DVD Review: JCVD Bloodsport – The True Story
Review by Ben Bussey
First things first: ignore the title and cover art. Regardless of what the European distributors would have you believe, this is not a film about Jean-Claude Van Damme; he is a side figure at most in this narrative. Instead, this film is about the man on whom the movie Bloodsport was based, pictured above with filmmaker Jesse Barrett-Mills: Canadian martial artist Frank Dux (hence the original title Put Up Your Dux, which gives a clue as to how the man’s surname is pronounced). However, whilst this may be a documentary, you may well find that it forces you to suspend your disbelief every bit as much as one of Van Damme’s high-kicking testosterone fests, if not moreso. See, here’s the thing: prior to getting into the film industry, we are told Frank Dux was trained to the highest levels of Ninjitsu by Japanese masters, and went on to become a Black Ops agent for the CIA undertaking all manner of incredible heroic feats, before becoming the first westerner to win an elusive, no holds barred fighting tournament called the Kumite. As to how much evidence there is for of all this, beyond the words of Dux himself; aye, there’s the rub…
The temptation is there to spend most of this review listing Dux’s many extravagant claims and debating their credibility, but there are plenty of other places where this has already been done online (here, for instance). In my position as reviewer, my primary concern is not the veracity of the subject’s claims, but rather how well the subject is presented by the filmmaker. And it must be said, the efforts of Jesse Barrett-Mills leave a great deal to be desired here. On a basic technical level the film is a major disappointment. Sure, we can excuse the fact that the archive footage comes mainly from battered old VHS copies, but the new interview footage is also subpar, crudely shot on DV with very poor sound and picture quality (all of which makes it a curious decision to release the film in 3D). Then, of course, there is the question of balance. Of course it’s by no means unheard of for a documentary to be biased in favour of its subject – that’s certainly been the case for a great many of my favourite documentaries of recent years, like Jake West’s Video Nasties and Jason Paul Collum’s Screaming in High Heels – but in this instance, given the outlandish nature of Dux’s claims and the lack of proof for most of them, I think it would have helped to give a bit more screentime to the naysayers, or maybe even have Dux discuss the matter with them face to face.
The other key problem is Dux himself. If it is hoped that this documentary will give his side, and thereby boost his credibility and public sympathy, the man does himself few favours here. Not to get too psychoanalytical about it, but his insistence on wearing sunglasses for the bulk of his interview time adds to his inscrutibility and – well – makes him come off a bit of a dick. Attempts are made to make him seem casual: take the moment when, by chance, the sound of a nearby ice-cream truck interrupts an interview, at which he proposes they go get ice cream; or another long interview which takes place as Dux is shaving. Perhaps the idea is to show the ‘real’ Frank Dux with his guard down, but it all comes off about as natural as those ridiculous home video diaries David Cameron used to do while running for Prime Minister. No, that is not a flattering point of reference.
As for Van Damme’s role in all this; one of the key story elements is Dux’s relationship with the Muscles from Brussels and how it all went sour. Again, I won’t go into specifics here, but it’s no great surprise that the film doesn’t paint the kindest picture of Van Damme; it’s also no surprise that, outside of archive footage, Van Damme himself does not appear, having apparently ignored interview requests.
Followers of Dux and his escapades will no doubt be interested, but it doesn’t seem too likely that the film will win him many new fans. Could he be on the level? As unlikely as I find it, I will concede that it’s possible. Is that slim chance reason enough to take what he says at face value? I think not; but they are certainly entertaining stories nonetheless. Under any title, Put Up Your Dux/JCVD Bloodsport – The True Story makes for at least a diverting hour in front of the TV. It may have been intended to cement a legend, but instead it plays like The Foot Fist Way for real, and no doubt many will find comedy value here.
JCVD Bloodsport – the True Story is released to Region 2 DVD, Blu-Ray and 3D Blu-Ray on 9th July, from Los Banditos Films.