Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky Joes from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Bloodsport.”
The Movie: “Bloodsport”
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Ayres
Director: Newt Arnold
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Follows Frank Dux, an American martial artist serving in the military, who decides to leave the army to compete in a martial arts tournament in Hong Kong where fights to the death can occur.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 33 percent
Froemming: Hey, we are back after a brief hiatus. Given it was the first in two-and-a-half-years, I say that is pretty good. I will not get into all the details, but our former platform is shutting down so we moved our butts here. Unchained by our parent company, does that mean we will finally give you JOE-DOWN NIGHTS, where we go full-on uncensored to the seductive sax-driven tunes of Glenn Frey? Who the (REDACTED) knows, but for now, we are continuing what we started.
The original JOE-DOWN was birthed with a Jean-Claude Van Damme flick “Welcome to the Jungle,” and for its rebirth, I decided to kick things off with JCVD again with “Bloodsport.”
Now, as someone who came of age in the ‘80s and ‘90s with cable TV, “Bloodsport” was a movie that seemed to always be on TBS. I have seen this movie in patches too many times to count, and sat through it in one sitting a few times in my youth. And all I recalled was the cool fighting. What I didn’t recall was a lot of the odd acting and bonkers flashbacks that almost make the movie more confusing.
Brown, why don’t you give us your first thoughts as I punch a bunch of bricks?
Brown: This movie is ‘80s incarnate.
You have training montages, a foreign musclehead whose acting skills are… subpar at best. A soundtrack with Stan Bush. It has everything.
Does that make it a good movie? Well…
Now, I had only seen the most ridiculous parts of this movie in clips and listened to the “How Did This Get Made” episode but had never seen the movie in its full form. And somehow, this movie is way more bizarre in its full form.
I’m going to try and steal a katana, so I’ll let you get this underway, Froemming.
Froemming: This movie, which is a Cannon joint so you know it is going to be baffling, begins with a montage of sorts of people breaking ice bricks with their hands and feet and, hilariously, a guy just jumping through a bunch of wooden boards. Thus making this a book you most definitely can judge by its cover.
Brown: Let’s all take a moment to appreciate that this movie is based on claims by the real Frank Dux, which have pretty much been proven to be total BS.
Essentially, this is the origin story of the Rex Kwon Do guy from “Napoleon Dynamite.”
Froemming: I was thinking Dux was the inspiration for Nick Notle’s character in “Tropic Thunder.”
So, among the random people we see is Ray Jackson, which cinema history has taught me he really hates nerds, who is going to Hong Kong for
Mortal Kombat Kumite, a balls-out fighting event where grown men beat the living snot out of one another.
And we also meet Frank Dux (pronounced Dukes, and mocked later as Ducks), a military man we learn nothing about his profession who sneaks off base to visit his ailing master or whatever, Senzo Tanaka.
This is where things go off the rails fast. Brown, why don’t you get us into this Hunter Thompson-esque drug fueled fever dream.
Brown: This sequence is “The Room”-level insanity.
So we see a group of kids come into a house through the window. Among them, a young Frank Dux, who is a HUGE fan of the Giants. Which one? I have no (REDACTED) clue. He’s wearing a San Francisco Giants BASEBALL hat with his New York Giants FOOTBALL jersey. That alone had me discombobulated.
The group of delinquents are about to steal a sword belonging to the Tanakas before they get spooked, save for Frank. And when Senzo and his son, Shingo, find him red-handed, Shingo kicks him in the gut. And instead of saying, you know, “I’m calling the cops, get the (REDACTED) out of my house,” Senzo tells Frank that you must earn a sword then PROCEEDS TO SWING THE SWORD AT A (REDACTED) KID, cutting the brim of his cap.
Because he doesn’t move, apparently Frank has fighting spirit.
Young Frank also has the strangest accent put to film save for Tommy Wiseau. In fact, I thought for a second he was a young Tommy.
Froemming: Young Frank Dux seems like the weird kid in elementary school who ate paint chips. He also reminded me of our buddy Rod from “Birdemic.”
And hence, we get a montage of young Frank getting his ass handed to him by Shingo his whole childhood.
Brown: Quick question, and I hope I don’t come off bad here. Now, how weird is it that Shingo, the Japanese immigrant, speaks better English than anyone in this movie?
Froemming: It is a Cannon film, it is best not to ponder such things.
Well, one day at school, a group of bullies are beating up Shingo and Frank steps in and goes all Mr. Miyagi on them. And we get another round of WTF early on in this movie.
Shingo, recovering from his beat-down, doesn’t thank his weirdo pal Frank, he says he will one day fight in the Kumite! This kid is what, 13? He is already itching to kill a man, and he drops it in the weirdest (REDACTED) way. “I will not thank you Frank, but I do want to kill someone in bloodsport one day.”
Brown: Fast-forward back to present day, and Shingo is dead due to plot motivation. To honor his childhood friend and his mustached father, Frank asks Senzo to train him for the Kumite, which Senzo reluctantly agrees to after a poorly annunciated speech by Frank.
What does this training incorporate? Why, Frank never learning how to defend a judo toss, getting hit with a stick, learning how to set a table for tea as Mrs. Tanaka gives Frank some huge (REDACTED)-me eyes. And also, splits.
I kept a tally; we see the splits five times in this movie. We also see JCVD’s bare butt at one point because of course we do.
Froemming: Well, Frank gets his big invite to Kumite and just goes AWOL from the military like he’s Buster Bluth or something. He drops by the Tanakas for one last goodbye and he heads to Hong Kong, to honor these folks in a fighting tournament where people get seriously injured. I don’t know, it seems like the Tanakas were a family of sociopaths.
Brown: OK, Frank’s military career, I seriously had no idea what was going on.
He’s apparently some lethal weapon soldier like Cameron Poe in “Con-Air” and the Army is hell-bent to keep him away from going to the Kumite. And they go so far as to search the globe for this man who, for all intents and purposes, plans to return to base after he competes.
So to go with this haphazard story of human cockfighting, we have this silent movie-era shenanigans with a pair of cops, one of which is a young Forest Whitaker (!!). This movie actually had someone that won an Academy Award.
Froemming: That really threw me off. I guess the man had to start somewhere, I just didn’t think it would be here.
Now Frank arrives in Hong Kong and meets Ray Jackson, my favorite character in this. The man is only seen without a beer in his hand when he is fighting or in a coma from having his head stomped. No fears, he comes out of said coma and drinks beer from his hospital bed.
Brown: There’s a good reason for that. The same actor who plays Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) is also Ogre from “Revenge of the Nerds.”
I feel like Ray Jackson has been typecast.
But I agree: He’s the best character of the movie. In this tournament of what they describe as the greatest fighters in the world in their respective disciplines, here is some pro wrestler-looking dude who fights in sweatpants and a Harley Davidson shirt.
Froemming: He’s a black belt in the ancient art of Bar Brawling.
Now, Frank Meets Ray at a hotel and honestly I really loved they bonded over playing a video game in the hotel bar. I feel like that was how I met some of my own friends as a little kid when arcades existed. Except these two are grown adults. Proving video games are the best.
Brown: At the hotel, we’re also introduced to Janice, an American reporter who is trying to tell the world about the secretive Kumite, which is apparently run by the mob in Hong Kong.
Froemming: Two issues here. One, an American reporter would probably not be sent to an elaborate underground fight club in a foreign nation.
Brown: To be fair, this was a time when there was money in journalism and newspapers WOULD let a reporter globetrot for a story.
Froemming: You’re blowing my mind here.
Two, she doesn’t understand journalism at all. I hate when movies try to show how reporting is done. It certainly isn’t hanging around random hotel bars asking strangers about illegal fighting rings going on. It is sitting at your desk waiting for the damn phone to ring as you shovel fast food and caffeine in your system.
Brown: It baffles me when she is introduced and unsuccessfully tries to get into the Kumite, the guys she talks to won’t say a word about a secret tournament. You know, it’s a secret and all. And then, Victor Lin, the liaison for Dux and Jackson just blurts out in the hotel bar “It’s the biggest Kumite ever” within earshot of Janice.
Froemming: It seems like Janice is always five feet away from a good source and never notices that.
Brown: Case in point: So (spoiler alert) she and Dux hook up later in the movie and the morning after, Dux tells her he can’t take her to the Kumite. And she’s all “We just had sex, I’ll get over it.”
Now, she does eventually get in by going undercover. But, she’s dismissive of a story she convinced an editor to let her fly halfway across the world to write, only to potentially skip the story due to coitus. THIS IS WHY NEWSROOMS ARE BROKE. THIS IS WHY I DRINK.
Froemming: They were just setting money on fire in this era of newsrooms. Now you gotta fill out forms to get some pens.
Now, Frank and Ray are brought to the Kumite, a shadowy underworld that is made to look like it is super secret, but we see throughout the film any schmuck can wander into this thing. And as they are being registered in, the officials notice this white-ass man is representing the Tanakas. To prove he has the stuff to serve tea blindfolded, Dux demonstrates his training by breaking bricks with his bare hands.
Ray, obviously, is wowed by this and guzzles another celebratory beer. I think he has a drinking problem.
Brown: Going back to your point about this “super secret tournament,” they say when the tourney gets underway that this is the first year that some international fighting association is co-sponsoring the Kumite. So… you have sponsors, shouldn’t that legitimize this tournament? Why all the secrecy? Hell, you have registration!
But no, it’s a shady tournament because you have to walk down this long, sketchy hallway. Seriously, 10 minutes of this movie is that hallway scene to get to the Kumite.
Froemming: This hallway reminded me of the one of my apartment in college. Flickering lights, dirty and the chance you might get stabbed. Good times…
So we then get a series of fights. All sorts of styles, some sillier looking than others. And we meet our goofy-voiced antagonist, Chong Li — a man who looks like Liu Kang from “Mortal Kombat” on a lot of steroids. This guy just loves hurting his opponents.
And all is good, until Frank in his first match break’s Chong Li’s record of, I believe, quickest KO.
Brown: That’s correct.
I like that Dux breaks the record and Jackson’s all “That’s my best friend!” You’ve known each other for a day.
Also, during Jackson’s fight, he connects with one punch and he and his opponent are coated in blood. Gonna call bull on that.
So we get the standard fighting montage set to Stan Bush’s “Fight to Survive,” which is his third best song behind “The Touch” and “Dare.” Best scene there: When Dux fights one of the guys that harassed Janice, he knocks out the guy’s gold tooth. Later, we see some weirdo on the ring crew go and steal the tooth as it just lays on the bloody canvas.
I should mention: These fight scenes do not hold up. At all. You could get frequent-flyer miles with how much air is between all the punches and kicks.
Froemming: While all of this is going on, the government agents have tracked Frank to Hong Kong, and are trying to find him. When they do at the hotel, we get perhaps the best exchange between Forest Whitaker and Ray.
Ray: I ain’t your pal dickface.
Forest Whitaker went on to win an Academy Award folks.
And our heroes take off on a chase that is almost as great as the “hot merging action” one from “Mitchell,” where Frank escapes custody.
These two agents are pretty chill about a soldier going AWOL, aren’t they?
Brown: I hated this whole chase sequence so damn much. This movie, for how cheesy it is, was trying to go with a serious tone about a man in a full-contact tournament fighting for honor. And then you have this Benny Hill-like chase just inserted haphazardly in the middle of this movie? And Dux is taunting them the entire time and taking nothing seriously. You realize that you’re probably going to military jail for going AWOL if you’re caught, right?
This leads to a date with Janice, followed by sex and more Kumite.
Froemming: Except this second day of Kumite is when Ray takes on Chong Li. These two big dudes wail on each other, but Ray makes the classic WWE mistake: Gloating about a victory while not making sure his opponent is down for the count. Chong Li goes full Ric Flair and not only wins the match, he (REDACTED) curb stomps the poor hillbilly like Edward Norton in “American History X.”
Prior to the match, Frank told Ray that Chong Li is basically King Hippo from “Punch-Out,” hit him in the belly. Ray tragically didn’t take the advice.
Brown: Well, both Jackson and Chong Li are essentially pro wrestlers because they love getting a reaction from the crowd.
Visiting his ailing friend in the hospital, Dux vows to go on and get revenge for Jackson. However, Janice is not OK with this because Chong Li is a killer and he’ll get hurt. And hey, she’s in love… after a date and sex.
So Dux continues the fight, going so far as to uppercut a man in the testicles.
Look, in the semifinals, Chong Li kills a man and the crowd turns his back to him in disapproval. The crowd should have done the same for this (REDACTED) punch.
Froemming: Let us just say this movie inspired fighting games of the ‘90s. It is half “Street Fighter” and half “Mortal Kombat,” right down to Johnny Cage’s nut punch and Guile’s military service (who JCVD would play in an actual movie a few years later).
Brown: There’s a video game that is more or less this movie called “Pit Fighter.” And it sucked on console
Froemming: I remember playing that in the arcade. It was fine there, never played it at home on anything.
Well, it is day three and as Frank is heading to the Kumite, he is stopped in the dark alley by our two feds, one of whom WON AN ACADEMY AWARD. Obviously not for this though.
Look, this super-secretive fight club that has sponsors, registration and a alliance with the Vans Warped Tour seems pretty easy to get into. Hell, Janice doesn’t even pretend to be dating someone to get in: She is just there. And the authorities? Just hanging out waiting for Frank.
And he approaches his two army pals by punching cops in the throat and using a garbage can lid to deflect tasers. After all this buildup, the two feds who traveled across the world to prevent their guy from killing himself in hand-to-hand combat are basically “LOL, go ahead, we will wait for you in the car.”
Brown: Yeah, Dux assaulting cops in a foreign country. He would have been shot.
Let’s get to the championship match between Chong Li, a defending champion with a thirst for murder, versus Frank Dux, a testicle puncher who looks like his mom combs his hair.
And like a true champion, Chong Li gets his bases covered when he hides a salt tablet in his shorts just in case. I mean, you can kill at the Kumite. Why wouldn’t you cheat?
Eventually, Dux puts the champ on the proverbial ropes, only for Chong Li to go all Salt Bae on him.
Froemming: Quick question: Did you expect Chong Li to scream “WOOOO!” and strut like Ric Flair after this happened?
Brown: No. He seemed like your “Superstar” Billy Graham-type heel who would show off his muscles and bark at the crowd over strutting.
Dux is blinded and JCVD breaks out his greatest bit of acting.
How this movie didn’t have two Academy Award winners in Whitaker and JCVD is beyond me after watching this emotional scene. I want that image of the scream painted and framed on my wall.
Froemming: Blinded and screaming like a man who deserves the Oscar for Best Actor in a Martial Arts Film, Dux begins to calm down and remember the time the Tanakas pranked him by saying serving them tea blindfolded was part of his training. We know those two learned a lesson from “Karate Kid.”
And with his super senses kicking in, Dux literally kicks his way out of this jam. Kicking Chong Li in the face, the belly, his legs, these two have a kick-off like they were serving each other with hot dance moves.
Brown: Finally, Dux brings the big man down and threatens to break Chong Li’s neck, forcing the defending champ to utter “Mate,” the Hong Kong version of “Uncle.” So not only has Dux beaten Chong Li, he humbled him. Honestly, I prefer that approach to the finale over some “majestic” roundhouse kick or whatever else they could try in the ending.
With the tournament over, Dux is a man of his word and meets the two officers at the airport to go back to America, where he’ll surely be tried and get a dishonorable discharge for abandoning his post. Or, you know, be like the real Frank Dux and make up your own brand of Ninjutsu. I imagine it’s a lot like Tae Bo.
I think it’s time to head to recommendations before our readers chase us around Hong Kong in a hilarious montage.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Yeah. It isn’t perfect, but for a dumb martial arts flick, it is fun.
Brown: Honestly, no. I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would. It’s super ‘80s and I get its charms and quirkiness, but I was constantly distracted with how stupid everything was.