Bloodsport (1988) dir. Newt Arnold


Here’s a little bit of trivia to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Bloodsport (1988):  While the film is billed as the true story of Frank Dux’s victory in the Kumite, it’s really just one screenwriter’s fascination with another man’s bullshit.

Sheldon Lettich was the man responsible for putting Bloodsport to paper. He had written it after spending quite some time with the eccentric Frank Dux, a maybe-talented fighter who had a penchant for telling stories. Sheldon had supposedly latched onto Dux’s story of an infamous life-or-death fighting tournament known as the aforementioned Kumite and figured “Why the hell not?”

Cannon Films took things from there, branding the picture with their signature low-to-medium budget approach to action and releasing it with the intent of pushing a home video release. It’s worth noting that this is where my history with Bloodsport began — it was one of those “why the hell not” films lingering in many video rental stores across the country, and was an early addition to the Films I Watched with My Dad series that is my life.

I would be lying if I said Bloodsport is a perfect film. I would also be lying if I told you there was a certain wow factor to the novelty of seeing Jean-Claude Van Damme in his first starring role.

Don’t get me wrong — Van Damme is an impressive figure to watch in action, but his performance is stilted at best. Where Bloodsport goes wrong is where many of Cannon’s films go wrong: it’s lop-sided, shoddily made, and just feels off. It’s the perfect illustration of a studio dealing exclusively in, as Roger Ebert once called them, “serious, marginal films.”

Cannon Films aren’t meant to be perfect, though, and Bloodsport is no exception. These are films you’re meant to watch with friends and enjoy at face value. You’re invited and encouraged to laugh at how ridiculous some moments are, especially once Bloodsport’s Donald Gibbs arrives. (Seriously… this movie made me think Gibbs was a true talent worthy of note. I was stupefied by how charming he came across and how real his chemistry with Van Damme felt.)

But there is something different about Bloodsport, in that it’s actually an impressive martial arts film. Van Damme brings his A-Game to impressive fight scenes and, with the added knowledge that there were no stunt doubles, the already-intense action rises to new stakes.

Oh, also Forest Whitaker is in it.

Seriously, though, I cannot imagine a film more suited for a late-night screening on a Saturday. With its perfect blend of hilarity and action, Bloodsport is a fantastic “what the hell” film to take at absolute face value.

dir. Newt Arnold
92 min.

Screens Saturday, 6/9, 11:59pm @ Coolidge Corner Theatre
Part of the ongoing series: Martial Art-house

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