Written By Zak Attack
A dramatic journey through the dreck we all know and love
Why Did I Watch This?
Bloodfist 2 was expiring from Netflix’s Instant Watch service. My inner completist was uncomfortable with watching the second movie before the first.
I’d also like to reiterate, we’ve got ourselves a 9-film franchise here.
How Did I Watch It?
Netflix Instant Watch alone on a hungover Saturday morning.
What Did I Watch?
Bloodfist‘s opening credits fall over a dimly lit, incredibly lopsided underground kickboxing match between two men. It seems that the losing party (a character we later learn is named Michael Raye) is purposefully throwing the fight. As he gets increasingly upset at his beating, he sees a signal from the stands and decides to go apeshit on his opponent, seemingly killing him. He walks away happily, but is brutally murdered in an alley on the way home. Something’s rotten in the underground fight scene of Manila.
Then we’re introduced to Jake Raye (Don “The Dragon” Wilson), the dead fighter’s brother. In an exposition-heavy scene he explains he quit fighting because he had to donate a kidney to his brother and intense physical trauma is not recommended when you’re missing a kidney. This is never brought up again for the rest of the movie. Almost immediately, he receives a call from the Philippines government telling him he has to take a trip in order to claim his brother’s ashes (waste of a kidney if you ask me). Once he arrives he gets his bag stolen, retrieves it, and then loses the bag almost immediately after he hides it in a bush for some reason. He is helped by a strange-acting man named Kwong (Joe Mari Avellana) who agrees to train him if he will take the place of Michael in the esteemed Red Fist Tournament. Jake agrees, but the proceeds to go off with a drunk guy named Baby (Michael Spaner) and follows him back to his place for the hell of it. It is there where Jake meets Baby’s sister Nancy (Riley Bowman) in one of my favorite “meet-cute”s in all of cinema. He sees her on the roof as she awkwardly spins around while wearing a leotard. When she notices him he remarks “You’re very flexible.” Nothing flexible happens. She literally just spins around.
It is here where the audience is introduced to the opponents Jake will be facing in the tournament (including Tae-Bo creator, Billy Blanks, as Black Rose!) The rules aren’t clear, but it seems that at least one guy by the name of Chin Woo (Cris Aguilar) tries his damnedest to kill all his opponents because of something about the Vietnam War. However, it doesn’t appear to actually be a “death match” since many opponents throughout the film do not, in fact, die. Next there is a somewhat humorous and unconventional training montage where fruit plays a significant role. One ongoing setpiece is Jake trying to scale an active volcano in a certain amount of time so Kwong will give him a mango. Another training exercise involves children pelting Jake with tomatoes and other assorted food products as he lazily tries to slap them away. As ineffective as this training seems, it specifically attempts to reference the standout montage of Stallone in Rocky IV. While his opponents are training in a gym, our hero is using less “modern” methods of training. Just like that movie, the sequence ends with a helicopter shot of the protagonist celebrating on the top of a very tall geological formation. Unlike that movie, the music is intensely forgettable.
And then the rest of the film is just a bunch of fights outlined by trying to solve the “mystery” of Michael’s death. I’m not really spoiling anything when I say that Kwong’s insistence on helping Jake by not helping in anyway whatsoever acts as some heavy foreshadowing to an eventual big “twist”. To be honest, Jake is kind of an idiot throughout. At one point he sees a suspected killer wearing his brother’s favorite hat (the audience already knows he’s just some old guy who found the hat) and asks Kwong to chase him down. When he returns empty-handed Kwong says, “Oh, I let him go… don’t worry, he gave me his address”. They show up to the house to find the old man’s lifeless body and Jake is arrested. But Jake still trusts Kwong after that!
What is later revealed is that in that initial fight, Michael “betrayed” Kwong by not taking a dive… so he was murdered. But ALSO, Michael apparently killed Kwong’s brother when he won that fight so there’s an element of vengeance as well! The conclusion really doesn’t make any sense. If he’s such a powerful force in underground fighting, couldn’t he just have asked a local fighter to throw fights? How was he so sure that Jake would fly there from the United States and then get to the final match, despite his missing kidney? If it was vengeance he was after, why didn’t Kwong just kill Jake when he handed him the drugged mango? The more you think about it, the more you realize that the tournament was simply a crutch the screenwriters leaned on when they couldn’t figure out how to shoehorn action into their stupid plot. Although we’ve seen nonsensical uses of this type of plot element in this feature before, the whole Red Fist Tournament is so extraneous it’s easier just not to think about it all.
In fact, there are a lot of ideas haphazardly tossed into the screenplay without thought of how it would affect the rest of the movie. So much so, that I was incredibly surprised to see that this film had a single screenwriter instead of a whole committee behind it. In addition to the whole kidney thing and the tournament itself, I feel like half of this short film is just filler until we reach the uninspired fight scenes. Most obviously, the filmmakers threw in the superfluous romance with Nancy in order to fit in some T&A. They even reveal (to virtually no fanfare) that she’s a stripper and possibly a prostitute (“There’s some things you just have to do” after a man gropes her on stage). The stripping aspect isn’t referenced later, but seems to simply be an excuse to fit in a short, semi-nude dancing scene. Robert King (the screenwriter) also includes some strange humor like Baby’s whole drunken persona and lines like, “Using chopsticks is like trying to dial a telephone with your ear!”. There is also an obsessive young woman who breaks into Baby’s house to serve him breakfast every morning who is unceremoniously killed by a well-placed slap from one of the villains.
The character of Baby is so damn weird! In addition to his silly name, his persona is just really off-putting because he never takes anything seriously. When helping to train Jake for the big fighting tournament that could result in death, he mostly contributes by horsing around and cracking jokes. At least he’s flippant about the training until Kwong makes a comment about Jake being too tired to fight because he was up all night banging Baby’s sister Nancy! In response, he simply runs at Jake and gets kicked in the face. It’s important to note that they decided to conduct this sparring match on a roof with no guardrails or anything of the sort. Because why not?
However, the manic energy that Michael Shaner brings to the character is exhilarating to watch. He plays Baby as a character suffering from severe ADHD and emotional problems. He’s just a crazy kid who loves gambling and is always laughing his head off. It’s even worse when the character’s drunk (which is most of the film). For some reason, Shaner made the acting decision that “drunk” meant that he would start speaking in what can only be described as a wild shriek. When Jake asks about how he got the nickname “Baby”, the soused sidekick tells the story like this:
(Read in a nearly unintelligible scream): “Baby’s my real name! My parents argue all the time… couldn’t agree what to call me! Hahaha, Haha ha ha!”
This does not, however, explain how his sister ended up with the name “Nancy”.
They don’t even really establish him as that good of a kickboxer. We see him compete in one fairly easy match and then suddenly learn that he is in the semifinals against the murderous Chin Woo. Where Baby, of course, gets his ass handed to him.
Bloodfist commits the cardinal sin of a fighting movie: The fighting isn’t very good. Nearly all matches have both opponents crammed into a medium shot where you can only see a small portion of the fighters’ bodies. As a result, no feats of athleticism really get the space to breathe. Most of these scenes are also over-edited to negative effect.
However, beyond that, the choreography isn’t anything to write home about either. While at certain points they utilize grapples and hits that feel “true” to kickboxing and even modern MMA fighting, there is nothing particularly unique or stimulating about how the fights play out. Some of the best movies of this ilk have different fighters represent different styles of fighting that create both a thematic and entertaining diversity to the action scenes. Bloodfist does not do that. The fight between Raye and Black Rose is the only one that’s worth mentioning as a standout. Every other scene is exceptionally drab.
Was It Worth Watching?
Meh. It’s hard to say that Bloodfist is “worth watching”. This flick is definitely in the bottom group of all those fighting movies out there. Bloodsport, The Quest, Kickboxer (man, JCVD is in a lot of these), Game of Death, Mortal Kombat, Warrior, Best of the Best, etc. are all technically better films. However, I don’t want to say it’s not worth watching, because the whole experience was so bizarre. As a result of Don “The Dragon” Wilson’s lack of screen presence, the overcomplicated plot, and the stupid character motivations the consumption of Bloodfist makes for an oddly dreamlike experience.
Although, maybe I just lost all my standards after Hercules Month took its toll on me. It’s a martial arts movie where the fighting sucks, so what’s the point? How this spawned 8 sequels and a remake is beyond me. The full movie is on YouTube if you’re interested:
All images courtesy of Concorde Films