Long ago, before the problems with drugs and fights at strip clubs, Jean Claude Van Damme ripped himself out of the fighting world, oiled up his flesh, and became America's Muscles from Brussels. At first, the process was slow and simple -- breaking into the world of film as "Gay Karate Man" in Monaco Forever, being a background performer in Rue barbare, and then getting some uncredited English work as a spectator in that 1984 classic, Breakin'.
But then came No Retreat, No Surrender, where he played a Russian baddie opposite General Hospital and Guiding Light star Kurt McKinney, and the rest was history. He did all he could do in the action realm -- kickboxing revenge, jail, video game flicks, soldier, and even cracking walnuts with his butt.
These days, he's whipped up an insane amount of positive buzz with JCVD and reinvigorated his career. But it all had to start somewhere. As a well-oiled, good-guy ode to that sexy, muscled Belgian, I give you: Bloodsport and Kickboxer.
*Note: In the interest of good matches, I'm leaving off my all-time favorite Van Damme flick, Cyborg, to get its love another day. Gibson will have his moment to shine!
Believe it or not, this all started in Toronto, where the real Frank Dux was born. Fast forward a number of years, through time in the military and adventures in an underground tournament (his involvement later refuted), and you have the basis for Van Damme's Bloodsport.
As Frank Dux, Van Damme is a martial artist working as a soldier in the US Military. Dux decides to head to Hong Kong to take part in a no-holds barred illegal martial arts tournament called Kumite -- but the military doesn't want him to leave, and sends men out to arrest him. (One of them happens to be Oscar winner Forest Whitaker.) In between seven painful-looking splits and a sexy reporter who wants Dux to get her into the tournament's audience, he must evade the military and win the event by defeating the creepy, uber-tough defending champion, Chong Li.
Bolo Yeung, who played Chong Li, faced Van Damme again in Bloodsport.
Frank's training. This includes that insane split contraption. (5:09)
Dux vs. Paco
The lovely world of YouTube makes it possible for you to see Van Damme in all of his gay fighter glory in this clip.
With Bloodsport, Van Damme fought for the honor of his mentor. With Kickboxer, he fights for the honor of his brother. (This is early Van Damme here, so repetition is beside the point.) Van Damme plays Kurt Sloan, the brother of US kickboxing champion Eric Sloan. When Eric is paralyzed by the malicious Thai fighter Tong Po, he vows revenge.
But unlike Dux, Kurt is just the corner man. So, he treks into a remote area of Thailand to get the help of Xian Chow. Instead of insane rope contraptions, Van Damme revels in blind fighting and coconuts dropped from ridiculously high altitudes. This ruffles the feathers of Thai gangsters who run their own underground kickboxing ring, and they force Kurt to take Tong Po on in a death match.
Michel Qissi was a technical adviser/choreographer who got the role of Tong Po after overhearing that the part was open. Qissi also shows up in Bloodsport as the fighter whose leg is broken by Chong Li.
Kurt gets his grove on and puts John Travolta to shame.
Training, Kickboxer style. (Ignore the dubbing.)