Bloodsport 2 (1996)

PLOT: An art thief is double-crossed by his business partner and then sentenced to prison in Thailand. During his incarceration, he learns about a fighting style called “Iron Hand,” a dangerous tournament known as the kumite, and how to make a tasty prison latte in his cell using milk and instant coffee.

Director: Alan Mehrez
Writer: Alan Mehrez
Cast: Daniel Bernhardt, James Hong, Donald Gibb, Pat Morita, Ong Soo Han, Ron Hall, Lisa McCullough, Nicholas Hill, Hee Il Cho, Lori Lynn Dickerson, Philip Tan, Eric Lee


The recently completed 2017 film Kill’em All represents a circuitous crossing of paths more than two decades in the making between an action star who launched a film franchise -- Bloodsport’s Jean-Claude Van Damme -- and the guy who replaced him, Swiss martial artist Daniel Bernhardt. Both actors are in good places now; JCVD is enjoying a professional and pop cultural renaissance while Bernhardt has had roles in major studio films like John Wick and Logan. While he could not have helped his European origins -- or the fact that he looked like Van Damme, sort of sounded like him, and is several inches taller -- inquiring minds want to know why Bernhardt decided to sign on for 1996’s Bloodsport 2 as his action movie debut, especially since it led to a decade of typecast roles that JCVD himself had already done or didn’t want. Is this something the two laughed about while filiming together recently? Or was the working relationship between them akin to two dudes who are tangentially aware that they dated the same person? Questions -- I got ‘em.

During a break in martial arts class, the elderly Sun (Hong) shares with his young students the story of a man whose greed and terrible life choices laid a foundation for redemption. Alex Cardo (Bernhardt) is a suave art thief who makes his living schmoozing his way into soirees at luxurious estates and making off with priceless artifacts. (When you can’t decide between your favorite twins in 1992’s Double Impact -- slick-haired Alex or foppish Chad -- Cardo is there to quip, “why not both?”) His most recent heist at the home of a rich dude named Leung (Morita) sees him walk away with a jeweled sword and a lunch date with the inquisitive Janine (Dickerson). Neither of these prizes comes without a cost, however. The next day at the hotel, he gets set up by his crooked business partner, John (Tan), is arrested by the authorities, and gets an all-expenses-paid trip to a Thai prison. Worst date ever!

The food is garbage. Most of the inmates are violent, and the more docile ones simply wander the all-dirt prison yard sweeping up non-existent trash. Everyone is forced to wear pink. Worse yet, the unholy duo of prison boss Chien (Chuay) and a brutal prison guard named Demon (Ong Soo Han) seems to have it out for Alex. Fortunately, the benevolent master Sun comes to the newbie’s defense during an attempted beat-down and takes him under his wing. What the elderly master lacks in brawn, he makes up for with a style known as “iron hand.” He was forced to use the technique against a former student who turned into a violent rapist, and the result was lethal. Due to the student’s politically connected father, Sun ended up incarcerated for life. In time, Alex learns the iron hand technique from Sun and is able to defend himself against constant attacks by Chien and his cronies.

As prisoners are want to do, the pair discusses the crime that landed Alex in the joint, and Sun reveals that the sword he stole wasn’t just any old blade, but rather the grand prize for an underground invite-only kumite tournament. Alex aspires to enter the tournament and win it using Sun’s iron hand technique as some sort of tribute, but there’s the minor detail of imprisonment standing the way. Have no fear! This is a movie with a bored screenwriter, so the superintendent lets Alex out early for reasons the movie will deal with later (if you’re lucky). Our hero feels bad about leaving Sun behind, but not so bad that he’s going to pass up the chance to breathe free air, enter the kumite, and eat a decent fucking meal. Sun informs him that Demon is also entering the kumite and must be stopped because he’s dishonorable or something. Hijinks ensue, motives are revealed, and Ray Jackson (Gibb) is back in the fray as an English-speaking handler for all the gringos and gweilos at the kumite, Alex included.

The action in the film is good and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that on balance, this film actually has much better fighters and fight choreography than its predecessor. That will sound wacky to fans of the original, but it’s true. For that, we have action choreographer Philip Tan to thank. As Alex’s treacherous former partner, he’s a bit underutilized and doesn’t get quite as much screen time as one might expect. As fight choreographer, though, he makes everybody look good in their fight scenes, whether it’s Bernhardt and Ron Hall in their fast-paced, block-heavy kumite match, or even 67-year-old James Hong throwing strikes in the prison yard like a genuine martial arts O.G.

It is beyond surprising to me that this film had a theatrical run, albeit a short one. My disbelief is informed less by the quality of the film -- it’s good for what it is -- and more by the general circumstances in which it was released. The charismatic Belgian star who helped launch the franchise was replaced by an unknown Swiss look-alike. No threatening glares from Bolo Yeung. No Paul Hertzog soundtrack. The only holdover from the original film is Donald Gibb, who appears to be having a lot less fun with his scenes than he did in the first film. The distributor, Transcontinental Film Corporation, cut its teeth on bringing cheap 1970s Hong Kong martial arts films to American theaters, but had never distributed a homegrown film. Even with the lack of serious star power and a film property that was nearly a decade old, they still pushed this film to theaters for a three-month run, and made a paltry $700,000 at the box office for their efforts. This was the last film they ever touched and my guess is that they’d probably like a mulligan on that decision.


Bloodsport 2 is the sort of sequel you get when you combine a solid lead actor, some good martial arts choreography, and an inferior story propped up with misplaced nostalgia and character actors. It’s not especially distinctive among its tournament chopsocky brethren in its presentation, but the supporting performances and fight choreography are good enough to make it a worthwhile watch. Kumite.


The usual: Amazon, eBay. Not a tough one to find.

3.5 / 7

1 comment:

  1. I always liked this movie. I remember being excited to see it during it's "theatrical release" since Black Belt was hyping it up and even did a cover story on it.But I wouldn't see it until five years later when I found a barebones DVD of it. Honestly all the Bloodsport sequels are surprisingly watchable


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