Remakes have become a dime a dozen as of late. Hollywood has been remaking classics for years and some are as good as their predecessors, but a majority of them tend to be lesser received than their originals. While there have been remakes in the horror genre over the years as well as attempts at comedy, one such genre that has had its share of remakes is the martial arts film genre. In the case of the legendary Roger Corman, one such film has received remakes and versions over the course of just a year or two for some of its installments.
The film in question? Bloodfist, a tournament film about a man who learns martial arts to compete in a tournament to find out who killed his brother. This feature takes a look at the original film plus its four remakes, three released from 1993-1994 with its final remake released in 2005 as an attempt to launch new martial arts action stars.
These are true remakes to the original as they follow virtually the same plot with all its twists. The only major differences involve its setting of either location of time period and in the case of one remake, a gender reversal of the original film. This takes a look at how one B-movie would go to spawn a slew of remakes from the same producers as the original.
1989’s Bloodfist is the one to start it all. The film starred Don “The Dragon” Wilson, who at the time as hailed as the “greatest kickboxer of all time”. While Wilson had done bit parts in a few films, including 1982’s Hong Kong thriller New York Chinatown and the hit comedy Say Anything, this would be his first major lead role as he was discovered by the legendary Roger Corman.
Wilson plays ex-boxer Jake Raye, who saved his brother Mickey after donating his kidney to save him. When Jake learns that Mickey had died in Manila, he travels there and learns that Mickey was the winner of an underground martial arts tournament. Under the tutelage of the aging Kwong, Jake learns to mix his boxing skills with martial arts and competes in an effort to flush his brother’s killer. The film would feature major martial arts talents such as Dutch Muay Thai champion Rob Kaman, the legendary Billy Blanks, and Manny Pacquiao’s spiritual trainer and former martial arts champ Cris Aguilar, who himself would be a staple in many Filipino-shot action films of the 1990s.
Wilson would go on to reprise the Jake Raye role a year later in Bloodfist II before starring in six in-name sequels, all playing different characters. However, in true Corman fashion, to unleash an onslaught of bringing some martial arts talent to the screens, the producer would take Robert King’s original story and plan four remakes, three alone within the span of a year.
The first of these remakes is Full Contact, which starred another former kickboxing champion, Jerry “Golden Boy” Trimble. Prior to this lead role debut, Trimble would be seen as the main villain of Jet Li and Tsui Hark’s The Master and have the role of a menacing foul-mouthed drug dealer in The King of the Kickboxers. This would be the first of Trimble’s many films with Corman’s Concorde Pictures, starring in a number of films from 1993 to 1995 before making it on his own as a successful stuntman and actor.
Trimble plays Luke Powers, who arrives in Los Angeles to see his brother Johnny. However, upon his arrival, he learns that Johnny was killed after competing in an alley fight tournament. Luke meets the mysterious Pep, who takes Luke under his wing and teaches him to fight in order to prepare for the next tournament in order to find out who could have killed him.
Like Bloodfist, the film features many prominent martial arts champions, including champion kickboxers Gerry Blanck and Dino Homsey, the legendary Howard Jackson, Joe Charles, and even in a non-fighting role, Michael Jai White as the emcee of the tournament, Low-Ball. The film’s fight scenes show just why Trimble is hailed as one of the fastest kickers in the sport of kickboxing. With his prior knowledge of Hong Kong style action, Trimble makes his fights look breezy and shows some great talent not just as a martial artist, but as an actor as well.
The second remake would be a gender reversal version of the original, entitled Angelfist. The film would star Catya Sassoon, an actress who learned martial arts and had a chance to fight Don Wilson in Bloodfist IV: Die Trying and Bloodfist VI: Ground Zero, the latter released after this film. Sassoon was the daughter of famed hairstylist Vidal Sassoon.
In this film, Sassoon played Katara “Kat” Lang, a Los Angeles police officer who goes to the Philippines after her sister witnesses a murder involving a political conspiracy. When her sister is found dead, Kat learns that the person responsible may be involved in an upcoming kickboxing tournament and Kat is determined to enter the tournament to avenge her sister.
Unlike its predecessors, there wasn’t any prominent martial arts talents with the exception of the late Roland Dantes, a well-known Filipino martial artist and film star. Here, Dantes plays Kat’s trainer Bayani. The film does have another connection with the original Bloodfist as Michael Shaner, who played Baby in the original film, here plays a con man turned love interest in Alcatraz. The film also features a major amount of “T&A” with even one scene having a topless Sassoon fighting off against some goons in her hotel room.
Sadly, Catya Sassoon passed away on January 1, 2002 at the age of 33 of an accidental drug overdose.
The third remake, made in 1993 as well, is Dragon Fire. The film’s major difference was the setting of the year 2050 in Los Angeles, taking elements of Full Contact. This time around, New York-based actor Dominick LaBanca makes his lead role debut as Laker Powers, a young man who comes to L.A. to find out his brother Johnny was killed after winning a tournament. Laker meets Slick, who takes him under his wing for the upcoming tournament.
Kisu, who played Slick, also served as the film’s fight choreographer. The film would make good use of prominent martial arts talents including kickboxing champion turned stuntman Dennis Keiffer (who many will remember as the bullwhip wielding henchman of Christopher Walken’s villain character in The Rundown) as the ill-fated Johnny Powers, Michael Blanks, and Harold Hazeldine.
It would be LaBanca’s first and only foray into the martial arts genre. LaBanca is a martial artist, holding a black belt in karate, which helped him with the fight scenes.
After Dragon Fire, things went dormant until 2005 when another remake was announced. The new film, Bloodfist 2050, was an attempt to launch Matt Mullins as an action star. A formidable martial arts champion, Mullins would be a co-founder in the style known as Extreme Martial Arts with fellow champion Mike Chaturantabut. His team known as Sideswipe would gain national recognition when they won the show 30 Seconds to Fame and scored in the top 8 of America’s Got Talent.
Mullins took on the role of Alex Danko, who arrives to visit his brother Johnny, a prominent pit fighter. When Johnny is discovered to have died, Alex finds himself at a crossroads. Meeting Slick, Alex prepares for the upcoming tournament, so he can flush out his brother’s killer.
The film would mark a welcome return to two veterans of the Bloodfist legacy. Joe Mari Avellana, who played Jake’s mentor Kwong in the original film, would now play the emcee of the tournament. In a comic relief scene, he shoots down a fan who is attempting to cause trouble by talking when the emcee is making his announcement. The second is Bloodfist II’s Monsour del Rosario, a taekwondo champion and ambassador, who plays the bad fighter Ahmed. The film also would feature a very amazing fight between Mullins and his Sideswipe cohort Chris Brewster (who would go on to become a major force in Marvel productions as a stuntman, notably Daredevil). Mullins continues to work as both an actor and stuntman today.
This is the ninth official film in the series despite original star Don Wilson not being involved in any manner.
While Bloodfist is far from being “groundbreaking”, the fact that it scored four remakes, three alone in one year is something that can’t really be ignored. Roger Corman is in some ways, a crazy genius, but it is that combination of madness and smartness that makes these films known in the martial arts film world. His attempt to launch action stars has been met with quite interesting notions and the fights are not bad for what they bring to the table.
Bloodfist Angelfist, and Bloodfist 2050 are available on DVD while Full Contact and Dragon Fire are not available on DVD, but they are on old school VHS.
Growing up a trip 2 our local video store was always a gift for me cause I’ve always loved martial arts films and B-grade kickboxing flicks were usually a treat for me. My first exposure 2 Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson was when I saw him in Ground Zero and I wouldn’t get to see the other Bloodfist films until early 2000 when we got our first Blockbuster video franchise in my town. Before that though, I saw ‘Angelfist’ and then ‘Dragon Fire’ totally unaware that these films were all remakes of the original Bloodfist then by chance I happened to purchase Bloodfist from Blockbuster, which let to me seeing Bloodfist 2050 later down the road.
Granted the fight scenes were mediocre at best but it was fun watching Don’s character Jake kick ass in the Tai-Chung tournament of champions. Because I had already seen Dragon Fire and Angelfist, it wasn’t hard 4 me to predict what was going to happen in Bloodfist or Bloodfist 2050 since they all follow the same generic formula for vengeance. Some of the Bloodfist titles have good fight scenes and others didn’t (depending on the choreographer). Truth be told, Kisu (the guy who played Slick) who choreographed the fights for Dragon Fire should’ve been in charge for the fight scenes in the later Bloodfist series.
All in all though, Bloodfist will always be considered a fan favorite of mine. Like Bloodsport and Mortal Kombat, Bloodfist is a ‘gathering for the most awesome human weapons’ 🙂