REVIEW: Bloodfist (1989)

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Kickboxing legend Don “The Dragon” Wilson gets his first lead role in this martial arts action film that would be just the beginning of a successful career for him.

When Michael Raye wins a martial arts tournament in Manila, he is mysteriously attacked that night and ends up brutally murdered. Michael’s brother Jake is a boxer who runs the family gym in Los Angeles. Giving up a life of fighting after donating a kidney to his brother, he is happy becoming a teacher until he learns that Michael has been found dead. Jake heads to Manila to claim the body but intends to learn the truth about his brother.

Jake learns that Michael was involved in the tournament, Jake decides to enter the tournament to perhaps find his brother’s killer. He finds a mentor in Kwong, who saves him from some local thugs. As Jake begins training, he becomes versed in martial arts, having to go up against some of the top fighters in the world. They include the high-kicking Black Rose, Muay Thai fighter Raton, and the monstrous Chin Woo. Jake also learns his new friend Baby is also competing in the tournament, and gives him his full support. As the tournament begins, Jake makes it clear that he will find his brother’s killer.

Hailed as one of the greatest, if not the greatest kickboxer in the world, Don “The Dragon” Wilson had done some small roles in films, including a 1982 Hong Kong action film called New York Chinatown and an appearance as John Cusack’s sparring partner in the hit Say Anything. “King of the B-Movies” Roger Corman was truly impressed with Wilson and this would lead to this film, which would be just the beginning of Wilson’s prolific career in films.

Wilson actually does well acting wise for his lead debut as Jake, a former boxer who must learn kickboxing to avenge his brother’s murder. For a lead role performance, Wilson holds himself quite well on both an acting level and getting the chance to showcase his kickboxing skills on screen. Filipino actor Joe Mari Avellana plays Kwong, Jake’s mentor, who provides a good teacher role of sorts. Michael Shaner’s Baby is the comic relief of the film, while Riley Bowman, as Baby’s sister and Jake’s love interest, has no needs to be a damsel-in-distress, but instead becomes an important ally in the story.

In what would be a trend of Corman’s films, Wilson would co-star with some top notch martial arts talents. They would include Dutch-born Muay Thai kickboxing champion Rob Kaman as the German fighter Raton, superkicker and the founder of Tae-Bo himself, Billy Blanks, as Black Rose; and the hulking Chris Aguilar, who is known today as the head bodyguard and spiritual adviser of Filipino boxing champion/politician Manny Pacquiao. Ronald Asinas, Corman’s go-to guy for action in the Philippines, teams with Fred Esplana on the action scenes and for a late 80’s B-movie, it’s quite good. Especially seeing Wilson, Blanks, Kaman, and even Aguilar show their skills on the screen to good effect.

This film would go on to be one of Corman’s favorites in a way as he has made not only sequels to the series, but went as far as rebooting this film on four occasions. The first “reboot” came with Full Contact in 1993, which launched another kickboxing champion, Jerry Trimble, to leading man status. The second, 1993’s Angel Fist, was a female-driven reboot led by the late Cat Sassoon. 1994’s third reboot, Dragon Fire, was an attempt to launch New York-born martial artist and actor Dominic La Banca. Finally, in 2005, fans were treated to Bloodfist 2050, which was an attempt to launch XMA star Matt Mullins to leading star status and features Avellana as the head judge of the tournament.

In the end, Bloodfist is a worthy lead role debut for Don “The Dragon” Wilson, filled with a clichéd revenge plot, but decent fight sequences and well as makes good use of its location shooting.

WFG RATING: B

A Concorde (New Horizons) production. Director: Terence H. Winkless. Producers: Roger Corman and Cirio H. Santiago. Writer: Robert King. Cinematography: Ricardo Gale. Editing: Karen Horn.

Cast: Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Joe Mari Avellana, Michael Shaner, Riley Bowman, Billy Blanks, Rob Kaman, Chris Aguilar, Vic Diaz, Ned Hourani, Marilyn Bautista, Kenneth Peerless, Edgardo Castañeda.

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