It is the 1989 World Fighting Championships and the stakes are high, with the title one of the most sought after among the greatest combatants on the planet. But one competitor has a personal reason for being here, and as he makes his way to the final, battling such opponents as a seven foot tall Pakistani wrestler or a Japanese Sumo wrestler, he is not here simply to win, but to win against one man in particular. Masahiro Kai (Yasuaki Kurata) nabbed the title a decade ago, but now he's back with the huge, burly Chang Lee (Bolo Yeung) from Vietnam in his sights, the one man who seems unbeatable thanks to his endurance and strength. Can Kai bring back his old talents and succeed?
First things first, I'm pretty sure it's illegal in every country in the world to murder someone, and the excuse that you killed them to win a martial arts tournament wouldn't cut the mustard with most authorities. But that was just one absurdity we were asked to accept in Bloodfight, also known as Final Fight, which took its cue - and its villain - from the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Bloodsport, presenting itself as a sequel of sorts when "shameless cash-in" might have been a more appropriate description. The combat contest premise was growing in popularity among the filmmakers interested in such things, having grown to success with the likes of The Karate Kid and Van Damme's efforts.
Plus the rise of similarly-themed computer games such as Streetfighter or the greatest of them all, Way of the Exploding Fist (ahem) was increasing interest in the simple art of placing two opponents in a ring and getting them to knock seven bells out of one another, though what you really had to look to was the global triumph of the Sylvester StalloneRocky movies. In particular, the then-most recent entry Rocky IV was adopted as the benchmark work for all others in the range to emulate, and so it was with Bloodfight which took the basic plotline to Sly's blockbuster and refashioned it to apply to the Van Damme hit. Except they were operating on a lower budget, and if anything a higher state of ridiculousness which could generate unintentional laughter.
It's not as if the cast were inexperienced, both stars Yasuaki Kurata and Simon Yam, who played Ryu, Kai's student, had been around in the industry for a while but they had to pay the bills, and appearing in a rather silly action flick was as good as any seeing as how they had the skills to pay those bills. What was a handicap was the mostly Japanese production's insistence on the cast speaking English to appeal to the international market, which some of the cast were more comfortable with than others as there's not much more distracting to a performance than the actor struggling with the language: Kurata in particular was evidently having great difficulty making himself coherent, which had you yearning for a good old subtitled martial arts movie, or even a dubbed one.
But there were more lunacies than that: take, for instance, the street gang who pester Kai and Ryu throughout, led by an Australian (Stuart Smith) who Kai tried to train as his successor but failed to reform his bad boy ways. This gang look about as eighties as it's possible to get, but what are we to make of the member who sports a pair of ripped denims, which include a large tear to expose one buttock on which someone has written in pen "DON'T TOUCH" - surely he didn't write that himself unless he's a contortionist? Anyway, what we're here for is the battling between two grown, muscular, sweaty men and the nice guy Ryu, after a spot of mutual stalking, is prepared for the championship by Kai, but you can see where this is heading and events conspire to place the mentor back in the ring for the last act, the previous hour or so all being flashback. If anything, this gets even more daft as our ageing hero is beaten to a pulp by Chang, to the point of his death, which is overstating the drama somewhat, especially when the inevitable comeback occurs. Cheesy synths by Yuji Ohgami.