a critiQal film review Bloodsport (1988)

  • DVD

Plot: U.S. soldier Frank Dux (Van Damme) has come to Hong Kong to be accepted into the Kumite, a highly secret and extremely violent martial-arts competition. While trying to gain access into the underground world of clandestine fighters, he also has to avoid military officers who consider him to be AWOL. After enduring a difficult training and beginning a romance with journalist Janice Kent (Ayres), Frank is given the opportunity to fight. But can he survive?

591 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 57s)

As usual, when looking for an older film to review for RetroReview Saturday, I turned to NetFlix® to see what they had to offer. This time, it was Bloodsport, the martial arts tournament flick starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Since I had never seen the film, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to check it out now. But would Bloodsport be as entertaining as it was to many back in the 80’s? Or has time ravaged yet another action film?

Jean-Claude Van Damme portrays Frank Dux, a real-life guy who went on to become renowned in the martial arts tournament known as the Kumite. Unlike his later roles (like Sudden Death (1995) and Timecop (1994)), he does a decent job of portraying the guy, even if without bringing any enthusiasm to the character. He’s not bad, but he’s shown in later films he can be much better.

Donald Gibb, mostly known now for his goofy role in Revenge of the Nerds, plays Ray Jackson, the silly friend of Dux. He’s around for most of the film seemingly just to provide some silly comic relief. While his character interactions do lead to a bigger involvement in the plot later on, the viewer never quite buys the friendship between his character and Van Damme. Van Damme seems to see Gibb more as a big dumb oaf (just like most viewers will now), rather than developing any sort of true friendship with the guy.

Bolo Yeung gives a decent performance as Chong Li, but even that is marred by his apparent inability to understand English, as he serves up mostly grunts and gestures rather than actually speaking. Some films may be able to make an actor more menacing by keeping him silent. Unfortunately, Bloodsport isn’t one of those films.

The rest of the cast are, honestly, rather ridiculous. Whether it’s the cheesy acting from Leah Ayres (who makes viewers believe they might have stumbled onto a spoof film), or the wasted talent of Forest Whitaker as a bumbling military cop, it’s almost painful to watch the rest of the cast do pretty much anything. Thankfully, their sequences are usually just segues between fights, so the viewer doesn’t have to put up with them for long.

While the plot is decent, it’s the soundtrack that really hurts Bloodsport these days. Full of unrecognizable 80’s power ballads, the soundtrack seems to have just been laid over the sequences without any regard as to how it might fit into the film. Whether it’s one of these power ballads crooning out during a chase sequence, or any of the other numerous sequences like it, the juxtaposition between the scenes on-screen and the soundtrack is just too jarring to make any sense. Sure, the final fight seems to fare a little better, but by that time the viewer is too far removed from the film to care as much anymore.

With a cheesy and quickly forgettable soundtrack, a badly miscast Gibb, and some pretty rough outings from it’s secondary characters, Bloodsport seems like a lost cause at first. But, with Jean-Claude delivering some solid martial arts action, and of course the idea this is based on a true story, help make the film at least watchable. Sure, it’s been outdone since (the exciting Mortal Kombat (1995) easily trumps this), but for the 80’s, it was pretty typical, and viewers may enjoy the retro cheesiness factor.

For me, though, I think one viewing was enough. If I want more 80’s cheese, I’ll go back to the much more entertaining (and hilarious) Big Trouble in Little China (1986).

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