10 Kick-Ass Facts About Bloodsport

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Kumite! Kumite! Kumite! Thirty years ago today, Jean-Claude Van Damme got his big break with the release of Bloodsport, the martial arts classic from Cannon Films, the fine purveyors of gloriously cheesy schlock. The company and the actor perhaps hit their collective peak with the movie, which introduced the world to the Muscles from Brussels. Read on to find out how well you know the stranger-than-fiction story behind Bloodsport.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY ... MAYBE.


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Bloodsport is allegedly inspired by the real-life exploits of martial artist Frank Dux (pronounced “dukes”). His story was originally told in a Black Belt Magazine article, which chronicled claims that Dux—who also supposedly took part in covert missions in Southeast Asia for the CIA in the 1980s—infiltrated a secretive, no-holds-barred martial arts tournament known as the “Kumite” to take down the criminal organization that oversaw the fight.

Dux became the first American champion of the tournament, which took place in cities around the world every five years and gathered the world’s top fighters in a variety of styles to determine who reigned supreme. Or not.

While the real-life Dux claims the Kumite and his record are fact, some say his backstory about the Kumite and the CIA is completely fabricated. (Even the Black Belt piece came with a warning: “Although there is no convenient way to verify each and every detail connected with this story, the editors have verified enough of the basic facts to feel confident in publishing it. But since we are not at liberty to share the corroborating evidence with the public, we acknowledge that each reader may have a different idea of what the facts permit him to believe.”) On May 1, 1988, more than two months after Bloodsport hit theaters, the Los Angeles Times published an exposé calling into question the majority of Dux’s claims.

2. THE WRITER KNEW IT WAS BASED ON A LIE, BUT WANTED TO MAKE A MOVIE ANYWAY.

Screenwriter Sheldon Lettich first met the real-life Dux when his agent needed help cutting down Dux’s unpublished Vietnam War novel, The Last Rainbow. Lettich recalled in an interview with /Film that “...we just kind of hit it off.” He later told website AsianMoviePulse.com, “Frank told me a lot of tall tales, most of which turned out to be bullshit,” yet “his stories about participating in this so-called ‘Kumite’ event sounded like a great idea for a movie."

Eventually Lettich’s own screenwriting credits on the Sylvester Stallone threequel Rambo III got him a meeting with producer Mark DiSalle, who pitched Lettich the idea for a movie called Kickboxer (another martial arts movie that would eventually also star Jean-Claude Van Damme). Lettich countered with a movie pitching Dux’s supposed life story, causing DiSalle to move forward with that film first.

3. THERE ARE A NUMBER OF STORIES ABOUT HOW JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME LANDED THE LEAD.

Jean-Claude Van Damme in 'Bloodsport' (1988)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Van Damme, who’s real name is Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg, moved to Los Angeles from his native Belgium in the early 1980s, only to hold a series of short-term, menial jobs—including driving a limo, delivering pizzas, and working in a carpet factory—with the hopes of using his martial arts talent to break into the movie business. The young Van Damme allegedly spotted Cannon Films head Menahem Golan outside a restaurant, and literally showed off his moves by doing his signature high kick in front of Golan’s face.

Golan reportedly hired Van Damme for Bloodsport on the spot for a $25,000 contract. Dux disputes the high-flying kick story, saying it was Lettich who first saw the potential of the Belgian’s high kicks in the 1986 low-budget karate film No Retreat, No Surrender. Van Damme was also an extra in previous Cannon films like Breakin’ and Missing in Action.

In a hilarious 1987 interview promoting Bloodsport, in which Van Damme insists the interviewer train with him while she conducts her questions, the Muscles from Brussels says he got the gig by calling Cannon Films and lying by saying he was a personal friend that had a meeting with Golan. The exec’s curiosity was piqued, and Van Damme said, “I did my split, I showed my muscles, I said ‘I’m the best, and I’m not too expensive right now,’” which got him the part.

Fun fact: Van Damme’s original big break was supposed to be as the title monster in the 1987 film Predator, but he ended up being fired from the movie because he complained about the original monster suit’s restrictive nature and the film’s lack of martial arts.

4. DUX CLAIMED HE WROTE THE MOVIE HIMSELF.

Dux said the idea for Bloodsport was taken from an original script he wrote called “Enter the Ninja” (not to be confused by the other Cannon Films, Menahem Golan-directed karate classic Enter the Ninja), written under the pseudonym “Benjamin Wolf.”

According to Dux, Lettich didn’t like the script—which also allegedly came with programs from the ‘real’ Kumite and actual fight footage provided by Dux—though Lettich claimed “there was no script prior to the Bloodsport script.”

5. THE STUDIO’S FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY FRANK DUX WAS TOO TALL.

The character of Frank Dux was originally supposed to be played by actor Michael Dudikoff, who previously appeared in Cannon schlock like American Ninja, Avenging Force, and Platoon Leader. The filmmakers behind Bloodsport apparently passed on Dudikoff because the 6’2” actor was too tall.

6. THE COSTUMES WERE ALL WRONG.

Jean-Claude Van Damme in 'Bloodsport' (1988)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Van Damme’s character was originally outfitted for his fight scenes in silk pajamas the filmmakers bought locally in Hong Kong, where the movie was shot, but the real-life Dux found them to be unrealistic, based on his alleged experience in the Kumite. There was no extra money in the budget to revamp the uniforms, so Dux made himself the de-facto costume designer and paid out of pocket to have his wife buy uniforms in the United States to send to China for the fighters in the film.

“The costumes were all wrong at first,” Dux told BuzzFeed in 2013, recounting how he modified his onscreen persona’s look for his final fight. “So finally, I just decided to make my own damn uniform by essentially modifying bicycle shorts.”

7. THERE WERE NO STUNT PEOPLE.

While the movie is predominantly made up of actors like Van Damme and actress Leah Ayres, the production wanted the Kumite to be as authentic as possible. So they hired real-life martial artists to fight alongside Van Damme. For instance, Paulo Tocha, who plays the Muay Thai fighter Paco, is a real-life Muay Thai champion, and one of the first westerners to train in the martial art.

Michel Qissi, who played kickboxer Suan Paredes, was a fellow martial artist and friend of Van Damme’s who trained at the same Shotokan Karate dojo with him in Belgium. Qissi followed Van Damme to Los Angeles and found himself in a bit part in Bloodsport and eventually played the villain, Tong Po, in Kickboxer.

8. JCVD RE-EDITED THE MOVIE HIMSELF TO GET IT RELEASED.

The movie was shelved for two years after filming was completed because Golan didn’t like it. Lettich told /Film that the first cut of the film was “really bad,” and that Golan told him, “I’m not gonna release it in theaters. That movie’s terrible; I’m putting it straight to video.” But instead of letting it languish further, Golan let in-house editor Michael J. Duthie edit the movie around the fights, which were then edited by Van Damme himself.

9. THE MOVIE IS ALMOST SINGLE-HANDEDLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CREATION OF THE MORTAL KOMBAT VIDEO GAME.

Jean-Claude Van Damme in 'Bloodsport' (1988)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

The bloody fighting game Mortal Kombat, first released in 1992, took more than a few cues from Bloodsport beyond the winner-take-all martial arts tournament conceit.

Developers were initially asked to create a game based on the Van Damme movie Universal Soldier, but the deal fell through, forcing the developers to scramble to not lose their work. Instead, they capitalized on the Van Damme persona by creating the character Johnny Cage (note the same initials), a conceited Hollywood actor-type whose signature move was a split and whose spandex and sash costume is exactly the same as Van Damme’s in Bloodsport.

Fun fact: The arcade game Frank and Ray Jackson (Donald GIbb) play in the lobby of the hotel is the 1984 pioneering fighting game “Karate Champ.” You can now download the game and play it on your iPhone.

10. VAN DAMME REPORTEDLY LIKED THE MUSIC MORE THAN HE LIKED THE MOVIE.

Musician Stan Bush—the guy behind memorably cheesy 1980s movie soundtrack tunes like “The Touch” from 1986’s Transformers: The Movie—created two songs for the Bloodsport soundtrack: “Fight to Survive” and “On My Own—Alone.” (He’d also go on to write three songs for Van Damme’s Kickboxer: "Never Surrender," "Streets of Siam," and "Fight for Love.")

Years after the movie was released, Bush convinced bouncers to let the then-super-famous Van Damme and his entourage into a packed venue where the musician was playing. When Van Damme recognized the musician from his work on Bloodsport, he allegedly said, “The music was better than the movie!"

The Violent Shootout That Led to Daryl Hall and John Oates Joining Forces

Hall and Oates.
Hall and Oates.
Michael Putland, Getty Images

As songwriting partners, Daryl Hall (the blonde one) and John Oates (the mustachioed one) were tentpoles of the 1970s and 1980s music scene. Beginning with “She’s Gone” and continuing on through “Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes,” and “I Can’t Go For That,” they’re arguably one of the biggest pop act duos in history.

Unfortunately, it took a riot and some gunfire to bring them together.

Both Hall and Oates were raised in the Philadelphia suburbs in the late 1950s and 1960s. After high school, both went on to Temple University—Hall to study music and Oates to major in journalism. While in their late teens, the two each had a doo-wop group they belonged to. Hall was a member of The Temptones, a successful act that had recently earned a recording contract with a label called Arctic Records; Oates was part of the Masters, which had just released their first single, “I Need Your Love.”

In 1967, both bands were invited to perform at a dance event promoted by area disc jockey Jerry Bishop at the Adelphi Ballroom on North 52nd Street in Philadelphia. According to Oates, the concert was a professional obligation: Bishop had the ability to give songs airtime.

“When Jerry Bishop contacted you, you had to go,” Oates told Pennsylvania Heritage magazine in 2016. “If you didn’t, your record wouldn’t get played on the radio.”

That’s how Hall and Oates found themselves backstage at the Adelphi, each preparing to perform with their respective group. (Oates said Hall looked good in a sharkskin suit with the rest of his partners, whereas he felt more self-conscious in a “crappy houndstooth” suit.) While Oates had previously seen The Temptones perform, the two had never met nor spoken. It’s possible they never would have if it weren’t for what happened next.

Before either one of them had even made it onto the stage, they heard gunshots. A riot had broken out between two rival factions of high school fraternities. They “really were just gangs with Greek letters,” Hall later told the Independent. Peering out from behind the curtain, Hall saw a fight involving chains and knives. Someone had fired a weapon.

“We were all getting ready for the show to start when we heard screams—and then gunshots,” Oates said in 2016. “It seemed a full-scale riot had erupted out in the theater, not a shocker given the times. Like a lot of other cities around the country, Philly was a city where racial tensions had begun to boil over.”

Worse, the performances were being held on an upper floor of the Adelphi. No one backstage could just rush out an exit. They all had to cram into a service elevator—which is where Hall and Oates came nose-to-nose for the first time.

“Oh, well, you didn’t get to go on, either,” Hall said. “How ya doin’?”

After acknowledging they both went to Temple, the two went their separate ways. But fate was not done with them.

The two ran into each other at Temple University a few weeks later, where they began joking about their mutual brush with death. By that time, Oates’s group, the Masters, had broken up after two of its members were drafted for the Vietnam War. So Oates joined The Temptones as a guitarist.

When The Temptones later disbanded, Hall and Oates continued to collaborate, and even became roommates. Hall eventually dropped out of Temple just a few months before he was set to graduate; Oates went traveling in Europe for four months and sublet his apartment to Hall’s sister. When he returned, he discovered she hadn’t been paying the rent. The door was padlocked. Desperate, Oates showed up on Hall’s doorstep, where Hall offered him a place to sleep. There, they continued to collaborate.

“That was our true birth as a duo,” Oates said.

Hall and Oates released their first album, Whole Oats, in 1972. Using a folk sound, it wasn’t a hit, but the rest of their careers more than made up for it. More than 50 years after that chaotic first encounter, the two have a summer 2020 tour planned.

Watch 25 Minutes of Friends Bloopers Ahead of HBO Max Reunion Special

Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, and Courteney Cox star in Friends.
Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, and Courteney Cox star in Friends.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Much like The Office, Friends continues to enjoy an always-growing and ever-loyal following—thanks in large part to streaming services, but also because of its brilliant cast and still-relatable storylines. And now that all six cast members have officially confirmed they'll be returning for a reunion show on HBO Max, could fans of the series be more excited?

Though very few details have been offered up about the reunion, it's expected to be an hour-long special that will bring Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer back together again. In addition to the special, subscribers to HBO Max will have access to all of Friends's 200-plus hilarious episodes.

So in the spirit of warming up for what will inevitably turn into a Friends marathon, here are 25 minutes of bloopers, in two parts, for your enjoyment.

The Friends reunion special does not have a release date yet, but HBO Max is debuting in May 2020.

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