After making his high profile debut in No Retreat, No Surrender, Jean-Claude Van Damme became a household name with this classic tournament film that is apparently based on a true story.
Major Frank Dux has plans to go to Hong Kong to compete in an underground tournament known as the Kumite. When he fears that he will not be allowed to go, he goes AWOL and meets his teacher, Tanaka, before he leaves. Meanwhile, the Army sends in two agents, Helmer and Rawlings, to find Frank in order to bring him back. However, Frank is determined and goes to Hong Kong to compete in the Kumite.
The competition is fierce at the Kumite. For Frank, it means finding a new friend in fellow competitor Ray Jackson and a love interest in Janice, an American reporter who is doing a story on the Kumite. However, the champion, Chong Li, is making mincemeat of his opponents and guns especially for Frank when in his first fight, Frank breaks the world record for fastest knockout. To play mind games with Frank, Chong Li decimates Ray and puts him in the hospital. With a chance to become the first Westerner ever to win the Kumite, Frank must have a focused mind. However, what will happen when Helmer and Rollins show up with the help of a local Hong Kong police commander to bring Frank back?
The story of Frank Dux is quite an interesting tale that has had its share of controversy. Dux, who is a real person who actually trained Van Damme for the film and served as the film’s fight choreographer, has made claims to have won these underground tournaments in various locations, hence the basis for this film. However, since then, many have called “B.S.” on those claims. Nevertheless, this film is hailed as one of the best American martial arts films of the 1980’s.
One of those reasons why that can be said about this is because of its lead star, “The Muscles from Brussels”. Jean-Claude Van Damme shows not only can he fight with his impressive kicking skills. He does show that he has a bit of acting range in the role of Dux. Seen in a series of flashbacks, we see a bit of the level Van Damme can perform without fighting. His chemistry with Donald Gibb is quite fun to watch as well, especially with Gibb breaking from his trademark “Ogre” from the Revenge of the Nerds films to play Ray Jackson as somewhat cocky yet also a heartwarming “big brother” type, which would explain why he would be the only returning character in 1996’s Bloodsport II.
Bolo Yeung as Chong Li. Not enough can be said about him in the role of the Kumite champion. He may have the body of a beast, but the man can move as well, with his experience in many kung fu films of the 1970’s. After that era, this film puts Bolo back on the map and lo and behold, it would lead not only to a rematch with Van Damme in 1991’s Double Impact but a successful career in Hollywood’s B-circuit of martial arts films in the 1990’s as a lead actor.
With the help of another veteran of martial arts films, Steve Lee Ka-Ting, Frank Dux himself shows his ability as an ample fight choreographer with a cast that includes many actors would be seen in Joseph Lai’s IFD Films and Tomas Tang’s Filmark “cut-and-paste” ninja films, as well as Van Damme’s real-life friend Michel Qissi as Muay Thai fighter Parades, who meets a very nasty fate when he faces Chong Li (and it is not death). Look out for the likes of Eric Neff, Wayne Archer, Nathan Chukueke, Paulo Tocha, Geoffrey Brown, as well as famed martial arts actor John Cheung as fighters in the tournament. And the Kumite fights are quite fun to watch and really live up to being the highlight of the film.
The film would go on to spawn three sequels from 1996 to 1998, all starring Swiss-born martial arts actor Daniel Bernhardt. As mentioned, Donald Gibb returned as Jackson for the second film.
Bloodsport is truly one of the best American martial arts classics of the 1980’s. It truly made Jean-Claude Van Damme a household name with some great fight scenes and the likes of Bolo Yeung as the champion.
WFG RATING: A
A Cannon International B.V. production. Director: Newt Arnold. Producer: Mark DiSalle. Writers: Sheldon Lettich, Christopher Cosby, and Mel Friedman. Cinematography: David Worth.
Editing: Carl Kress.
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Ayres, Norman Burton, Forest Whitaker, Roy Chiao, Philip Chan, Bolo Yeung, Ken Siu, Kimo Lai, Bernard Mariano, Lily Leung, Michel Qissi, John Cheung.