dir: Newt Arnold, 1988
Okay, I’ll admit now: I haven’t seen the Karate Kid yet. Blame it on not being born in the 80’s. And not having cable in my formative years. I want to get that out of the way now, because Bloodsport definitely sits in that pantheon of the second wave of martial arts mania and commercialization that hit America’s shores in the 80’s.
Anyway, I sat down to watch Bloodsport the other night because why not?
This film is, at its worst, laughable. But, at its best it’s quite campy, thoroughly racist, and unintentionally funny. I’d like to point you in some of these directions.
First up we have the insanely hollow plot that can be summed up in a sentence or two: guy goes AWOL to avenge/honor his adopted Japanese friend and family in underground fighting tournament. Let’s note this right now: whenever the film strays too much from that singular idea, it steps into “dear lord this is horrible” territory. Almost in spite of this, the film keeps purporting subplots and narrative complexity.
And you will laugh at its attempts. At every. single. turn.
For instance, the sub-plot of the feds Hemler and Rawlins trying to “capture” Dux is so inept it felt like a real distraction from what we all came to see: the fighting. In addition, the initial serious tone of this manhunt loses all validity considering the film’s penchant for camp. A prime example is Dux’s escape via the streets (and alleys, and boats, and rickshaws) of Hong Kong. Why they tried to posit the Feds as anything but comedic was beyond me by that point.
This brings me to the reporter, Janice. First off, she’s a horrible reporter. Her introductory lines killed me. How do you get upset when the men you’re interviewing refuse to tell you about the secret fight club that’s a secret? The first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club, dummy.
Secondly, the romantics between Janice and Dux are complete filler. This is compounded by the fact that she’s only one of two women who have speaking roles in the film. The insult to injury here though is that her presence isn’t even needed for this film to be a complete narrative. When she does in fact try to impact the central story, it’s so laughable that the viewer can’t take it seriously. This is especially true when you realize the hypocrisy of her alerting the police, only when Dux and Jackson are at risk of being injured in the Kumite. She sat through a score of other men get hurt. But, her “love” for Dux after a one night stand behooves her.
Seriously, if this is going to be a boy’s club film, either make the women relevant or don’t include them at all. It’s insulting.
Which, brings me to my third observation: racissssm.
First off we get some foolery in the form of a wacky flashback. The classic unbelievable white man narrative is woven ever so nicely: acting as Tanaka’s surrogate son, Dux takes on the family mantle while mastering all things martial arts (in no time). The orientalist racism is thick here, from the mysterious and mystical arts to Tanaka’s jilted accent.
This theme is continued during Dux’s travel to Hong Kong, though the film does try to flip this script a bit with the [guy with mullet] character.
Lastly, one thing that got me was the implied racism of the black fighters not only being inept, but also the one guy doing a “monkey style” in the last few rounds. It’s comical at best, but the whole time I was just like “noap.”
Alas, it was the 80’s.
In any event, Bloodsport is best when it’s showcasing the fighting. It’s not the slick, dance-like choreography many modern action fans have become used to. But it’s still thoroughly entertaining, especially when Bolo or Van Damme are on the runway. Bolo’s presence is so menacing and impressive, if not a little cliched, that it took me a second to realize that he only spoke maybe three times in the whole film. In contrast, Van Damme is at his best when he’s not reciting lines. The ultimate clash between the two is classic fighting-film drama, with both famously memed moments and overused cliches.
But you know, I’m not here to just rag on the bad things: if you don’t take the film too seriously, it’s a decent watch. Granted, there are better martial arts films. But if you’d like to hop in the time machine and see a young Van Damme in his prime, this is a good start.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope