In case of true stories about real people and their accomplishments, few movies feature as little as exploration of the main character as Bloodsport does. This movie is about the first Western winner of a Kumité; an illegal underground full contact martial arts tournament held every five years. The only thing we actually learn about Frank Dux (Jean-Claude van Damme) is how he was trained and how he’s an all-round nice guy. His character isn’t given any real depth.
Then again would you expect anything else of a movie called “Bloodsport”?
In most martial arts movies where a tournament is held, this tournament is part of the third act of the movie, after using the first two acts as set-up with training montages and an occasional love story. Bloodsport basically delves right into the action with some flashbacks on how Frank got his skills. After a quick escape from the military base, he visits his dying mentor and heads off to Hong Kong to participate in the Kumité. Here he befriends Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb), a wrestler, and when you think about it, possible opponent in the Kumité. Basically the rest of the movie consists of well staged martial arts fighters taking each other on, and at the same time creating a villain and end-boss for Van Damme with Chong Li (Bolo Yeung). A vicious fighter known for leaving his opponents disabled or even dead. The tournament is intersected by the exploits of two Army Criminal Investigation Division officers who have the task of taking back Frank to the US for desertion, a plot line that would also be used in Lionheart (a.k.a. Wrong Bet). Do these guys even have jurisdiction in foreign countries?
Due to its simplicity, well staged fight scenes and short running time which keeps the movie from becoming boring and/or repetitive, Bloodsport has somewhat become a classic. It’s Van Damme’s first starring role, has a memorable villain in Chong Li and the moment Van Damme has to fight blind is one of the more memorable moments in his career. With almost all the main roles played by martial artists the acting leaves a lot to be desired for. Especially in the fist 20 minutes which also features some kid actors whom have a terrible line delivery. A small role is reserved for Forest Whitaker, who does his standard schtick here and is basically his Kavanaugh character from The Shield, only 15 years younger.
Bloodsport is a simplistic movie which critics hated at the time of its release, yet became a genre classic. I found it to be an enjoyable movie all the way, despite the lack of any depth in the story of characters.