Sunday, December 8, 2019

Bloodsport 2 (1996)

I've mentioned many times before how highly I regard Bloodsport 2, be it on my blog, or in private company. Why is that? And why have I taken so long so get to this when I've been wanting to review it for years now? Well to answer the latter question, I saw this series a 'little' bit out of order, starting with 4, continuing with 2 and 3, and concluding in 1. 4 was the first one I reviewed, followed by 3, which I wanted to get out of the way first before discussing 2, because it's garbage! Still no Bloodsport 2 review though. That's because I hadn't actually...errr, seen the original movie at that point, and I figured I couldn't talk about 2 completely if I don't know how it ranks as a sequel. For all I know it might look like a dollar store production when compared to the much bigger budgeted mainstream action picture that is the first entry. I've long since seen and reviewed that though. Why the gap afterwards? Err, well I've been busy and distracted with a lot of things! It's finally time now though to discuss Bloodsport 2, and tell you all why I love this movie so much...And to apologise to Daniel Bernhardt for my criticism of his acting in my Bloodsport 4 review!...

Alex Cardo is a thief working in Thailand. One night he makes the mistake of stealing a priceless Ming Dynasty sword from well-connected businessman David Leung, and is quickly arrested. He's sent to a brutal prison, where he meets Sun, a Chinese martial arts teacher in prison for killing a student gone berserk. Impressed at Alex's willingness to help a fellow inmate who was being attacked by others, Sun decides to mentor him, eventually teaching Alex the skill of the Iron Hand. He gradually overcomes the harshness of the prison, and learns of the Kumite, a revered traditional fighting tournament. Promising to compete in it for Sun if he's ever released, Alex finds his wish granted when Mr. Leung himself grants him a reprieve in order to locate the contest's prize-The stolen sword, now in the possession of Alex's crooked former partner. It's up to Alex to get back the sword, and to compete in the Kumite, where the fearsome prison guard Demon awaits...

Bloodsport 2 is a very satisfying film. Despite its status as a direct-to-video sequel to a Jean-Claude Van Damme 'A-picture B-picture' (that statement makes sense if you've ever seen the original Bloodsport), this film bears quite a great deal of intelligence and subtlety, and has a very nice philosophy to it which was great for me, and hopefully for others too. There are themes ranging from spirituality, gaining inner peace, honour, the pointlessness of revenge, and righting wrongs, both past and potential.

If you're not into martial arts, you might not enjoy this film, as a lot of the last two thirds are tournament fights. The choreography here is very good, and it shows that the cast are professionals at their craft, and that the filmmakers didn't skimp on talent and quality. There are multiple different fighting styles on display, from Capoeira, to Muay Thai, and many more that I assuredly don't recognize, all equally impressive. There's also many match variations too. Some are prolonged fights, others are instant knockouts, and some are tossed out of the ring. They may still be conscious, but you better believe they've lost!

As the Kumite progresses, we see plenty of dynamic characters such as Alex, and Demon, as well as the supporting leads such as Sergio, Cliff, and Kim, who are all clearly talented fighters, and never dull.

I dig that the movie bothers to show us a few fights that don't contain any of the main characters. It's nice seeing the tournament have a bit of life to it, with us seeing people who aren't the leads competing. I also like that it doesn't show the heroes as perfect and infallible fighters, but rather shows the difficulty they face and the challenges they overcome by winning, instead of it just being a breeze. That's not to say they're all longer and tough though. Some are over in a single kick! You believe it, too!

The characters in Bloodsport 2 are quite distinctive! Alex is a likeable hero, undergoing a solid character journey, starting out as an arrogant and somewhat cold thief, to a wiser, warmer, and more honourable person. It's great to see, and much more preferable to a one-note lead. The script does a good job of showing him as bad at first but still with enough goodness and humanity that he's not a scumbag who's hard to root for. As for his super-duper skill, the Iron Hand, it at first seems a bit weird and anticlimactic that Alex rarely if ever uses it on his opponents in the Kumite until Demon, but on the other hand, Demon's probably one of the only few contestants who deserves to be devastated with the move, and using it sparingly does make it all the more special.

The other protagonists at the Kumite are a diverse bunch, with their own unique looks, fighting styles, and personalities. Janine is a decent love interest, fitting into the plot very well, complementing Alex's change of character. Mr. Leung (David, not James as one character mistakenly calls him early on) is likewise good. It's nice seeing him come around from disliking Alex to trusting and respecting him. Sun is a great mentor with many important lessons to teach, and you can really feel the impression he makes on everyone he meets.

Demon is an imposing villain who adds a lot of menace to the proceedings. Like Chong Li from the first Bloodsport, he barely speaks a word, and doesn't have much to him. Although while Chong Li had no character and was cartoonishly one-note, we at least see plenty of Demon before the Kumite, as a brutal prison guard, whereas Li was just some guy. Because of that, Demon is the better character, even if he is no Bolo Yeung. Also, for the unaware, 'No Bolo Yeung' is a roundabout way of saying a fighter is bloody impressive!

I barely have any negatives with this film-Just a few minor issues. For one, it doesn't say how long Alex has been in prison until near the very end, which is a bit annoying. I wish we would have found out sooner. Also, while Mr. Leung sees what Alex's plan to  get the sword back is eventually, I didn't like the "Does it Matter?" explanation he gives at first. To me it gave off the wrong vibes.

I also kinda dislike how Demon kills his final opponent before Alex. It makes total sense for it to happen, and it's great dramatically, but I feel it puts a damper on the whole event. I can imagine the characters reminiscing, like "Hey Alex, remember when we fought in that Kumite?"-"Yeah, it was awesome! Great memories...Oh, except when that one guy was totally murdered!". I do really like how the crowd reacts though. They spend the whole move happily chanting Demon's name during every fight. After snapping the dude's neck, Demon proudly and smugly raises his hands up in the air expecting applause...and doesn't get so much as a singly clap. He raises his arms again, looking pissed off now, but the place is still as quiet as a tomb. Perfect! As for after the events of the movie, one can presume he ends up back in that prison, but not in the capacity he held before!

Finally, let's compare Bloodsport 2 with its predecessor, and see how it stacks up! Firstly, plotwise. The story here is unrelated to the first in all respects but it being about the Kumite, and the presence of Tiny. This is fine, as the event itself is a more than good enough anchor for a sequel, especially with a familiar face present. I feel this is miles better than what some Direct To Video martial arts sequels do (such as the ones for JCVD vehicle Kickboxer), which is kill off the big-name actor they can no longer afford offscreen in favour of the new guy. I have to say, this doesn't feel like a sequel to that film at all. The original Bloodsport left me a bit cold. It looked great, but it feels a bit hollow, there's little heart to it (not a dealbreaker, but important when a movie is already lacking in other ways), and some of the bad acting is hard to overlook, even if it is friggin' hilarious.

The Kumite here is decidedly more honourable and legit, as well as less violent, and when Demon kills an opponent in the climax, the audience is shocked. Not shocked enough though to throw his ass out of the damn ring and call the cops though. Ah well, honour and all that. Plus, it'd be a greater punishment to let Demon get his ass kicked (if all goes well) so he's thoroughly shamed and defeated, then call the cops.

Despite being a B-picture through and through, the first Bloodsport had money behind it. Something I always wondered was how it looked compared to its low-budget DTV follow-up. Well, the arena in that film perhaps looks better, or at least better lit, but funnily enough it's not that much bigger than the one in the sequel, possibly smaller! Because it's a mainstream film, I guess I was expecting it to look like the Olympics or something.

The acting here ranges from very good to at least competent. The worst offenders have gotta be Alex's old partner, and his henchman. Daniel Bernhardt is effective as the protagonist, good at making us care about his character and story arc, while showing great talent in his fighting skills. James Hong is just great, as lovable as always. He gets plenty of scenes early on, but after the halfway point the film has a lot less of him, and a lack of framing plot scenes, which is a shame, but he still has enough screentime.

Pat Morita's character feels well utilised, being a good mix between a stern authority figure and a trusting confidant and guardian. Ong Soo Han is great as the villain physically and theatrically. Donald Gibb is a fun presence, and others such as Ron Hall, Nicholas Hill, and Lisa McCullough are great additions to the cast too, and Cho Hee II is always a welcome addition to any movie he's in.

The sound effects are a weak link. They're not terrible, but there are a lot of cracking sounds that don't really look like they sync up with what's presented onscreen, sometimes even sounding far too severe for a simple punch or knock to the ground. Another almost complaint is that the film quality on the DVD release isn't great, but it's good enough that you can easily overlook it once the movie draws you in. I wonder if there's since been a spiffed-up release. If not, I'm sure we'll get one in the near future.

The score is great! I especially love the tune played during the two montages. And speaking of those, it doesn't feel lazy to me that they re-use the same tune, but instead the second montage feels like an extension and completion of Alex's training. And plus, I really love the song! The tune that plays over the end credits is...weird! I can't say it's not entertaining though! It's a techno beat with the occasional distorted voices saying stuff like "Kickboxing!", "Impact!" or "Bloodsport!", and assorted stuff like that.

Shot on location in Thailand, The look of this production is good, and on point, feeling convincing all the way through..

*Whew*, this ended up being quite a long review! I guess that's what comes of talking about your favourite movies. They hold that place for a reason, and what you love about them usually takes more than just a single sentence to describe! Anyway, Bloodsport II comes highly recommended from me. I even suggest you watch it first over the more well-known Jean-Claude Van Damme film! This will always hold a special place in my moviegoing heart...

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