blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Bloodsport (1988, Newt Arnold)

Jean-Claude Van Damme stars in BLOODSPORT, directed by Newt Arnold for Cannon Films.

At least Bloodsport is earnest. It’s also atrocious and unwatchable, but it is earnest. It really thinks the scenes with Jean-Claude Van Damme staring into space and flashing back to his childhood are a good idea. It thinks the crappy dialogue is okay. It thinks casting very recognizable (as the Hong Kong gangster from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) Roy Chiao as a Japanese guy is okay. For all the Cannon movies I’ve seen… I think Bloodsport might actually be the worst made.

The movie has absolutely nothing going for it, except conjuring the image of a Bloodsport rerelease box touting the presence of (now) Academy Award winning Forest Whitaker. Newt Arnold–who apparently did a lot of second unit work–cannot compose a shot, cannot move a camera, cannot direct actors. The writing’s laughable and only made worse by the performances.

It doesn’t open with Van Damme, which turns out to be a bad idea. Instead, it opens with a montage of the preparations for a highly secretive (and now presumably fictional) martial arts competition. This montage was, I think, meant to be classy, but thanks to the music, it’s a joke. The bigger joke is Donald Gibb getting the focus of the opening montage–Gibb is a recognizable big and gruff guy, he’s got lots of TV bit parts in his filmography–since he can’t even deliver a line.

Van Damme’s awful, but in a funny way. His earnestness comes through, but the acting in Bloodsport is like a public access commercial for a plumber. It really is the worst Cannon movie I can remember seeing–part of, anyway. I had to stop a few seconds after Leah Ayres shows up. It just gets too moronic.

I realized, as I stopped the movie, I haven’t been watching a lot of movies this bad lately. I only tried Bloodsport again because I remember thinking it was really good when I was nine (was I wrong) and I’d heard, ten years later, it was decent. Then the widescreen DVD came out and I kept tripping over references to it, so I rented it.

Bloodsport and its genre–the white guy martial artist–ended up direct-to-video pretty quick (and the whole genre got a footing because of video) and it’s embarrassing. I’m sure there are now direct-to-DVD movies just as bad–worse probably, thanks to the cheapness of video–but there’s an unfortunate legitimacy to these movies. They did indeed get theatrical releases. People did go and see them. Major newspapers did… occasionally… review them.

I couldn’t even get to the fighting scenes.

Someone needs to interview Whitaker about all the crap he’s made, I’m sure he’d be in good humor about it and it’d be funny to hear his stories.



Directed by Newt Arnold; screenplay by Christopher Cosby, Mel Friedman and Sheldon Lettich, based on a story by Lettich; director of photography, David Worth; edited by Carl Kress; music by Paul Hertzog; production designer, David Searl; produced by Mark DiSalle, Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Frank Dux), Donald Gibb (Ray Jackson), Leah Ayres (Janice Kent), Norman Burton (Helmer), Forest Whitaker (Rawlins), Roy Chiao (Tanaka), Philip Chan (Inspector Chen), Pierre Rafini (Young Frank), Bolo Yeung (Chong Li) and Ken Siu (Victor Lin).


One response to “Bloodsport (1988, Newt Arnold)”

  1. I’m surprised that you liked it at age 9. Lighten up!

    I heart Bloodsport for its hiedous music, its terrible acting, for Donald Gibb, for Bolo Yeung, for Van Damme’s awful accent, for the montages, for the so-bad-it’s-great dialogue (“You break my record, now I break you, like I break your friend.”) And yes, I love it for its earnestness.

    It’s probably my favorite bad movie, with Roadhouse coming in a close second and The Karate Kid not far behind.

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