After watching the surprisingly affecting JCVD last week, a return to the glory days of action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme seemed in order. A dozen movies and a kamillion roundhouse kicks later, I emerged in a blearyeyed stupor with a stark reminder of the true nature, dark and terrible, of a Van Damme flick. The horror…the horror…
Bloodsport is definitely the one that shot JCVD to fame, and by all accounts it’s a pretty typical outing for the Muscles from Brussels. Most of his films from the early ‘90s are either about a) a young fighter looking to high-kick his way to the top or b) a studly defender of the meek who high-kicks the shit out of the oppressive. There are some decent movies in there, to be sure, namely John Woo’s unapologetically action-oriented Hard Target and Van Damme’s Die Hard attempt Sudden Death. For every one of those there are two stinkers, though, like the Aggro Crag-set Cyborg and the unbearably campy Street Fighter.
To recap a selection of JCVD’s early flicks:
Cyborg (1989) – dystopia, poor hairstyling, lots of high-kicking
Double Impact (1991) – JCVD in a dual role, lots of high-kicking
Universal Soldier (1992) – JCVD in a dual role (kinda), lots of high-kicking
Hard Target (1993) – Hard Boiled rehash, Sam Raimi producing, lots of high-kicking
Timecop (1994) – JCVD in a dual role (kinda), Sam Raimi producing, lots of high-kicking
Street Fighter (1994) – dystopia, poor hairstyling, lots of high-kicking
Sudden Death (1995) – Die Hard rehash, lots of high-kicking
Maximum Risk (1996) – JCVD in a dual role, lots of high-kicking
JCVD (2008) – actually a good movie
As you can see, Van Damme movies aren’t much in the way of variety. And no, they’re usually not much in the way of being a good movie, either.
But would you have it any other way? Bloodsport is a good case-in-point: the acting is more or less horrific (more, not less), the writing clunky and predictable, the directing also clunky and predictable, and the silly tongue-in-cheek moments come in a veritable torrent of distraction. The outfits, the hairdos, and the music are all at home in that space between late ‘80s and early ‘90s, which is to say none of those things have aged to be anything but hilarious today. Van Damme himself, though he eventually proved he could act in JCVD, can do no such thing here. And so Bloodsport relies not on plot or dialogue or acting (those pesky annoyances!) but just on fighting. And more fighting. And staring prior to a fight, resulting in fighting.
The cult status Bloodsport has achieved can be chalked up to the fact that the endless fighting is actually pretty damn exciting. There’s basically no plot outside of Van Damme’s Frank Dux desperately needing to “honor his master” by participating in the vicious underground kumite, and even that is flimsy. It really doesn’t matter, and that cult status is kind of what every mindless Van Damme movie has in varying degrees. In Hard Target, is it really anything but totally implausible that shooting a gun while surfing on a motorcycle toward a moving car is the course of action JCVD finds himself choosing? Of course not. The logic, with greatest respect to Spock, is not the thing we’re here for. To that end Bloodsport seems almost proud of the fact that it doesn’t have a plot.
In expounding further on Bloodsport itself we run the risk of giving too much attention to Bloodsport — it’s the watching of Bloodsport that ends up being more memorable than the dinky between-fight scenes with Van Damme and his little friends. Right now there’s a review on IMDb called “Bloodsport Cured My Mother’s Cancer”, which is a title that needs no further explanation. The legend surrounding movies like this is greater than the actual movie. There’s another anecdote about ninjitsu purists getting all hot and bothered at the scene where Van Damme has intercourse with his blonde reporter friend prior to the big fight, because everyone knows you’re never supposed to do that before a big fight. With all the horrendous acting and deplorable writing on display in the film, this is what some people get pissed off about.
In short: Bloodsport is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad movie, full of some of the most laughable shit this side of Batman & Robin, a crappy junk movie of the lowest order — and you’ll probably have an absolute blast watching it.