If you ask any red-blooded American man (or Omani national, interestingly enough) who the greatest actor of all time is, the undoubted and only correct response is: Jean-Claude Van Damme. Though the martial artist and handsome devil starred in a number of pioneering films in the 1980s and early 1990s, Bloodsport, a tale of love, violence, and rippling muscles is easily his crowning achievement (and the Arkenstone upon which Hollywood has built its empire). Today we celebrate the legacy of Bloodsport, JCVD’s impressive splits, and Bolo Yeung’s throbbing pecs.
Bloodsport follows the tale of Army Captain Frank Dux (JCVD) as he embarks on a grand adventure of blood and sport to honor the memory of his ninjutsu master Tanaka and his son Shingo. You see, Shingo was killed in an illegal martial arts tournament in Hong Kong called the Kumite. Dux feels a debt to the honorable Tanaka and pledges to take part in the tournament to honor his surrogate father, against the express order of his army commanders. Thankfully for us, the viewers, JCVD disobeys these orders and goes AWOL in Hong Kong.
While in Hong Kong, Dux befriends fellow American fighter Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) and becomes the object of romantic interest of reporter and longbuttz enthusiast Janice Kent (Leah Ayres). However, Dux’s heart is in the ring, and in his first round of the competition, he sets a new record for fastest knockout, beating the time set by returning champion Chong Li (Bolo Yeung), earning the oily antagonist’s ire in the process. Unfortunately for Dux and Jackson, Li begins to fight with increasing cruelty, hospitalizing Jackson and killing another opponent. It is up to Dux to end Li’s tyrannical reign in a bout of riveting man-on-man action.
Despite the somewhat cheesy story and typically 80s flair, Bloodsport is certainly a win in terms of martial arts. In addition to all manner of martial arts styles and techniques, the film also sports a number of impressive feats of manliness and strength. The aforementioned splits are genuine, but so is JCVD’s crotch-destroying helicopter kick and Yeung’s overall Adonis-like physique. Come for the story; stay for the beefcakes.
Bloodsport has been there like a good friend for me, helping me get through finals in undergrad and world travels in grad school. It’s one of the few films that I will always watch if it happens to be on TV. Its plethora of impressive martial arts, hunky dudes battling it out, and siqqq 80s music training montages has earned it a reputation as a cult classic, and metalheads looking for a little blood in their romance should find much to love. If you want to watch the whole thing, you can do so right now on youtube for just $2.99. If you’ve never seen the film before, I definitely recommend it. If you have seen it, you should rewatch the final fight below and remember why you fell in love with JCVD all those years ago.