Bloodsport (1988)

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*. Bloodsport is actually one word. In 1988, before the Internet permitted and then required that all words be run together into web-address portmanteaus, that was rare.
*. Like a lot of young men in 1988, I was terribly impressed by this movie when it came out. I may have even seen it twice. But I don’t think I ever watched it again until recently.
*. It hasn’t held up well. Of course the music and the fashion styles have all dated, sometimes in humorous ways. I can overlook the reporter’s big hair, but Jean-Claude Van Damme’s outfits look so conventionally gay they’re funny. Which, of course, makes his declaration of love for Jackson at the end all the more eyebrow-raising.
*. What I found most surprising, however, was how bad the fight scenes were. The fighters’ movements seem very slow, and entirely unconvincing. None of the fighters have much in the way of defence and basically the losers just stand up straight, with their hands down at their sides, waiting to take unrealistic highlight-reel shots to the body or head.

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*. Even throwing dust in the eyes of your opponent is a cliché (it’s used, for example, against James Cagney in City for Conquest, which was 1940). And by the way, how on earth does the ref, and everyone in the stands, miss that? Or are there no rules at the kumite, short of not killing your opponent?
*. The fights were choreographed by Frank Dux, whose story this presumably is. I add the qualifier because controversy surrounds a number of the claims made at the end about how dominant a fighter Dux was.
*. Of course all of the movie that isn’t the kumite is bad, but I had forgotten just how bad. Much of the dialogue sounds like it’s dubbed, even when I don’t think it is. I suspect the terrible writing has something to do with it (“You break my record, now I break you, like I break your friend!”). The set-up is the usual cliché about the warrior who has to win the tournament to honour his dying master and avenge his fallen friend. The reporter (what was her name? Janice?) is something even less than a romantic interest. She’s a cutaway at the main event, reacting in delight or horror at the proceedings. The bad guy is . . . Bolo Yeung. Enough said.

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*. Given the size of the shaved and glistening pecs on Van Damme and Yeung one could be forgiven for thinking that final match was about to descend into a wild bit of lesbian pornography. You have to imagine the response of Groucho Marx, who famously said that he never went to see a movie where the man’s tits were bigger than the woman’s (I think he had Victor Mature in mind).
*. Another example of how much things have dated is the wild chimpanzee fighting style of the African fighter. I don’t think you’d get away with presenting a black fighter as a monkey today.
*. Poor Forest Whitaker, to be seen in such a bad movie and not even have anything to do. Even his partner seems annoyed at his presence most of the time.

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*. Van Damme isn’t much of an actor, though he did go on to show . . . something (self-awareness?) . . . in JCVD. It wasn’t important for ’80s action stars to be able to act. They had to have a physical presence. Van Damme had that, and he could do the splits. He’s really good at doing the splits. They became his signature.
*. I’m not twenty years old any more, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to watch this movie again. Sure, some of it is so bad it’s funny, but that’s not enough. At least it isn’t for me, any more.

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