Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Van Damme Week: Bloodsport

Having just secured his first leading role, Van Damme realized he was in deep shit.  He needed an agent, a lawyer and if the film was going to shoot in America, a Green Card.  Luckily the film wound up being shot in Hong Kong but not before Van Damme nearly lost the role when his newly acquired lawyer balked at Cannon's 3-picture deal worth $25, 50 and $75,000.  When said lawyer thought it was a bluff and stalled the deal, Golan became upset and Van Damme signed on immediately, knowing this was his shot after so many years of waiting.

Shooting for two months in Hong Kong, Bloodsport is the (now debunked) true story of Frank Dux, a martial artist who participates in a secret, underground fighting tournament dubbed, The Kumite.  Co-starring as villain Chong Li was Bolo Yeung, a Chinese bodybuilder and on screen fighter who had previously appeared opposite Bruce Lee in 1979's Enter the Dragon.  Donald Gibb, Ogre from 1984's Revenge of the Nerds played Jackson, Dux's fellow American fighter and eventual broheim.  Future Oscar winner Forest Whitaker shows up as a young investigator on Dux's case while Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom villain Roy Chiao plays Van Damme's mentor and karate spirit instructor, Senzo Tanaka.

With little acting experience and a thick accent too boot, Van Damme's portrayal of Dux draws more from his own charisma and physical abilities than thespian skill.  His soon to be trademarks like the full split (shown 7 times as grueling training, meditation and during a fight among others), graceful kicks, jump spinning helicopter kick and butt shot (watch as he pulls his underwear up twice) are all highlighted.  His performance wouldn't win him any Oscars but you can see the effort in both emotion and action driven scenes.  Helmed by career Assistant Director Newt Arnold (Blade Runner, Godfather II, The Abyss), Bloodsport would make excellent use of the exotic as well as dingy Hong Kong locales and give audiences plenty of what they were looking for, brutal martial arts action.

 A template for video game phenomenon Street Fighter II, Bloodsport cast colorful international characters of all shapes and sizes implementing a variety of disciplines like karate, kung-fu, muy thai, sumo and animal styles against each other in full contact combat to find the greatest fighter in the world.  One could even make the connection of creating the early inspiration for today's boom of UFC led Mixed Martial Arts which started as a competition between the best fighters of respective styles going head to head.

After deeming a rough cut "very bad", Golan shelved Bloodsport.  Van Damme, knowing it was his ticket to Hollywood, begged the mogul to let him re-edit the film in a bid to salvage his now dwindling career.  Working in secret with The Towering Inferno editor Carl Kress, Van Damme reshaped the film into it's current cult classic form.  Throw in a memorable soundtrack by Paul Hertzog featuring Stan Bush and Michael Bishop and you now have a perfect time capsule that surprisingly stands the test of cinema. Still not convinced was Golan who sold the rights to France and Malaysia where it hit number one in both countries.  Van Damme paid his own ticket to France for promotion and Golan knew he had a hit on his hands.  Once released in the US, Bloodsport would gross $11 million on a $1 million budget and Van Damme was officially on the map.

Studios came calling but Van Damme was now stuck in a low paying contract with Golan who knew he had a hot commodity.  Instead of giving Van Damme a raise and making him part of the Cannon family along with $1 million earners Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson, Golan only paid him the original $50,000 and $75,000 contracted fees.  It wouldn't be all bad memories though, through Bloodsport Van Damme met writer/director Sheldon Lettich who would go on to work with Van Damme on at least 8 films.  Villain Bolo Yeung would pop up in VD's first big budget picture, Double Impact in 1991 and the flick remains a classic in the martial arts genre while arguably being Van Damme's most well known film.

Pseudo music video:

No comments:

Post a Comment