Bloodsport (1988) Review

Director: Newt Arnold

Genre(s): Action, Sport

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The 1988 action film Bloodsport was one of the star-making movies for Jean-Claude Van Damme. It still stands as one of the Muscles from Brussels’ more entertaining outings. Based on the, er, “unverified” (i.e. fake) story of American martial artist Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) entering an underground Hong Kong fighting tournament called “the Kumite,” this work of kitsch was supposedly a major inspiration on the Mortal Kombat video game series.

Okay, let’s not dance around the elephant in the room. This movie is seriously cheesy. The acting is questionable, the dialogue is unintentionally humorous, Jean-Claude Van Damme does his trademark splits approximately three thousand times, and the source material is a made-up story passed off as fact. Still, it’s hard not to enjoy this silly actioner. The good guys are likeable and the villain, Chong Li (Bolo Yeung), is a nasty piece of work. People bond in a macho manner over video games, and the theme song, “Fight to Survive” by Stan Bush, is killer.

The action choreography isn’t really up to par with that from similar movies being made by the likes of Jackie Chan at about the same time as this one. Nonetheless, the fights are still some of the highlights, and the staging of them probably isn’t as bad as I’m leading on. That being said, there is some potentially offensive content involving a Black fighter who beats up his opponents while running around on all fours. Normally, I’d say that that hasn’t aged well, but I’m pretty sure that that was never acceptable.

Bloodsport has rightfully become a cult classic since its release, due to its colorfully corny nature and cheesily earnest storytelling. It works because it has just enough of an emotional hook to get the audience invested. It’s certainly one of the better martial arts tournament flicks out there, so watch it and keep an eye out for a young Forest Whitaker as FBI agent Rawlins and a not-young Roy Chiao (better known as gangster Lao Che from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [1984]) as Tanaka, Van Damme’s character’s mentor.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Hard Times (1975) Review

Director: Walter Hill

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama, Sport

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Macho filmmaker Walter Hill’s directorial debut was the excellent 1975 action-drama Hard Times. During the Great Depression, a drifter named Chaney (Charles Bronson) makes a living as a bare-knuckle boxer in the New Orleans region with the help of his shit-talking manager, Speed (James Coburn). It’s an unusual type of sports movie, being about the underground world of street-fighting, but Hill pulls it off remarkably well.

Appropriately for a film set during this time period, Hard Times has a gently melancholy tone. Some of the best things about this picture are the seedy and atmospheric New Orleans-area locations that it explores. It seems like no dank backroom in the city is left behind by the filmmakers. Charles Bronson is more taciturn than usual here and is supported by his then-wife Jill Ireland, who plays Lucy Simpson, the love interest.

This may seem like an odd comparison at first, but I think that this feature is somewhat similar to Rocky (1976), which was released one year later. Both flicks have plenty of punching and fighting, but are really about the relationships that develop outside the “ring.” Speaking of “punching and fighting,” the action scenes in Hard Times are pretty well choreographed, never lacking in impact or feeling too over-the-top.

This gritty gem is a movie that fans of tough guy cinema will want to track down. Often understated, yet always heroic, this bare-knuckle boxing saga is simultaneously sensitive and tough-as-nails. That’s a balance that’s highly satisfying when pulled off by the right filmmaker. To top things off, this motion picture features a cute cat in a supporting role.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Big Wednesday (1978) Review

Director: John Milius

Genre(s): Drama, Sport

Runtime: 120 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The surfing drama Big Wednesday is the only feature-length non-action film that John Milius directed. However, he still has his fingerprints all over it. Three best friends, Matt Johnson (Jan-Michael Vincent), Jack Barlow (William Katt), and Leroy Smith (Gary Busey), find themselves immersed in West Coast surfing culture in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s a sweeping, nostalgic treat that even people who’ve never surfed before, like myself, can enjoy.

This motion picture perhaps works best as a passage-of-time drama. It’s very emotionally engaging to see these characters move in and out of each other’s lives, through the highs and the lows. Gary Busey, as crazy as ever, is a standout here, playing a proudly masochistic madman. Unusually for a John Milius movie, the supporting characters are frequently pretty weakly-drawn, but the main ones make an impression.

The cinematography during the surfing scenes is exquisite. There are a few how-did-they-do-that? moments. Speaking of physical action, there are also a couple of well-choreographed fist fights on land (I mean, what would a Milius film be without a brawl or two?). Perhaps the most remarkable component of Big Wednesday is its phenomenal musical score from Basil Poledouris. It really amplifies the experience.

This flick has become a bit of a cult classic among surfers, but you don’t have to be a rider of the waves to see the magic in it. Yes, the behavior of the characters is often too rowdy and irresponsible for my tastes, but this is still a largely forgotten classic. It works very well both on land and on the water. Check it out.

My rating is 7 outta 10.