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

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.


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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Screenwriter Sheldon Lettich first met the real-life Dux when his agent needed help cutting down Dux’s unpublished Vietnam War novel, The Last Rainbow.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!"

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Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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