The year was 1988. Jean-Claude Van Damme was a little known martial artist trying to make the transition to acting, and after bit parts in B-movies, a starring role finally landed in his lap.
It was in the corny-yet-compelling action flick Bloodsport, which was made on a $2 million budget and went on to make more than $50 million at the worldwide box office before becoming a bona fide VHS hit.
Thirty years later, Bloodspot is still a part of the pop culture zeitgeist, and not just because it launched Van Damme into stardom. Bloodsport also gave us the fight tournament subgenre of action movies and mades millions of American boys learn to do the splits.
But you already knew all that. Here are 10 things you might not have known.
1. THOUGH IT’S BILLED AS A TRUE STORY, IT PROBABLY ISN’T
The real-life Frank Dux, whose victory at the underground Kumite supposedly inspired Bloodsport, was probably lying about his exploits. That’s the conclusion the L.A. Times arrived at after an investigation into his claims just a couple months after the movie hit theaters. “We have no recollection of such a tournament,” one martial arts expert told the paper. “We would know. No, never. It can’t happen.”
2. JCVD LITERALLY KICKED HIS WAY INTO THE ROLE
Legend has it that Van Damme landed the lead role after spotting Menahem Golan, the head of schlocky action studio Cannon Films, on the streets of L.A. Screenwriter Sheldon Lettich told Slashfilm the story in 2016:
Jean-Claude saw Menahem on the street, did a U-Turn and said, “Hey Menahem, remember me? Jean-Claude Van Damme.” And then he did a kick that missed his face by like two inches.
3. JCVD GOT PAID PEANUTS FOR THE MOVIE
Though Bloodsport made a ton of money, Van Damme didn’t see much of it. He only made $25,000, all of which he earned in this montage alone.
4. BOLO YEUNG, WHO PLAYED VILLAIN CHONG LI, WAS BEST BUDS WITH BRUCE LEE
A former body building champ in Hong Kong, Yeung befriended the martial arts icon in the ’70s, and they soon became close friends. Yeung played Yang Sze in Enter the Dragon, which came out in 1979. In the decade between starring alongside Lee and taking on Van Damme, he became one of the most recognizable bad guys in Hong Kong cinema. But his turn as Chong Li gave him a career in the U.S., where he continued to play bad guys.
5. BLOODSPORT INSPIRED MORTAL KOMBAT
Ed Boon and John Tobias, the creators of legendary video game Mortal Kombat, were inspired in part by Bloodsport. In fact, Midway Games attempted to license Van Damme’s image for the game. When that fell though, Jean-Claude became Johnny Cage, who not coincidentally shares initials with the Muscles from Brussels.
6. THERE WASN’T A SINGLE STUNTMAN IN THE MOVIE
Frank Dux told Buzzfeed that the budget didn’t allow for stuntmen to be cast, so producers made sure that everyone in the movie could take a punch. “Many of the guys had professional dance backgrounds,” he said.
7. BUT THERE WERE OTHER MARTIAL ARTISTS
Among the pro fighters in Bloodsport are Michel Qissi, a kickboxer who played the fighter Suan Paredes, and Paulo Tocha, a Muay Thai expert who played Paco. Tocha has credited the role with helping to legitimize Muay Thai in the West. Both fighters would go on to appear with Van Damme in Kickboxer.
8. DONALD TRUMP LOVES IT
A 1997 New Yorker profile includes this anecdote set aboard the now-president’s private plane:
He’d brought along “Michael,” a recent release, but twenty minutes after popping it into the VCR he got bored and switched to an old favorite, a Jean Claude Van Damme slugfest called “Bloodsport,” which he pronounced “an incredible, fantastic movie.” By assigning to his son the task of fast-forwarding through all the plot exposition—Trump’s goal being “to get this two-hour movie down to forty-five minutes”—he eliminated any lulls between the nose hammering, kidney tenderizing, and shin whacking.
9. DONALD GIBB, WHO PLAYS RAY JACKSON, WAS BRIEFLY IN THE NFL
Best known as Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds, Donald Gibb provides some comic relief in Bloodsport as the hulking biker type Ray Jackson. Unlike the other participants in the Kumite, he doesn’t practice martial arts, relaying instead on his brute strength to crush dudes. It was that same brute strength that landed him with the San Diego Chargers for a spell before he turned to acting
10. NATURALLY, THERE’S A REMAKE IN THE WORKS
Given Hollywood’s obsession with recycling old ideas, it’s little surprise that a Bloodsport remake is in the works. What is surprising is that after being announced in 2011, we’re still waiting for it to hit theaters.