Monday, May 9, 2016

Bloodsport


   Following up Kickboxer 2 with Bloodsport really put things into perspective for me. Bloodsport is an okay movie, not a great one and aaaarguably not even a "good" one, but it's a fun one and I like it a lot. But, this is one of a handful of movies that kinda set the bar for low-rent fighting movies. It's halfway between Mortal Kombat and Enter the Dragon, with the former being on a low rung, and the latter being of the highest class in the genre. Bloodsport moves with confidence and charisma. It's easy to watch, and even easier to quote. What the hell is a dim mak after all?

   All joking aside, movies like Bloodsport and Kickboxer were genre trendsetters that action/fighting movies are still being influenced by today. And, again, they're not perfect movies, they're not great. So why is there such vitriol leveled at ripoffs, spin-offs, and cash-grab sequels? Those are the kind of movies this genre embraces. The genre lives and breathes training montages, slow motion, excessive editing, and inspirational pop songs. The villains are always over-the-top vile, and the heroes always need to be taught by a plucky old-man Asian mentor. What's the difference between the training montages in Bloodsport and Kickboxer? In one movie he's kicking a tree, in the other, he's holding himself up between two trees.

   Does it even matter which is which?

   The short answer is, no- not really. The difference between these movies and all the countless others is the star factor. Jean Claude Van Damme gets railed on by critics for bad acting and being two dimensional, but that seems unfair. That's like accusing Taco Bell of being inauthentic Mexican cuisine. Well... duh. No person with an IQ in the double digits or higher goes to Taco Bell looking for authentic Mexican food. Just like no smart person watches Van Damme for his acting prowess. Some might say it only matters how well he can pull off convincing fight scenes, but I'd argue it's more than that. The real reason Van Damme is irreplaceable is that he's charismatic as hell.

   Bloodsport works because you believe him. You don't believe him because he's an amazing actor, you believe him because he's charming and charismatic. You even sympathize with him. When he has big chunks of dialog, it doesn't flow and it's not even well-spoken (he actually vastly improves on this as his career goes on) but he'll punctuate these blocks of words with a smile, or a grimace, or a frown, and from those basic expressions- he's believable. Even downright likable. We believe him because he can pull off lines like "Leave the girl alone." and make it sound badass. It's simple. Did I really need to spend a whole paragraph explaining this?

   At parties, or in crowds, sometimes you have to communicate with people just by a look and an expression. What I'm getting from Van Damme here is that he's fun and energetic. Now before this sounds like I'd date him or something, did I mention he can kick like a freakin' super saiyan? I don't even want to imagine what a movie called something like Bloodsport would be about if it wasn't about fighting (oh wait...). Ergo, Van Damme is first and foremost a fighter- not an actor. He has to sell the fights in this movie, or he's useless. Thankfully, he makes it seem like kicking ass is his first language (not English, obviously). All his fight scenes are fantastic and this is also due in no small part to the team behind the camera.

   Not only are the fights shot well, the music and editing are on point too. Bloodsport might simply be a B movie that made it big, but I'll be damned if it doesn't have a cheer-worthy climax. It's amazing cinematic junk food. It's all about flavor, not substance. But, just like the best junk food (open to debate) it also has the appearance of substance. These movies couldn't function without it. Van Damme's whole reason for participating in this Kumite tournament is to honor his Shidoshi (trainer, mentor, old guy surrogate Asian Dad). Whenever someone doesn't 'get it', why he wants to fight, he simply grabs them and yells at them something like "You don't even get it do you?" We get it though, right? Right! It's all about... honor! And... justice! And... the American way? I think. What?

   Also, Bloodsport doesn't just feature Van Damme, like any good tournament flick- it features tons of various fighters, all showcasing legitimately different fighting styles. These guys don't even have to be actors. I don't think hardly any of them even had dialog. They were probably actual martial artists, which lent an air of authenticity to this fast food takeout. There's lots of fights in this movie, and they're all fun to watch. Bloodsport is a breezy and colorful action flick with high stakes, great fight scenes, and tons of quotable one-liners. Ergo, this is the best kind of fight flick. It's really easy to watch, and it's exceptionally fun. What's not to love?

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