EDITOR’S NOTE: We watched this during our week of Van Damme on July 10, 2019. This has been updated and added for our month of Cannon films. You can also read Ten things you should know about Jean-Claude Van Damme to understand just how beloved he is on our site.
Jean-Claude Van Damme — the Muscles from Brussels — first appeared in a film in 1979, where he had an uncredited role in André Delvaux’s Woman Between Wolf and Dog. After moving to the United States with his childhood friend Michel Qissi, who plays Suan Paredes in this film and would go on to appear in several JCVD movies. Their first appearance was in Breakin’, which has gone on to be a memorable meme.
After becoming a friend and sparring partner with Chuck Norris — he even bounced at the action hero’s bar Woody’s Wharf — Van Damme would go on to be part of the stunt team for Missing In Action. Then, he achieved a sizeable role in No Retreat, No Surrender, playing the Russian bad guy Ivan Kraschinsky that Kurt McKinney must train — with the ghost of Bruce Lee no less — to defeat.
After an abortive attempt at playing the lead villain in Predator, it was time for Van Damme to star in his own film. Bloodsport — based on the maybe real life of Frank Dux — would be that movie, making $65 million on a $2.3 million dollar budget.
U.S. Army Captain Frank Dux (Van Damme) once trained in the ways of ninja under sensei Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao, who appeared in Game of Death, Enter the Dragon and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) after he tried to steal a katana from the master as a child. he was trained alongside Senzo’s son Shingo, who has died in a martial arts tournament. Frank goes AWOL to be part of the Kumite, an illegal martial arts battle to the death, for revenge.
That puts Rawlins (Forest Whitaker) and Helmer (Norman Burton, who played Felix Leiter in Diamonds Are Forever and the boss in Fade to Black), two Criminal Investigation Command officers, on his trail.
Once Dux makes it to Hong Kong, he becomes fast friends with American fighter Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb, Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds), which is good, because they’re the only gaijin in this tournament. However, once they learn Dux represents the Tanaka clan and how he has the ”death touch” — and Jackson breaks bricks with his forehead — they’re accepted.
After several rounds of awesome fights — this movie is pretty much all fights, making it one of the most fun movies ever made — Frank, Ray and the evil champion Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) remain. Li hates Frank for beating his fastest knockout record, but our hero is more interested in Janice Kent, a reporter.
During day two, Ray has Chong beat, but pauses to do his taunt move and gets his butt handed to him, landing in the hospital. Dux vows to get revenge for his friend, but his new lady, who he has only known 24 hours, argues that he should just leave. This woman will never understand Kumite!
The police and officers chase and catch Frank, who agrees to go back if he can finish the final battle. Chong kills his opponent and the crowd turns on him. They hate him even more when he cheats, throwing a pill packed with dust into Frank’s eyes. Frank rises above all that nonsense and wins, sparing the life of his enemy while getting revenge.
So how true is Bloodsport? According to Sheldon Lettich, who wrote the film, told Asian Movie Pulse:
“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 BS.” One of those tall tales were about his military history: “Frank also used to tell me, and just about everyone he spoke to, that he had participated in secret missions for the C.I.A. and the U.S. military, and that he had won the Medal Of Honor for his heroism. He even showed me the Medal, which he had supposedly been awarded by the President. Years afterwards, when numerous people began questioning his stories, he stopped claiming that he won the Medal, and then began claiming that he’d never told anyone he won it.”
That said, somewhere in all those stories, there was the idea for a movie. And Dux had a backup that could prove he had actually been in a Kumite tournament: “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.”
Another article in the LA Times takes the story even further, showing how Dux claimed that a rival ninja teacher was conspiring against him and that he’d been reinventing his past for decades. I’ve also read on Pro MMA Now that if you do the math, for Frank Dux to win 56 consecutive knockouts in a row in one tournament would mean that 72 quadrillion fighters were in it. That’s only around ten times more people that are alive right now.
Whether or not this movie is based on a true story, Van Damme does seven splits in it. It also features an eleven minute-long flashback, which kind of tests the limits of just how long a flashback could, should and can be. And any movie where JCVD makes this face is a winner in my book.