It sports a Rotten Tomatoes Fresh Rating of 33%, Van Damme was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for “Worst New Actor”, and Bloodsport was pretty much dismantled across the board when it came out. It also made over $60 million world wide on a budget of just over $1 million, launched the meteoric rise of the Raspberry nominated Jean Claude Van Damme, and message boards still discuss video games that were obviously influenced by its presence (I’m looking at you Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat). In other words, you can’t always judge a book by the cover, and this is one of those cases the critics got it dead wrong.
Alright, having just said that, Bloodsport is a terrible movie. It abuses pretty much every action movie cliche ever, the acting is abysmal (from Van Damme as the star to a young Forest Whitaker. I will give Bolo Yeung a pass because he’s so hardcore), and the script is the stuff of nightmares. BUT! But it has soul. It has a fighting spirit and a magic about it that is hard to explain. Just mention the name of the film, Bloodsport, to any red blooded male and you are more often than not going to get a response like this, “Oh man, I love that movie!”, followed by a nostalgic gaze off into the distance. I’m not sure if it’s the tournament based competition, the possibility of death, the promise of blood in the title, or the fact it’s a grown up version of Karate Kid, but there is something that keeps the film from ever getting old. I enjoy now just as much as I did watching the edited version on television when I was 12.
The film follows the exploits of Frank Dux, an Army captain who goes AWOL to compete in the Kumite, an illegal martial arts tournament held in secret in Hong Kong. Two CID operatives are hot on his trail the whole time he is there, leading to musical montage chase scenes, funny culture shock moments, and more bad dialogue. The Kumite itself is just as much a character in the film as the people who are in it. The bracket style tournament features martial artists from around the world, almost all of which are caricatures, in no holds barred fights. There is still a code of honor, but people can die (and do die) in this tournament. Like I said before, there is something you can’t put your finger on when describing how such a terrible movie can be so good but I think the Kumite itself has a lot to do with it.
All in all, Bloodsport has aged very well. It’s a fun romp down memory lane and is almost laughably tame by today’s standards. I mentioned earlier that the critics got this movie dead wrong. While that’s not entirely true on the surface, Bloodsport has something that most directors would die for. A legacy. It has lived on and grown into something bigger than it was when it was released, just like all the great films do. This one just took the lower road to get there.