Kidding, of course. I just didn't have the heart to throw in a Bloodsport teaser and then make my seven readers wait the usual 5-18 months. That's right, folks, it's time to celebrate Jean Claude Van Damme as well as the highly underrated Illegal Underground Pit Fighting Tournament genre. In which this movie might be the solo entry.
(Kickboxer and Lionheart don't count. The former scored points for bringing the world's attention to kickboxing's oft-ignored Hands Wrapped in Ropes, Dipped In Maple Syrup and Coated In Broken Glass division. And Lionheart was a wonderful documentary expose on how folks like Jerry Jones and the Koch brothers spend their spare time betting on homeless people with various martial arts black belts who fight in parking garages and ballrooms. But neither of these were tournaments. Important distinction.)
But let's start out with a quick Movie That Just Missed the List:
In 1993, Disney got into the based-on-a-true-story/underdog/feel-good movie business with Cool Runnings, based very loosely on the first Jamaican bobsled team. Despite the success of this one, they stayed out of the genre until leaping in again in 2000 with Remember The Titans which would start a run of seven DSF's (Disney Sports Flicks) being released between 2000 and 2010. Because you're curious, the others were:
2002 - The Rookie
2004 - Miracle
2005 - The Greatest Game Ever Played
2006 - Glory Road
2006 - Invincible
2010 - Secretariat
And with Million Dollar Arm recently added, they appear to not have abandoned the concept. Some of these will make the list, others like Cool Runnings will just miss and those starring Shia LaBeouf will be utterly ignored unless I decide to do a separate article on Actors Who Irritate Almost Everyone.
Cool Runnings is a true Just Missed. There's nothing much to dislike about it other than the fact it's utterly Disneyfied. No cussing, no boobs, no sex and no blood that can't be wiped off an upper lip with the back of the hand. The object of these movies is to feel good as the credits roll and Runnings is no exception.
The Disney shows all go with "the based on a true story" tagline and none of them took a wider path around the true story than Runnings. Here is a pretty decent take on the real story if you're interested. For instance, the guy who organized the team wasn't a drunken, disgraced former bobsledder, but one has to admit that John Candy is certainly more interesting than the real story - if nothing else, for the "bones don't break, they shatter" scene that scares everyone off.
But the likability of the story left few people caring about these things. The Hollywood version has Big John rounding up three clumsy Jamaican sprinters and a Rasta comedy relief guy, all with sketchy Jamaican accents. They train in pushcarts on rocky slopes, overcome obstacles & cash issues and head for Canada. Once there they deal with the charming social skills for which the Germans have become famous as well as career bad guy actors and prepare to compete. Bad runs, good runs, wipeouts, goosebumps and tears, the end.
In the end, this one was on and off the list 2 or 3 times. With a sex scene or some well-placed F-bombs, who knows? The next entrant on the list had the good sense to include these things so we now come to:
#46 - Bloodsport
Anybody with HBO or Cinemax in the late 80's and 90's has entertained themselves with multiple viewings of this American classic, which is one of the finest movies ever made about a Canadian-American with a Belgian accent who dips himself in Wesson before fights or sex scenes. Jean Claude Van Damme plays Frank Dux, the first American to ever win the Kumite which is an international no-holds-barred annual underground tournament. Or something like that.
(By the way, Bloodsport also makes the "based on a true story" claim. I'm betting Cool Runnings comes off like a 30 for 30 documentary in comparison.)
Anyway, the flick kicks off with a montage to a bad song where they say "Kumite" a bunch while showing everyone training for the big fight. That means we got sparring partners getting knocked unconscious, coconuts breaking and one guy leaping around like a monkey and doing somersaults. These guys are READY.
Next we meet JCVD/Frank Dux getting ready to spend his furlough mixing it up with these assorted badasses in Hong Kong. The military for some odd reason has a problem with their highly trained asset spending his leisure time this way, so they try to confine him to the base. This ends predictably and while JCVD heads over to his master's house for some last minute advice, the military summons fat Forrest Whitaker and an old white guy, arms them with tasers (1) and tells them to drag JCVD back against his will. Feel free to guess how that turns out.
Anyway, JCVD visits his old karate master Tanaka on his deathbed and it's time for a flashback. Turns out little JCVD tried to steal old man Tanaka's samurai sword but got caught in the act. The old sensei chopped the bill off his baseball cap, then dragged him home to his parents and said he wanted to train him with his own boy whom he was getting in shape to fight in the Kumite when he was older. JCVD's parents saw nothing odd about turning their boy over to a complete stranger who was training his own kid for an illegal underground pit fight where dudes get killed on occasion, so it was on. Then the master's kid died, and the old man tried to pull the plug but JCVD said he'd fight for the Tanaka family name, so the old man tied him to trees in "uncomfortable" positions (2), taught him how to fight blindfolded like Luke Skywalker and it was game on once more.
Now that the audience is up to speed, it's time to head to Hong Kong.
After checking into the hotel, the first thing JCVD needs is a BFF and who better to fill that bill than Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds?! Also, milling around the hotel is the Star Athlete's Token Sex Partner - in this case, an annoying reporter that JCVD will no doubt have to 1) save, 2) put in her place and 3) oil himself up to have sex with. This role is ALWAYS crucial to the plot.
Anyway, Ogre and JCVD meet a little fast-talker named Lin who's apparently in charge of showing fighters which seedy back alleys to take to the underground "arena". He uses his powers of annoyance to get them all past the burly Chinese Mafia door guards and, just like that they're in!
Well, not quite.
Illegal underground pit fighting tournaments have stringent check-in requirements and these almost sidetrack JCVD right out of the gate.There was no facial recognition technology in 1988, but regardless, the old Chinese guys in robes that run the event are just a little skeptical that an American who talks like Frenchman with a mouthful a waffles is part of the fabled Tanaka clan. Naturally, there's a contingency plan in place. They make a few uneven piles of bricks and tell JCVD he can only enter the tourney if he does Old Man Tanaka's Jedi Brick Smashing trick by busting one on the bottom without harming any of the others.
JCVD says "N----a, please!" or something to that effect before popping the bottom brick like a zit.
This is where we get our first look at Chong Li, defending Kumite champion and owner of some of the largest man breasts in the recorded history of cinema. He is wholly unimpressed by the display commenting, "Bricks not hit back." No one has the balls to call him Captain Obvious.
Back at the hotel,
the token naked chick reporter is pestering a couple guys with turbans to spill the beans on the Kumite. Visionaries such as the directors of Bloodsport and Iron Eagle knew that the days of making bad guys of the Germans and Vietnamese were coming to an end. They also knew that Reagan and Bush had not yet recognized 'Merica's future enemies. A warning shot was fired right here and the world failed to take heed: People from the Middle East are bad news and hate Americans. Even Americans with French/Belgian accents.
So naturally, Middle Easterners are the type of people that when asked by a hot female reporter to provide scuttlebutt on Illegal Underground Pit Fighting Tournaments, they will respond by demanding sex from said hot female reporter and then get all grabby and slappy when told no.
JCVD intervenes and naturally almost sets of a hotel lobby rumble, but then declines by instead reminding them that they get kicked out of the tourney if they brawl off the mat, so instead he challenges them to a coin snatching contest. The fighting pride of Iran, having no idea that JCVD is an Oriental Jedi, accepts, loses, makes big, shocked roundeyes and skulks off snarling in a bad accent.
So, the next day, the tournament is on and JCVD and Ogre are told that there are only three ways to win:
2) Make the other guy say, "Matte" (verbal equivalent of tap out)
3) Push the other dude off the mat
Now, with #3 being an option, I'd think that crucial Kumite skills would be tripping or shoving really hard or something. But no.
Anyway, the tournament is on and the first few matches are underway with blood and teeth flying as the Kumite song plays again. Chong Li knocks his boy silly and also manages to break his own fastest knockout record while the crowd chants his name. For a secret tournament, they manage to draw a pretty good crowd - mostly rich dudes and what I assume are the late 80's Hong Kong equivalent of modern American clowns with barb-wire tattoos who wear Affliction t-shirts in public.
Next up is JCVD's opening round bout - and in an amazing coincidence, he'll be taking on the Iranian woman-slapper! And having seen that there's a Fastest Knockout record as well as gold tooth in the Iranian's mouth, you can pretty much guess what's going to happen next. Chong Li's going to get mightily pissed off watching his record fall and the ring janitor is going to be richer by exactly the one gold tooth that was unceremoniously kicked out of the Ayatollah's mouth.
I should mention here that this tournament is in possession of the world's fastest scoreboard painter. When a record is broken, boom, within seconds a hand painted sign with the new record pops into place while Sylvania 75 watt bulbs flash randomly around it.
Anyway, the camera pans to show Chong Li's eyes getting big and his man boobs furiously bouncing like like that Irish " "Riverdance" guy. He's obviously very upset.
Back at the hotel, Fat Forrest and his Crusty White Sidekick attempt to take JCVD into custody. After Ogre tackles them, it's time for a foot pursuit through Hong Kong. It would have lasted about 4 seconds, but JCVD is unconcerned about being tased and kidnapped by MP's, so he stops several times to smirk at them and let them catch up. Once he ditches them, he heads back to the hotel to have dinner with the reporter, oil up, close the deal and walk around in man-thong briefs. On to day two.
Chong Li fights a guy who will later shave his head, put on some possibly offensive Oriental eye make-up and become better known as Tong Po from the previously mentioned Kickboxer. JCVD continues to kick ass although he runs into big trouble with a big Fat Guy who has one of those rock-hard beer guts. JCVD counters with a strategy of split-sliding under his crotch and firing an uppercut to his dick. For some reason, this is the only crowd in history who appreciates this as a strategy instead running JCVD out of the arena.
Next up is Chong vs.Ogre. In a scene that Game of Thrones directly ripped off for its Mountain vs. Oberyn "The Red Viper" Martell death scene, Ogre opens the fight by beating the living shit out of Chong and flattening him to the canvas. Since the movie requires Chong to be in the final, Ogre decides to turn his back on him and run around hooting like a like drunk freshman. This tactic results in him losing his Harley bandanna and being hospitalized.
After some crap from the dizzy reporter about how this tournament is *gasp* dangerous!, day three is set to begin. Every good athlete realizes the importance of a quality warmup and JCVD is no exception. After a light routine of beating up half the Hong Kong police force to get in the arena and then using a trash can lid to disarm the taser-toting MP super twins, Jean Claude is ready to rock.
JCVD takes care of business in the semis. Chong Li realizing his breasts aren't having the intimidating effect that he had hoped, decides to send a message by snapping the neck of his mostly unconscious semi-final opponent. You'd think that even in a Kumite-type competition, there might be a rule against cold-blooded murder, but apparently this organization's commissioner is the Hong Kong equivalent of Roger Goodell. (3) So no harm, no foul, let's start the finals.
For the second time, a fight starts with Chong Li getting his butt handed to him. When he sees that JCVD won't turn his back and wander off like his idiot friend, he goes for the old WWF Mr. Fuji trick of pulling some Japanese blinding salts out his trunks and throwing them in JCVD's face. JCVD immediately screams and goes blind, which is how I'm pretty sure I'd react if I was hit in the face with anything that had spent a half hour in Chong Li's shorts.
Fortunately, in addition to martial arts, Tanaka also trained JCVD in the use of the force. So JCVD stops sniffling, gathers his Jedi powers, slaps Chong around a little despite being blinded by sweaty crotch salt, then chokes him out and makes him tap/say "matte" and grabs Ogre's Harley headband back.
Back at the hospital JCVD and Ogre stun the viewing audience by actually acting and drawing a little tear from everyone with Ogre's "Anytime, anywhere, I'll be there," scene.
Then it's off to the airport to meet the Wonder Twin MP's and take a martial arts pose for a freeze frame at the top of the jet ramp while all the Illegal Underground Pit Fighting records that Frank Dux set flash across the screen.
Onto the rankings:
Quality of Sports Scenes: No shortage of action and this is JCVD at his very best. Tourney fighting, Air Force base escaping, Iranian jerk place-putting, trash can lid fu, weird training, street chasing, brick-busting and weird face-making. He's in fine form.
Grade: **** - Devaney
Music: The Kumite song.
Grade: * - Callahan
Love Interest: Cute blonde reporter who's trying to get her career jump-started with a scathing freelance expose of the Illegal Underground Pitfighting sub-culture. Sleeps with JCVD to score tickets to the event but is so bad at it that no only does he fail to make with the tickets, he seems more interested in staring at himself in his briefs afterward. Bonus points for finding her way in by posing as a whore for a rich old guy.
Grade: ** - Solich
Adrenalin/Goosebump Scenes: You know it's not that kind of a movie when the closest thing to that is JCVD and Ogre making everyone cry at the end. This is just action, not emotion.
Grade: *1/2 - Callahan +
Comedy: What little of it there is comes from Ogre as the drunken, goofy brawler and Fat Forrest and his Old White Sidekick chasing JCVD around with tasers.
Grade: ** - Solich
Unintentional Comedy: An Oscar contender in this category in any year. Let's just stand in awe and check a quick list: The kid playing young JCVD, JCVD Jedi blindfold training, JCVD flexibility training, the monkey fu fighter, the fat rock-hard beer gut fighter, the dickish Iranian in an Oscar-worthy performance in this category, the guys in robes who make big eyes all the time & run the tourney, the MP Wonder Twins, the Hong Kong police chief never fazed by these goings ons, the whole idea that you can win by shoving a dude off the mat, the ditzy blonde who was cast as a "reporter", every time JCVD talks, the Mr.Fuji salt to the face trick, the mat wiper who steals the gold tooth - I could do this all night.
Grade: ***** - Osborne. This is what every movie should aspire to in this category.
The Training Montage: Solid work here. Not only does it focus on JCVD training by fighting blindfolded, grabbing fish out of the pond and having his groin torn, it shows the other fighters doing their thing too - throwing guys around, breaking coconuts, etc. It's a little different seeing it all at the beginning of the movie but solid work nonetheless. Might have scored higher if not for the Kumite song.
Score: *** - Pelini
Rewatchability: Very high. They're either training, fighting, running or breaking things. And there's a sex scene for good measure, so you can pretty much jump in anywhere. It wasn't a 90's cable staple for nothing, folks.
Score: *** - Pelini
OVERALL: Anytime a flick completely dominates its category, it's going to score fine. Bloodsport is the clear king of the Illegal Underground Pitfighting Tournament genre. It also scores very well in two very important categories. If you're not going to be a classic, you have to show well in Unintentional Comedy and BS has that in spades. It also scores well in the extremely important Rewatchability. I give it...
Score: *** - Pelini
(1) - The 80's were a beautiful time when you could bring your oversized tasers on international flights and run around firing them off in foreign cities. Fuck you, Al Qaeda.
(2) - I always wanted to be flexible enough to kick cigarettes out of guys mouths like Billy Jack. Who knew the secret was being tied to bamboo shoots and stretched for hours while screaming your head off?
(3) - Will I get fired for that? Apparently, an ESPN employee requirement is to pretend publicly that Roger the Dodger is as brilliant as he is witty. To me, that's like telling people my dog can play cello in the symphony and expecting them to believe it but whatever.