Bloodsport

Of all the big 80's action stars I've always liked Jean Claude Van Damme the most. His movies weren't really the best – bigger names like Arnold got to work with better directors on better scripts. Bruce Willis fought more memorable villains. Sylvester Stallone often had bigger set pieces in his movies. There were a ton of guys who were better at the actual craft of acting. But Jean Claude had something in his corner that made him innately likeable to me: he makes so many lion faces when he's fighting.

Lion faces is a term I picked up in college because there was one guy who played the drums in almost every band, and he had this really endearing tick where if he was really locked into the grove he would jut out his jaw and snarl like a lion about to roar. I've always loved that sort of tic in a performer because it suggests a level of passion that isn't easily faked; most people can only make those faces when they are legitimately absorbed in what they're doing. It's humanizing and it's goofy and unique, and those are all things that I want out of art.

As a movie, Bloodsport is so-so at best, with a protracted opening with way too much filler. As a delivery vehicle for fight scenes, however, it excels, because it's fight scenes are great. And they aren't great because of their imaginative choreography, per se (although I have no complaints); and they aren't great because they seem super realistic (although again, I have no complaints); no, the fight scenes are great because they provide JCVD the chance to stare with his mouth open at a crotch he's just punched, or to shake his head with rage after he's just knocked out a lesser combatant.


The scene that really sets the movie over the top is when the villain throws a white powder in JCVD's face, causing him to go temporarily blind. (Even though this powdering is the climax of the big fight scene you shouldn't worry about spoilers; a blindness epidemic was obviously coming from the beginning of the movie when JCVD's sensei spent so much time trying to train him to fight blindfolded.) Realizing that he's gone blind in the final match of the tournament gives him the chance to go through a range of emotions: confusion, anger, and ultimately determination. Basically, he goes through all of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief while he has a bloody nose and while his neck is throbbing like a frog leg that's been attached to a battery. It is fucking great.

All of those other actors might have had better techniques, and they might have been involved in classier projects, but none of them ever made as many lion faces. And when it comes down to it who needs technique or class when you could have a good bug eyed snarl?

Winner: Me

Bloodsport on IMDB