By Jordan Newmark | 20 July 2019
This past April, one of cinema’s finest achievements marked its 30th anniversary- Bloodsport. In 1988, the world was introduced to the flexible-physique of Jean-Claude Van Damme, the term “Kumite”, slow-motion jumping-spin kicks, and we’ve never been the same since. To honor this immaculate masterpiece, here are 10 reasons why Bloodsport still kicks ass.
10. Based On A "True" Story
As if an underground, internationally attended, fight-to-the-death tournament wasn’t unbelievable enough, Bloodsport proposes it’s all real. Yep!
Even at 92 minutes long, viewers may forget somewhere between the Dim Mak and the helicopter kicks that this flick is a supposed biography of Frank W. Dux. Following Dux getting the unmerciful Chong Li to yield, a litany of “facts” hit the screen preporting Dux as the undefeated champion of this and owner of the fastest kick of that.
While he is an actual person, there are dozens of interviews with people who have known and worked with Dux including Bloodsport’s screenwriter Sheldon Lettich who say it’s all lies and/or bullshit. Literally, Lettich’s words.
9. Talent Behind The Camera
Bloodsport marked the beginning of the long working relationship between Van Damme and Sheldon Lettich, which gave us other greats like Lionheart and Double Impact. Sidenote, Lettich made the capoeira classic Only the Strong too.
This movie also began the shorter relationship with Van Damme and genius movie producer Menahem Golan, which gave us the watchable Cyborg and Death Warrant. Most curious, this was the third and last movie directed by Newt Arnold who had an incredible career as an assistant director on legendary movies like Blade Runner, Sorcerer, and The Godfather: Part II to name, seriously, just a few off his prolific filmography.
8. Kowloon's Walled City
The Walled City was an infamous destination known for its gang-rule and dense population. It’s legacy is as an inspiration for futuristic and gritty cities in both film and literature like Blade Runner, Batman Begins, and The Bourne Supremacy. But only Bloodsport shot there, so when you’re at a bar at closing time yelling that Bloodsport is a historical work of art- you’re damn right.
7. Mortal Kombat
Does the phrase “Sub-Zero wins, flawless victory, fatality” mean way too much to you? Then you have Bloodsport to thank for those hundreds of hours spent on playing Mortal Kombat.
The creators of the famed video game franchise, Ed Boon and John Tobias, have cited Bloodsport as a major inspiration for their work.
The most obvious homage is the character Johnny Cage and his infamous split-punch, which Van Damme uses in the movie.
Also, there’s a great tech-throwback moment in the movie where Van Damme and Donald Gibb play each other in the arcade game Karate Champ, which, rightfully so, establishes their friendship.
6. Theme Song
We’re up to our ears in $200 million action movies nowadays featuring wave after wave of CGI battle scenes and they’re all lacking the same thing - a theme song that slaps. The 80’s were a glorious time of bold, butt-kicking bros bonded with an even more butt-kicking ballad. The Karate Kid had “You’re the Best”, Rocky III had “Eye of the Tiger”, The Last Dragon had “The Glow”, and Bloodsport has “Fight to Survive”. No one leaves a big budget, comic book, make ‘em up singing Hans Zimmer’s foghorns, but one watch of Bloodsport and you’ll be belting out Paul Hertzog’s “Kumite! Kumite!”.
Bloodsport is Jean-Claude Van Damme’s first starring role! This movie launched the “Muscles from Brussels” into the action hero stratosphere. So for the past 30 years, we’ve lived in a world where Van Damme has been continually kicking people’s faces on film, which is awesome.
It truly is a star-making performance from Van Damme as he looks like a million bucks, fights like a billion bucks, charms our pants off as well as his love interest Leah Ayres’, he shows us loss and pain, and then triumphs with the odds stacked against him. Add to that, he barely spoke English at the time. It’s incredible.
4. Bolo Yeung
Every good action movie needs a badass villain- look no further than Bolo Yeung as Chong Li. The first time we lay eyes on the main antagonist, we see he’s built like a brickhouse and can make a giant ice cube explode with a single strike. Every time after that, Li is either crippling a dude or killing him in the Kumite.
Plus, one would think if you’re into martial arts movies, you would recognize Yeung from the preeminent Enter the Dragon, which is why he is known as “Bolo” because that was his character’s name, or as a bad guy in several Shaw Brothers’ movies.
On top of that, Yeung grew up practicing kung-fu and body-building.
As far as credible adversaries go, Bolo Yeung makes Chong Li a terrifying villain who loves nothing more than destroying his opponents and being cheered for it. And, tying Ray Jackson’s bandana to his leg for the last fight is gangster.
In less than four minutes into the movie, you know a US Army Captain who can throw some wicked high kicks has against military orders fled to Hong Kong to participate in a full-contact fighting tournament called the Kumite where people have been known to die. From there, viewers are treated to an origin story where a troubled kid who loves both the New York Giants and the San Francisco Giants becomes a martial arts master to fulfill another family’s birthright as their son has inexplicably died. There is a lot on the line in this movie and they waste nary a second to get the viewer up to speed.
2. The Fights
It’s wall-to-wall fist fights and it’s great. Plain and simple. The movie tells you there’s going to be one-on-one, full-contact fights to the death, and that is what you get.
The real trick that keeps the fighting arrangement from getting stale is the contrast of styles. Variety is the “spice of life” and, in Bloodsport, variety means some guys are throwing hands, some are throwing feet, some are throwing flying knees, and some are throwing themselves around like an orangatang.
Obviously, there’s a lot of solid action from Van Damme and Yeung, but there’s exciting stuff outside of them from former Muay Thai fighter Paulo Tocha as Paco and Michel Qissi as Suan Paredes who went on to play Tong Po in Van Damme’s Kickboxer.
1. He Wins Because He Is The Best
What a novel idea? Sadly, it is. Most action movies have a final showdown resolved by what a film teacher would call “deus ex machina”, which is a fancy way of saying “some lucky fix that comes out of nowhere”. That’s far from the case in Bloodsport.
All of the fighting Van Damme does throughout draws direct parallels to the inordinately long training montage/flashback at the beginning of the movie. Not only does Van Damme become the first non-Japanese person to learn the secrets of the Tanaka family’s fist-fighting lineage, but he does so on the same type of stage the Kumite takes place on and he learns how to fight while blindfolded. The good guy wins because he’s prepared for the worst situations, so he can beat the best.