Sunday, 2 October 2011

Bloodfist (1989)

Blood? Check. Fists? Check.

Roger Corman isn't one to sit idly by while a popular cinematic fad runs it's course, and Bloodfist was his attempt to cash-in on the recent success of kickboxing movies, Van Damme's Bloodsport being the most obvious influence. I would have liked to be in on the meeting where they decided on the title. "Blood... fist?" "Sure, why not? Let's go get hammered." Bloodsport, Kickboxer and even Shootfighter make some semblence of sense in context, but Bloodfist just hastily throws together two fight-related words and calls it a day. This half-assed approach extends to most aspects of the film.

During the opening credits, each of the principal actors are listed by name and martial arts credentials, a trend that would continue throughout most of the series. I like it. The filmmakers are letting you know up-front where their priorities are. Don "The Dragon" Wilson (World Kickboxing Association Light Heavyweight World Champion) plays Jake Raye, part-owner of a small boxing gym. He is a boxing coach, having retired from professional fighting after donating a kidney to his half-brother. He says that fighting with one kidney is suicide, but that hasn't stopped his brother from competing in underground fighting tournaments. I can only assume that Jake's brother had two perfectly healthy kidneys and Jake donated a third to make him an unstoppable fighting machine. Then again, this whole kidney thing is never mentioned again, so who knows?

Jake gets a phone call from Manila stating that his brother has been found beaten to death in an alley and could he please come and collect the body because it's stinking up the joint. Within a few minutes of arrival, Jake (looking completely inconspicuous in his Hard Rock Cafe LA t-shirt) is witness to several acts of street crime, including an attempted theft of own his suitcase which he foils by kicking. When he gets to the police station the police chief nonchalantly hands him an urn of his brother's ashes and tells him to be on his way. Seems a little premature for cremation, but at least Jake can take him back as carry-on luggage. The police seem spectacularly uninterested in solving the murder, so Jake does some investigating and finds out his brother was involved with the Red Fist Fighting Club, a organisation that stages one of those high-stakes underground fighting tournaments for the super rich.

Jake meets a wise martial arts master named Kwong (Joe Mari Avellana) who offers to train him for the tournament so he can find his brother's killer. Jake also meets another American fighter named Baby (Michael Shaner), who is ostensibly comic relief but mainly an annoying asshole. Baby is followed around by this mute Filipino girl who sleeps with him and makes him breakfast before leaping out the window, so I guess she's pretty much the perfect woman. Jake also finds a love interest, Baby's sister Nancy (Riley Bowman). She's a dancer (read: stripper) and when he first meets her she's dancing on the roof in a purple leotard to a terribly synthesised Asian pan flute. She's trying to get a job as a translator and she's always listening to language tapes on a walkman, even when they are on dates and during Jake's death matches, which strikes me as pretty rude.

All of the cliches are present and accounted for. Kwong puts Jake through several gruelling training montages while the competition is whittled down to a few final contenders. Rob Kaman (World Kickboxing Association Junior Light Heavyweight World Champion) plays Raton, a self-obsessed Dutch fighter who "uses music as inspiration". Billy Blanks (Professional Karate League World Champion) is great as a fighter named Black Rose. I've always liked Billy Blanks so it's a shame his scenes are pretty short.

Like in Bloodsport there's also an indestructable Asian muscleman who communicates solely in grunts, a genre trope that's always struck me as pretty racist. Here it's fulfilled by Kris Aguilar (Southeast Asia Kickboxing Champion) playing Chin Woo. He's so hardcore that he eats cockroaches instead of squashing them and routinely kills his opponents, which doesn't seem to bother anyone, least of all the police. By the end of the film he has murdered most of the other opponents and beaten Baby into a coma, making him a prime target for Jake's bloodfist.

There's actually a pretty decent twist at the end. Turns out that Kwong has a bizarre scam going where he trains up world-class fighters and then sabotages the final match and bets against them. Seems to me that there would be a lot more money to be made by actually training up world champion fighters, but who am I to question a wise Asian master? There's a really funny part where Jake is suffering the effects of a poisoned mango in his final match with Chin Woo, and Jake's partner tips him off to Kwong's treachery with a hilarious slow motion cookie monster voice. Jake's final fight with Kwong isn't particularly good since Avanella is clearly not a fighter, but that's cool because the rest of the cast are clearly not actors. Acting skills and ass-kicking skills tend to be inversely proportional, so in a movie like this you need to seed the cast with a few actual actors.

Of course a movie like this comes down to the fight scenes and unfortunately they are not that great. The choreography is mediocre and the frequent slow motion only highlights how much the punches and kicks miss their mark. Many of the fights are badly paced, with the two competitors simply trading blows without any sense of momentum. It's a pity, because in several of the fights it's clear that the competitors have the skills to pay the proverbial bills (Wilson vs Blanks is a particular highlight). I guess Bloodfist is a fairly average secret-underground-fighting-tournament movie, but it's watchable and at just a shade over 80 minutes it doesn't waste too much of your time.

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