Sunday, July 10, 2016

PCP's Movie Pick of the Month for July: Bloodsport (1988)

 A genuine martial arts classic with a valuable lesson for you this month. If you haven't seen it, you're missing out on some brilliant story-telling and performances.

Bloodsport (1988)

 "I aint your pal, Dickface." - Ray Jackson.

 For those of you who aren't already familiar, Bloodsport, directed by Newt Arnold, tells the apparently true story of an underground martial arts competition called the Kumite that apparently happened in Japan in the 1980s. The competition was so underground that no actual video of it exists, despite it occurring in a time when video recorders were readily available. It was that secret. Thus, Bloodsport remains the definitive portrayal of the Kumite and our only record of the remarkable events that occurred over the course of a week in the 80s.

True martial focus.
 The hero of our story is Paco, portrayed by Paulo Tocha, a Muay Thai fighter from South Africa. Paco is a very skilled, technical fighter with a ring IQ and skill far greater than many of the other competitors at the Kumite. He takes a pragmatic, brutal approach to his matches, utilizing all 8 weapons of Muay Thai, viciously attacking the legs and body, systematically wearing his opponents down before inevitably winning his matches by knockout. However, like all great heroes, Paco suffers from one serious character flaw, which eventually leads to his own undoing. That flaw is his pride.

 It's an interesting directorial choice on Arnold Newt's part to spend so much of the movie developing its secondary characters. It speaks to his maturity as a filmmaker that he would spend an inordinate amount of time developing the character of Frank Dux, the villain of this story portrayed by relatively unknown martial artist named Claude Valjean, so that the viewer knows what is on the line for both characters when they inevitably face off in the film's climax. Dux, although clearly not as skilled as Paco, possessed a significant size advantage, made possible by the fact that the Kumite clearly lacked weight classes. Paco, who had enjoyed the power advantage over his previous opponents in the tournament, allowed his pride to co-opt his strategy. Rather than evaluating the situation and taking a more pragmatic, elusive approach, he instead opted to stand and trade with a much larger opponent. Unwilling to give an inch, and displaying great heart, Paco put up a strong performance but alas was unable to deal with the size difference. Dux was able to barely eek out the win, leaving Paco with the Bronze medal, a quite respectable accomplishment in an open-weight, open-skill tournament bracket with nearly 40 fighters from around the world. From there, Dux is shown going on to win the finals of the tournament against returning champion Chong Li, neither of whom display a level of skill on par with Paco, indicating that he could potentially win in the next tournament as long as he rededicated himself to his training and reflected on his humility.

There's a reason weight classes exist.

The main lesson to be drawn from Paco's story in Bloodsport and applied to Muay Thai is this: the result of a fight is not always the best indication of the quality of the fight and the effort that went in to getting that far. You can lose a fight and still be more impressive that the winner. The result of a given fight doesn't change the path that you took to get there. It doesn't change the earlier fights in the tournament, or how hard you went in your training camp. You can do the bare minimum requirements to fight in the gym, doing just enough to get by and then go on to win your fight. Likewise you can give 150% in the gym every day and still come up short. There's no karma in combat sports. You win some and you lose some, this is true of many things. That being said, at the end of the day, I will be more impressed with the latter fighter.

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