The Curator of Schlock #40 by Jeffrey Shuster

Bloodsport (Van Damme Hits Below the Belt!)

I have to warn you. 1988’s Bloodsport from director Newt Arnold is not for the faint of heart. This movie is based off real life events surrounding the Kumite, an underground martial arts tournament located in the dingy back alleys of Hong Kong. At the Kumite, martial artists from around the world compete for the ultimate prize, a katana blade. Frankly, I think the $10,000,000 prize offered in the DOA: Dead or Alive tournament was more impressive, but what do I know.

Anyway, the movie centers around United States Army Captain Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a Ninjutsu expert who decides to enter the Kumite. Unfortunately, Frank’s superiors don’t want one of Uncle Sam’s most valuable assets getting hurt in some illegal tournament. Frank decides to go AWOL causing Uncle Sam to send two of his finest agents to capture Dux and bring him back home. Forest Whitaker plays one of these agents, but that’s neither here nor there. Frank gives them the slip at every turn, proving that the Kumite is beyond Uncle Sam’s reach.

In Hong Kong, Frank befriends another tournament fighter by the name of Ray Jackson(Donald Gibb). He meets Ray in a hotel bar while he’s playing a karate video game. Frank and Ray duke it out in pixelated form. Frank beats Ray in the video game twice signaling to Ray that Frank must be a great fighter in the real world. This is demonstrated later when Frank manages to break the bottom brick in a brick pile. I’m more impressed by the fact that Ray can breaks bricks across his forehead.

When the tournament starts, it’s a feast for the senses. There’s this one guy who hops around like a spider and another who grabs his opponents in a bear hug until they go limp. Blood splatters on the mat each fight and it’s some poor schlub’s job to mop it up every time. This all done to the tune of some ultimate 80s songs by Stan Bush. Once you hear “Fight to Survive,” you won’t be able to get it of your head. That song has been kicking around in my brain for at least week.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be a Van Damme movie without some splits. I can’t help, but think if I ever tried the splits, my legs would stay that way permanently. While the Van Damme’s splits are impressive, the character of Frank Dux uses them for evil. When he’s fighting that bear hugger guy, he can’t seem to bring the man down. As a last resort, Frank does a split and punches the man in the sweet spot in a move I’ve dubbed “The Nutcracker.” Don’t ask me to explain further.

Speaking of evil, there’s a tournament fighter by the name of Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) who has a reputation for killing his opponents. This is probably due the fact that he kills his opponents. Hey, it’s Bloodsport! There are no rules. Even after one of Chong’s opponents is down for the count, he still delivers a humiliating finisher. Chong breaks the leg of this one guy and you can see the bone sticking out and everything. Chong even manages to defeat Ray Parker, sending him to the hospital. Later in the tournament, Chong snaps the neck of another opponent, killing him dead in front of the crowd while declaring to Frank, “You are next.” Will Frank Dux prevail, beat Chong Li, and be the first westerner to win the Kumite? I’ll never tell.

5 Things I Learned from Bloodsport

  1. Golan/Globus Productions provide a rare glimpse into an ’80s decade that never was, but should have been.
  2. Hitting below the belt just isn’t cricket.
  3. Brick -reaking is more impressive when it happens across a guy’s forehead.
  4. The martial sciences get more funding than the martial arts.
  5. Chong Li would make an excellent guest instructor at the Cobra Kai dojo. No mercy!


Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47) is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Central Florida.