After languishing on a terrible two-film disc with Timecop, JCVD’s ultimate fighting showcase Bloodsport comes home to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from German label Capelight. This new 4K HDR restoration is often stunning with an effective Atmos mix to match. Topped off with a bunch of great new bonus features, this two-disc Mediabook is well worth the import effort. Highly Recommended
“That hurts me just looking at it”
No one made movies quite like Cannon! After Charles Bronson filled his wish for death and Chuck Norris could go MIA only so many times, cousins Golan and Globus needed a new hero. When He-Man and Superman cratered at the box office, Cannon got international martial arts sensation, Jean-Claude Van Damm in action. Hot off getting down and funky in Breakin’ (as an extra) and repeatedly passing out on the set of Predator in a goofy insect costume, JCVD was finally given the chance to show his incredible skills as a martial artist and make it big as a movie star. A thinly plotted but highly entertaining actioner, Bloodsport kicked off the wave of tournament fighting movies and video games.
The film’s plot is simple stuff, Canadian-American Marine Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Gosh Darn) has gone AWOL to Hong Kong to fight in the deadly underground full-contact Kumite. In an effort to honor his master Tanaka (Roy Chiao - Lao Che from Temple of Doom), Dux must fight through an army of the world's most elite fighters. To achieve the highest honor as a fighter, he’ll have to come face-to-face against the deadly Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) - and survive.
Made on a slim budget and shot on location in Hong Kong, it’s amazing that Cannon didn’t manage to fully capitalize on this film's popularity. Grossing over $12 million, the film was one of Cannon’s bigger late 80s hits. Rather than develop a quick sequel, they poured their efforts into another tournament fighter vehicle for Van Damme while any number of knock-offs like Roger Corman’s Bloodfist films gobbled up theater screens and tape rental shelf space. Instead of Bloodsport II, they shuffled Van Damme off to Kickboxer (which admittedly is a lot of fun) and the campy would-be Masters of the Universe follow-up Cyborg. Yeah, we eventually got those Bloodsport sequels with JCVD’s doppelganger Daniel Bernhardt, but by that point, it was a case of too little too late. Those sequels should have come several years earlier.
As it flies on its own two high-kicking feet, this Bloodsport is a lot of fun. Directed by ace assistant director Newt Arnold (Bladerunner, The Godfather, Sorcerer, The Getaway, The Goonies), the film has an exciting energy with some terrific action sequences. Performances are a bit all over the place, but when it counts most for the Kumite, acting ability doesn’t matter when the punches and kicks are flying fast and furious. In his first starring role, Van Damme does alright. You can tell he’s really working through some of those lines and doesn’t always sell an emotional range or the painful body blows, but you can see him getting there with the infamous salt pellet sequence!
Legendary big man Don Gibb is a lot of fun as the rough and tough streetfighter Jackson who gets to deliver some heavy hits while sticking for most of the film’s comedy. Bolo Yeung is a terrific villain as Chong Li with a knack for deadly showmanship. Leah Ayres is fine as the love interest reporter, but she doesn’t have much to do. Norman Burton and Forest Whitaker are here as FBI agents on Dux’s trail, but they’re a go-nowhere plot point that easily could have been cut entirely without being missed.
Now there is a real Frank Dux, and his stories were the inspiration for this film and Sheldon Lettich’s screenplay, but little if anything is true in this film - or his stories. Dig around in any Martial Arts forum or website and you’re bound to come across Frank Dux and his tall tales, Lettich even digs into a lot of the inaccuracies during the audio commentary and interview on this disc. If you can find a copy, Dux’s book The Secret Man is an amusing read if you consider that most of it is all made up fantasy.
While Bloodsport may or may not highlight Dux’s supposed possibly probably not accurate exploits of an underground fighting ring, it does have a fun legacy. Not only did it spawn a spate of knockoffs and kickstart Van Damme’s career, it arguably spawned two of the greatest video game franchises ever - Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Johnny Cage was apparently inspired by Van Damme and some of the finishing moves are practically stolen from Bolo Yeung. Watching through the film, you can even inspiration for various characters like Vega and Zangief! By extension, we have Bloodsport to thank for Van Damme’s infamous Street Fighter: The Movie and the ongoing Mortal Kombat films and series.
Bloodsport is exciting, lots of fun, and managed to leave an impressive legacy. It’s the Cannon way!
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Bloodsport destroys its first 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray opponent with a new two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray Mediabook release from German label Capelight. The 4K is pressed on a BD-100 disc with the 1080p knocking out a Region Free BD-50 disc (tried it on multiple setups with no issues). The discs get their own trays in the Mediabook with 24 pages of essays and photos inside. The essays are in German, but using the Google Translate app on my phone, I didn’t have any issues reading through the materials. The discs load to animated main menus, which are in German, but easy enough to navigate.
After receiving an extensive restoration effort, Bloodsport is finally ready to take home the top trophy with an often stunning 2160p 1.78:1 transfer with HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HDR10+. Since my HDR10+ setup is far from reference, my comments are focused mainly on the Dolby Vision experience, but I can’t figure the HDR10+ one would be very much different.
As we’ve been seeing more and more Cannon films in the MGM archive pick up new 4K restorations and UHD disc releases, Bloodsport counts as one of the top contenders. Shot by David Worth (Any Which Way You Can, Bronco Billy), the transfer beautifully captures all of the great details of the Hong Kong locations, the Kumite arena, and all of the slick costumes of the various fighters. Details are tight and crisp without any appearance of edge enhancement or sharpening with a naturally cinematic film grain structure. There’s a bit of diffused softness for the flashbacks and the training montage, but that’s by design. Compared to the old Blu-ray you can actually see clean details during these sequences.
With Dolby Vision HDR, the colors, contrast, and black levels really come to life. Primaries see ample saturation without looking blown out or too hot. Skin tones are nice and healthy without appearing unnaturally peached or too red. Those 80s fashions enjoy plenty of pop and the red doors of the arena and blood on the white combat mats are that perfect deep crimson red. Black levels are right on point for deep inky blacks and appreciable shadow delineation for a welcome sense of three-dimensional image depth. Whites are crisp and bold. The film elements are also in excellent shape without any signs of scratches, staining, or serious speckling. I was hoping for a marked improvement over past releases but this is honestly better than I expected!
This release also comes with a variety of audio options. There’s a German LPCM 2.0 Mono and German DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, but for English speakers, we get to enjoy an LPCM 2.0 Stereo track as well as an excellent Dolby Atmos audio track! I previewed various sequences in 2.0 stereo, and they were solid if that’s the way you want to go, but I really enjoyed the Atmos mix.
For the few quiet conversational segments, the mix is mostly front/center channel focused but when we get into Hong Kong streets or the Kumite arena, the mix opens up nicely for a rich surround presence. The height channels don’t experience a lot of distinct object-based sound effects, there are a few for a couple of kicks and punches, but they’re mostly used for atmospherics and spacing. When the crowd starts to chant during the matches or cheers on Bolo to execute his opponents, the surrounds really come to life fully engaging the side, rear, and height channels. Punches and kicks land with some good impact giving the low ends some extra rumble. Paul Hertzog’s music accents the soundscape nicely - and that Hertzog/Stan Bush Fight To Survive song is a damn frustrating earworm that’ll leave you chanting “Kumite! Kumite! Kumite! Kumite!”
The LPCM 2.0 Stereo is good, it holds its own nicely and is a great option for fans, but this Atmos track was a welcome surprise.
If great audio and video weren’t enough to get you to jump on this release, Capelight also punched in an awesome selection of bonus features to devoir. Top of the pack is a very entertaining and informative commentary track featuring Bloodsport mega-fan James Bennett, writer Sheldon Lettich, and co-star Paulo Tocha. Bennett keeps the track moving filling in a lot of production details with Lettich and Tocha offering their two cents for relevant scenes and sequences. Next up, we get some great new interviews. Van Damme gives a very frank interview about how he got the part by practically crawling into Golan’s office trying to show off his best stuff and then after feeling like he failed being given a glass of milk, cookies, and handed the script! After that, Sheldon Lettich details his time with the real Frank Dux, developing the script, and it’s funny because he really doesn’t mince any words about it. Paulo Tocha gives a fun interview about getting into Muay Thai and starring in films. Paul Hertzog details how he got into music and started scoring movies. All told, you’ve got well over two hours of brand-new interviews with a great commentary track to listen to.
Bloodsport isn’t just one of the best Cannon films it’s the film that gave us the legendary JCVD, spawned an entire catalog of knockoffs, and inspired two of the greatest video game franchises of all time. Yeah the story is thin and some of the acting is a bit hammy, but it’s an exciting feature giving a number of talented martial artists moments to shine while letting Jean-Claude Van Damme show what he can do and Bolo Yeung proves once again he’s one bulky badass mo-fo.
Now thanks to Capelight Pictures, Bloodsport comes home to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in an excellent two-disc Mediabook set. With a newly restored transfer presented in Dolby Vision and HDR10+, the film looks better than ever complete with an excellent new Atmos audio mix. If that wasn’t enough, you have over two hours of informative and entertaining new interviews and audio commentary to dig into. If every Cannon film could get this sort of treatment, the world would be a better place to live. Highly Recommended