fist. At least it is an ending to put a smile on your face, not from contentment, but from sheer absurdity that you stuck with the story its conclusion.

In the end, however, you have to see the film for one performance only, Forest Whitaker as the army cop. No, just joking, what the hell was he thinking doing this film? The real reason is Bolo Yeung as Chong Li. This guy is the epitome of evil. The guy is massive and his menacing stare down is so scary you have to laugh from fear or else you may soil yourself. His silent screams and excitement are so unnecessary and out-of-place that they actually work. This guy doesn’t need to scream or yell. You actually start thinking he may be a mute until he finally tells Van Damme he is going to kill him before the final fight.

Is Bloodsport quality cinema? Is it even nostalgically worth seeing as a piece of art? The answer is no on both counts. Would I stop flipping channels and watch it next time its on TV? Definitely. As a comedy, the film is wonderful. I can’t even say the fighting is spectacular because it is always subverted by laughs. Between the guy acting like a monkey and the Sumo hugging people into submission, every single second is priceless and unforgettable.

Bloodsport 5/10 | ★ ★


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