By accident I came across this film, which bills itself as "the true story behind BLOODSPORT" but is actually a documentary on the life and controversies of martial artist Frank Dux. For those of you who don't know, Dux supplied the story for the titular film, claiming it to be based on his own experiences of fighting in a secret international martial arts tournament. This is one of many spectacular claims Dux has made, resulting in much derision outside of the martial arts world. This 68-minute documentary takes a look at the issue subjectively, telling stories mainly from Dux's point of view and therein becoming one of the few pro-Dux conceptions of the past two decades. Will it potentially alienate folks who have a set opinion on the man? - probably, but despite this and a few rough production aspects, it's still a very entertaining movie.
Much of the film acts as a timeline of Dux's life, detailing his humble beginnings of immigrating to the United States and beginning his martial arts training by mimicking movements outside of a school on the sidewalk, before going on about the development of his purported prowess in the fighting arts and his recruitment into the military, followed by his entry into Hollywood and the subsequent downfall of his public character. The film ends on a relatively positive note, with Dux's induction into the Martial Arts Masters Hall of Fame. Surprisingly, there is little elaboration on the actual "Kumite" tournament, leading me to think that its inclusion in the film's revised title - JCVD BLOODSPORT - was a pure marketing decision.
To get the technical stuff out of the way, let me summarize that the production of the movie is basic but presentable. Some of the camera-work is amateurish, but it doesn't hurt the content. Older documentary and news footage hasn't been noticeably restored, but no part of the movie is difficult to watch or understand. The relatively short runtime is to the flick's advantage, as it allows for a compact, to-the-point package.
Of course, if you're hoping for a documentary that's antagonistic towards Dux, you're going to disagree that this one's to-the-point. Towards the end of the movie, it does address criticisms leveled against Dux, but does so in the process of illustrating the wave of opportunistic animosity that hit Dux in the late 80s and mid 90s. With that said, the arguments presented in favor of Dux's many claims are curious enough to be read either way: Frank has some noteworthy people backing up his stories, including several legitimate martial arts masters and a military admiral, but also a masked Russian man with a voice distorted claiming to be ex-Spetznaz, as well as two gentlemen in uniforms who are simply identified as "Minister of Defense, Ukraine" and "Minister of Health, Ukraine." It's occasionally fishy and bizarre, but nonetheless entertaining. Dux's life has been described as that of a real-life James Bond, and that's certainly what the film presents.
Conspicuous by his absence from the picture is Jean-Claude Van Damme: he appears in film clips and in snippets recorded during his court case with Dux, but he contributes no interview specifically for this feature and it's noted in the credits that he didn't answer messages from the filmmakers. Someone who is more forthcoming and vocal in his testimony towards Dux, though, is filmmaker Sheldon Lettich, who worked with both Dux and Van Damme on several films and makes perhaps the most sober, unbiased claims against the former. Other recognizable faces include actors/martial artists Brian Thompson and Jeff Langton, but neither of their interviews is very substantial.
Even if you aren't interested in the eventually cyclical debate on whether or not Dux has accomplished everything he says he has, the narration of his life story is fascinating to sit through. His visible accomplishments and setbacks compose a tale that's inspiring, tragic, and entertaining at the same time. Even at the time he first became the inspiration for BLOODSPORT, it's no wonder so many people were intrigued enough to make a movie about him, because any way you slice it, Frank Dux is a very interesting figure - something the documentary certainly captures.
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