Dir: Newt Arnold, 1988. Starring: Jean-Claude van Damme, Donald Gibb, Forest Whitaker. English. Martial Arts.

There are some who would say that Bloodsport was the film Ingmar Bergman intended to make when he directed Wild Strawberries. And to be perfectly serious Bloodsport is the better film.

When Frank Dux’s childhood friend and the son of his martial arts mentor is killed in a Kumite, a bloody underground mixed martial arts championship, Dux (Jean-Claude van Damme) goes AWOL from his army post to travel to Hong Kong to compete in the next Kumite and avenge his fallen friend’s honor. Hot on his trail, two military agents (one played by Forest Whitaker) follow him to protect the army’s investment in Dux’s amazing martial arts talents. With the help of a wrestler with a huge forehead (Donald Gibb from Revenge of the Nerds) also competing in the tournament and a plucky and attractive female journalist, Dux enters the brutal Kumite and displays his excellent fighting skills. But can he beat the man-killing, pec-flexing Chong Li or will he end up like his boyhood buddy?

I can see Bergman kicking himself now. “Why didn’t I use Muay Thai during any of the dream sequences? Why couldn’t I find a Belgian kickboxing phenomenon to display his soccer ball-like buttocks? Wasn’t I hitting everyone over the head too hard with the clock symbolism?” Truly, van Damme’s charisma carries Bloodsport, along with his eye-popping splits and roundhouse kicks delivered with balletic grace. The almost Manichaean nature of the film’s easy distinction between good and evil recalls the viewer to simpler times and Stan Bush’s fist-pumping theme song, “Fight to Survive,” provides the pulse to the best athletic competition montage ever, a virtuosic assemblage of many of the world’s fighting styles pitted against each other. But you ask, “How does it compare to that part in Kickboxer when Jean-Claude is in the bar dancing and those henchman come in and start fighting him, and then he incorporates the dancing with the ass-kicking?” or perhaps, “Why watch just one van Damme when I can see two in Double Impact?” Verily, one must see all of van Damme’s work and judge for one’s self which are the superior films. All of van Damme’s films up to Sudden Death are masterpieces of charm and athletic skill and Bloodsport is a great place to start.

Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Dec 10, 2008 9:34pm
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