We love our martial arts movie clichés here at Video Junkie. My personal favorite is the “wealthy white folks like to watch people fight to the death” rule. Never has a stereotype been so wrong, yet felt so right. No doubt born from the “wealthy guy holds martial arts tournament” plot found in classics such as ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), this subgenre took on an even deeper and twisted meaning in the wealthy excesses of the 1980s where the us-versus-them sentiment was translated into the ultimate symbolic cinematic form, a modern day version of the barbaric Roman coliseum audiences. Films like THE OCTAGON (1980) and THE KARATE KID (1984) kept the tournament format alive in audiences’ heads, but it was probably Jean-Claude Van Damme’s BLOODSPORT (1988) that was responsible for fully establishing the “rich folks have bloodlust” scenario so perfectly in martial arts cinema. No doubt it was possible because martial arts, both in film and practice, still had an air of mystery behind them (enough so that Frank Dux, the basis for that film, was able to con people with his “true” story). Just what do those wealthy do behind closed doors for kicks? They must pine for the blood of the common man, right?
Rare photograph from the annual Bilderberg meeting:
Coupled with the debut of the UFC (dubbed “human cockfighting” by Senator John McCain at the time) in the early ‘90s, this subgenre exploded and soon every martial arts tournament flick had dudes decked out in tuxedos and ladies in their finest evening gowns thirsty for blood (convention required a woman to get splashed with blood during a fight…and enjoy it). Shelves were overflowing with evocative titles like the BLOODFIST (1989) series, Van Damme’s LIONHEART (1990), THE KING OF THE KICKBOXERS (1990), BLOODMATCH (1991), AMERICAN SAMUARI (1993), DEATH RING (1993), the SHOOTFIGHTER (1993) films, ENTER THE BLOOD RING (1995), FISTS OF IRON (1995), and KICK OF DEATH (1997). Trying to catch the wave late in the game was BLADE BOXER (1997).
Amazingly, Reisman and King announced a BLADE BOXER II: SUDDEN DEATH (alternate title BLADE BOXER II: BLOOD MASTERS) in early 1995 in Variety, but it never came to fruition. I’m sure the major stumbling block there was trying to decide what else Morgan could shave to go under-under-undercover.