Bloodsport is a 1988 American martial arts film directed by Newt Arnold. It stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Ayres, and Bolo Yeung. The film is partly based on unverified claims made by martial artist Frank Dux. It sold well at the box office, grossing $65 million on a budget of $1.5–2.3 million. Bloodsport was one of Van Damme's first starring films and showcased his athletic abilities. It has since become a cult film.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Newt Arnold|
|Story by||Sheldon Lettich|
|Music by||Paul Hertzog|
|Edited by||Carl Kress|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.(USA and UK), U.G.C. Worldwide Distribution (Worldwide)|
|Box office||$65 million|
U.S. Army Captain Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) has trained in the ways of ninjutsu under his sensei Senzo Tanaka. As a boy, Dux and a group of his friends broke into Tanaka's home to steal a katana, but Dux was apprehended while returning the katana to its place. Impressed by Dux's integrity and toughness, Senzo trained him together with his son, Shingo. After Shingo's death, Senzo agreed to train Dux as a member of the Tanaka clan. When Dux's superiors learn of his invitation to the Kumite, an illegal martial arts tournament in Hong Kong, they refuse to let him go. Dux goes absent without leave, says goodbye to his sensei and leaves for Hong Kong. Two Criminal Investigation Command officers, Helmer and Rawlins (Forest Whitaker), are assigned to track down and arrest Dux.
After arriving in Hong Kong, Dux befriends American fighter Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) and their guide Victor Lin. When they arrive at the Kumite arena, the others are skeptical of them because they are white. Upon hearing Dux represents the Tanaka clan and seeing his "death touch" and seeing Jackson break a brick into his forehead, the competitors accept them. After the initial rounds the two Americans and Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) (the ruthless Kumite champion) all make it through; Dux earns the enmity of Li after breaking his record for the fastest knockout.
Dux becomes involved with American journalist Janice Kent (Leah Ayres) who is investigating the secrets of Kumite. On day two, she sneaks into the arena by agreeing to a date with another spectator, to Dux's surprise. Jackson is matched against Li, and although Jackson gains the upper hand, he gloats instead of finishing Li off. Li recovers and brutally beats Jackson, landing him in the hospital. Dux vows to avenge Jackson. After seeing the brutality of the tournament, Kent argues with Dux and tries to convince him not to return. Dux tells her that he has to win in order to become the best he can be.
Helmer and Rawlins arrive in Hong Kong and contact the local police. They begin asking around for Dux and track him down to his hotel. A chase through downtown ensues but Dux evades them when they fall into a canal. When Dux arrives at the Kumite, the local police are waiting for him. He eludes them as well but agrees to return with Helmer and Rawlins after the tournament.
On the final day, Li kills his opponent, much to the chagrin of the crowd. Dux, however, has gained favor with the crowd. Li, fearing defeat, conceals a pill in his waistband before the final match. When Dux gains the upper hand, Li blinds him by crushing the pill into dust. Dux is forced to rely upon his training from Tanaka, who taught him to fight without his sight. Dux regains the advantage and defeats Li. The following day he says goodbye to Kent and returns with the officers. Some (supposed) facts about the real Frank Dux play before credits roll.
Co-writer Sheldon Lettich came up with the idea for the film.
I had known Frank Dux for a number of months before I came up with the idea for Bloodsport. Frank told me a lot of tall tales, most of which turned out to be bullshit. But his stories about participating in this so-called "Kumite" event sounded like a great idea for a movie. There was one guy who he introduced me to, named Richard Bender, who claimed to have actually been at the Kumite event and who swore everything Frank told me was true. A few years later this guy had a falling-out with Frank, and confessed to me that everything he told me about the Kumite was a lie; Frank had coached him in what to say.
Producer Mark Di Salle said he was looking for "a new martial arts star who was a ladies' man, [but Van Damme] appeals to both men and women. He's an American hero who fights for justice the American way and kicks the stuffing out of the bad guys." Bloodsport is one of the few films featuring scenes filmed inside Kowloon Walled City before its demolition in 1993.
The Los Angeles Times reports a U.S. box office gross of $11.7 million against a budget of $2.3 million. According to The Chicago Tribune, the film pulled in $65 million worldwide, including $15 million in the U.S. and Canada, making it Cannon Group's most profitable film of 1988.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that the film received positive reviews from 39% of the 23 surveyed critics; the average rating was 4.5 out of 10. Leonard Klady of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Hacking through the jungle of cliche and reservoir of bad acting in Bloodsport [...] are some pretty exciting matches."
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Bloodsport's soundtrack score was composed by Paul Hertzog, who also composed another Jean-Claude Van Damme film titled Kickboxer. The soundtrack contains the songs "Fight to Survive" and "On My Own", both performed by Stan Bush. Bush's songs are replaced on the soundtrack with alternate versions sung by Paul Delph, who was nominated for a Grammy for this work. The film plays the song "Steal the Night" by Michael Bishop during a scene where Dux runs from Helmer and Rawlins. The song was not released until the mid-2000s, as a single containing a vocal and instrumental version. On June 26, 2007, Perseverance Records released a limited edition CD of the soundtrack including, for the first time, the original film versions of the Stan Bush songs.
Since its release, Bloodsport has become a cult film. It was followed by three sequels: Bloodsport II: The Next Kumite (1996), Bloodsport III (1997) and Bloodsport 4: The Dark Kumite (1999). They were released direct-to-video, and Jean-Claude Van Damme did not appear in any of them.
A remake of Bloodsport was reported to be in planning in 2011. Phillip Noyce was attached to direct a screenplay by Robert Mark Kamen. The main character was supposed to be an American Afghanistan War veteran competing in a vale tudo tournament in Brazil. V for Vendetta director James McTeigue was attached to the project by 2013, and the filming was to be done in Australia and Brazil.
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