This movie is one of my favorite things; a movie with a Critic Rating scale on the low side (40%), but an audience rating on the high side (74%). Movies like this are the reason I do what I do here. I review these titles, not as a film school graduate, but as an audience member. I wanted to review movies from a general audience perspective, and it probably shows with how generous I tend to be with some of my ratings. I therefore go against the grain on this one, and hop in there with the audience, because 'Bloodsport' has so much still going for it.
The film centers on American Army Captain, Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who's sensei, Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao) trained in the art of Ninjutsu. Tanaka took Dux under his wing, as a child, who broke into Tanaka's house to steal a katana. Tanaka tells Dux that a katana is not to be stolen, but earned through strict training, and such is done, alongside Shingo (Sean Ward), Tanaka's son. Eventually Shingo fights in an illegal underground tournament held in Hong Kong called the Kumite, which kills him, and soon Dux is trained to become a member of the Tanaka clan through a pretty brutal but bad ass training montage. Dux is then invited to fight in the same tournament, and the movie really makes you wonder how they got a movie like 'Street Fighter' so screwed up.
His superiors refuse to let him go, so Dux just says "the hell with it" and goes to Hong Kong to fight, anyway. This leads to Criminal Investigation Command officers, Helmer (Norman Burton) and Rawlins (Forest Whitaker) to track him down. Meanwhile, once he gets to Honk Kong, Dux is befriended by a fellow tournament fighter, Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) and a streetwise guide named Victor Lin (Ken Siu). The pair are lead to the tournament, Dux performs some bad assery to prove he's worthy to fight, and the tournament begins. Soon the attention of Kumite champion, Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) is caught when Dux breaks his record for fastest knock-out - guess who the villain is. As for romantic interest, that's here too, with American journalist, Janice Kent (Leah Ayres), who's investigating the Kumite, which could mean trouble.
Anyway, the bottom line is that if you wanna see Jean-Claude Van Damme in a better 'Street Fighter' movie that's more about the tournament than anything else, this is a very good place to turn. Let's face facts, the fighting and bad-assery is why anyone is gonna watch this movie and enjoy it. Things like acting and bad dubbing are to be overlooked, and it's a simple story of vengeance, complete with some gnarly broken bone scenes. With that, there's not a whole lot more to say about 'Bloodsport'. It's an hour and a half of Jean-Claude Van Damme training and fighting, but make no mistake, it's not as dull as that either. There's a generous sense of humor behind it, and there's a charm when we see the friendship between Dux and Ray. It's that same buddy-buddy thing you got with Maverick and Goose from 'Top Gun'.
'Bloodsport' has developed a really generous cult following over the years since its release, and some might even claim this as Van Damme's real breakout performance. Up until this point, he was credited as a movie goer, a spectator, a soldier, a "gay karate man", and finally, Ivan Kraschinsky the Russian in 'No Retreat, No Surrender', which he's known for, but I daresay it doesn't have quite the same strength as 'Bloodsport' as a popular movie. I actually remember peers talking about this movie when I was a kid, and how cool JCVD was. Some would even challenge Schwarzenegger's awesomeness with his. Bear in mind that a LOT of my peers were watching things like gory horror at a super early age.
Without this being the suggestion of a dear old friend, I'm not sure I ever would have gotten around to watching it. It was always one of those martial arts movies that for whatever reason I never got super into (which is super weird, considering some of my particular tastes). When you picture your ideal-minded kid when it came to watching violence, I was damn near perfect. I didn't even start getting into horror until I was about 17, so movies like this were just off my radar, growing up. Nowadays, it's really just more interesting to watch as a piece of cinematic history. It was movies like this that prompted American action filmmakers to say "let's get the guy who can do the splits, he's awesome." It's well worth the hour and a half, and my criticisms are so minimal they don't matter. Just sit back and watch the fight.