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Frank Dux has spent most of his life being trained by Tanaka to participate in the Kumite, the ultimate martial arts tournament, where participants are seriously injured, even killed. Frank decides to go despite being told by his superiors in the army that he can't because they need him. Two army officers are sent to get him and the trail leads to Hong Kong but Frank eludes them. While Frank advances, he knows that he may have to face Chong Li, the defending champion, who has killed a few participants.
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This is an odd film. Made in the late '80s, set in the early '80s (although the "true story" it purports to follow would have been set in the late 70s), and filmed on shoe-string budget, it has flaws--a LOT of flaws. The acting is uniformly terrible. The script is uniformly awful. There are some pretty gaping plot holes, not least of which being the "secret underground" martial arts tournament which forms the centerpiece of the picture and everybody seems to know about. The story takes a painfully long time to really get rolling, focusing on various cringe-worthy flashbacks to set up Van Damme's protagonist, then introducing a group of cookie-cutter secondary characters who, truth be told, really don't add anything beyond standard cliches to the picture. Honestly, it plays out as the very, very bad low-budget martial arts film which it is...right up until the fighting starts.
And then we get to see the only reason to actually watch this film. The series of fights centering on Dux, Jackson, and Li during the Kumite are VERY well choreographed, and feature some very, very good (and very real) martial artists. Just as interesting are the variety of styles on display by the various combatants: from muay thai to karate, sumo to ju jitsu, and just about everything else you can imagine (to include Jackson's bar-room brawling), these fight scenes are not only the highlight of "Bloodsport", they are some of the better battles ever put on film.
If you're a film snob, you probably passed this one by as soon as you saw Jean-Claude Van Damme as the top-billed "actor". If you're a fan of B-movies in general, this is one that can be skipped. But if you're a fan of the martial arts, it's worth sitting through all the attempts at storytelling to get to those fight scenes throughout the second half of the run time. Three stars would probably be a more justifiable rating, but cheesy nostalgia is worth the fourth star for me.