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Random Arnim Zola scribble before bedtime.

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wpid-1376540925873.jpg I’m 9, 10 years old. I’ve been training in a form of karate under the tutelage of my father, and I’ve been getting better at it, but I’m a pretty small kid. At this point in my life, it will be some time before I gain full mastery of the martial arts knowledge being imparted to me.

Something I’m always dealing with bigger kids. You know, pushy douchebags with blonde hair, maybe buzzcuts, the type of sociopaths that enjoy just pushing a kid until he breaks. I finally get fed up one day, after taking a lot of abuse from these pricks, and I fight back.

Big mistake. There’s just one of me and two of them, and they’re already bigger than me so what the hell am I thinking? They knock my Trapper Keeper out of my hands, punch me solid in the gut, and after I’ve already hit the ground they start kicking me. I pull and claw at their windbreakers, but I’m done for.

Thankfully another kid steps in and they back off.

After he helps me to my feet, I wipe the blood from the edge of my lip and think about what just happened. My honor has been taken from me in some way. I can feel it. The kid looks at me. This time I needed him, but next time I won’t, I tell myself.

That’s when I make a promise to myself that I will one day fight in a secret underground no-holds-barred martial arts tournament. I will do this, fight in this event where warriors can and do die, and I will do it to honor my father and myself.

 …………

SMACK!

I hear a wave of “ooos” all around me. Everything is bright pink to me for a moment and I stumble back. The pain! I had no idea how much pain I would feel!

It’s hot; not just the spot on my bare, tattoo-free chest, but everything. I look around, trying to see through the eyeholes of the spandex luchador mask I’m wearing. I can already feel the sweat collecting in my itchy hair. I can’t even count how many people are in the room. It’s packed. There’s people I recognize as professionals, some people I had met earlier in the day, and an assload of absolute strangers.

No wonder it’s so hot.

I wonder when somebody from the hotel will catch wind of what’s going down, but I don’t think about it for very long, because that pain is still there on my skin.

I jump up and down, shake it off as best I can, do a little dance, and then deliver my own attack.

SMACK!

He takes one step back and nods his head. He smiles. Smiles.

“WHOOOOOOOA,” says the crowd.

Almost immediately he brings his open palm down across my chest again. My back arches and I stumble around. I smack my arms and face on the bed next to me, trying to shake off the searing burn I feel deep in my flesh. I fall to my knees and bite the comforter.

Somebody yells out something in their best Jim Ross voice, but really all I hear is a piercing ringing in my ears.

I stand up, shake my head. He throws his head back and ushers me to bring it.

I wind up and step forward, bringing my much smaller open palm down on his much larger, much hairier chest.

SMACK!

This time everybody hears it, even the guys standing out in the doorway of the hotel room, the real cheap seats.

He nods his head, and wipes his hand across his chest. He smiles, but this time I can tell it’s because he felt that one.

At this point I’ve already lost count of the chops we’ve exchanged. I had started out early attempting Flair-style, backhanded chops, but quickly learned those don’t inflict anywhere near the pain inflicted by the Chief Jay Strongbow-style downward chops. I quickly changed by strategy and was only now feeling like I was catching up.

But that point, I knew there was no chance for me to win. All I could do was draw it out. I played to the crowd. If I was to lose, I’d lose in an entertaining manner, at the very least.

He steps forward, after even a little clap to show me he appreciates what I’m delivering. He’s a good sport. And then he brings up his hand again.

SMACK!

That’s it. I roll around, bang my fists on the floor, try to bring up the strength to keep going after so many hits. Finally, I get back up, I pull the mask off, and I hold up his hand. He is the victor. We hug.

Moments later I would realize that my chest is starting to bleed a little.

But I did it. I went the distance.

 …………

One of these two anecdotes is mostly true. The other is pretty much a lie with some truth thrown in. It should be pretty obvious which is which.

I am a liar. As a writer, it’s my job to tell small lies (or big lies) to uncover some kind of truth. All of fiction is lies, for sure, but even in the anti-genre of “nonfiction,” there’s some lying going on.

It’s what got me into Hunter Thompson when I was younger, and why I keep going back to his work. Few writers have been so brutally honest while feeding you bullshit.

The real Frank Dux, who claims to have been champion of the real Kumite, is probably a liar, too. For more than thirty years, from the first time he started telling martial arts magazines in 1980 about the fabled secret fighting tournament he dominated, people have questioned his claims, and it’s easy to question them because of the severe lack of corroborating evidence.

Just because he can’t prove it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but it’s still a pretty wild tale to take in.

Like any good liar, Dux has conceded that many elements of the film Bloodsport are fabricated. This makes him more trustworthy in some way as a storyteller.

I don’t really doubt that Dux took part in an underground fighting ring. That’s pretty believable. And hell, I totally believe that he actually broke bulletproof glass with his bare hands, because that’s totally fucking awesome.

In the end, I’m not sure how much of what Dux says about his adventures in Kumiteing is true, and I’m not sure I care a whole lot.

What I do care about is that, as far as Bloodsport is concerned, it’s one of my all-time favorite Van Damme flicks.

What’s not to love? The film is just one massive wedge of cheese stacked on top of another, piled high like one of those ridiculous sandwiches Shaggy and Scooby are always making while Fred is copping a feel on Daphne and Velma is losing her glasses.

CHEESE ON CHEESE ON CHEESE

From the tiny kid declaring out loud, after a run-in with bullies, that he will one day fight in the Kumite; to the delightfully 80s-haired female reporter love interest (seriously, what newspaper is sending their reporters to Hong Kong on mere rumors of deadly underground fighting tourneys in Kowloon Walled City?); to the sleazy Hong Kong guide with the big glasses; to the maniacally evil Bolo Yeung and his ridiculous dubbed-over voice; to the completely useless federal agents (OH HAI FOREST WHITAKER); to the slightly homoerotic stares between Van Damme and his karate master (and that softcore porn music!); to the Stan Bush soundtrack (THAT’S RIGHT, STAN FUCKING BUSH); to the total dude bro love between Dux and Jackson, this movie starts with pure Velveeta and just never quits. You could make a dump truck full of nachos with this flick. AND I WILL EAT IT. I WILL EAT THAT DUMP TRUCK FULL OF NACHOS.

For just one moment, I can buy Van Damme being good at a video game. For just one moment, I can believe that the kid playing young Dux is the same person despite the fact that he looks absolutely nothing like JCVD. For just one, tiny moment I can believe that the ultimate wrestling heel move (SALT TO THE EYES) would be allowed in a real fight.

As far as spirit animals go, you could do far worse than Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb in the role of a lifetime). You might recognize him from Revenge of the Nerds (aka Sexual Harassment, Assault and Rape are OK: The Movie), but here he comes into his own as the ultimate party fighter.

“I love anything full contact. I need a few more scars on my face.”

Classic Jackson. You keep fucking that chicken, dude.

But you know why else this movie rules? Since it’s one half of the double-fisted breakout of Jean Claude Van Damme as a martial arts movie star, it’s got plenty of kicks. And punches. And throws.

To make those kicks even better, each hit is accompanied by some of the most ridiculously over-the-top facial expressions in film history (second only to No Holds Barred).

If anything, I want every single part of this movie to be true. Every. Single. Part. Especially the part where Forest Whitaker accidentally tases Hong Kong police. How many roundhouse kicks are in Lee Daniels’ The Butler? ZERO. THERE ARE ZERO KICKS OF ANY KIND.

Before he was the guy that made a dickzillion hit movies in the span of the past year, before he got his own reality competition show on TNT that I still can’t figure out the point of based on the commercials, even before he was making really awful kid-friendly dreck like The Tooth Fairy, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a mega-huge star in professional wrestling.
Apparently, at one point he was so popular that his popularity warranted an entire series of trading cards devoted just to him. And so you ended up with a set sure to capture the hearts of “the people,” full of Rock’s greatest moments.

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Now you’re probably expecting some great shots of The Great One laying the “smack” down on various “jabronis,” and those cards do show up, but Comic Images wanted to really beef this set up, and really make The Rock seem human. Because if there’s one thing you can point to as the reason for The Rock’s early popularity as a wrestler, it’s definitely his humanity.

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That up there is the common man known as The Rock, holding a thing some refer to as a “book,” which he totally wrote by himself, like any normal person does.
And now, here are the 5 stupidest, most bizarre cards in the set…

#5: Yay Babies

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Dude, baby! Look out! The Rock is going to hit you with a People’s Elbow!

#4: It’s the Shoes

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This is Dwayne Johnson looking at a shoe. Will he buy the shoe? The back of the card postulates that he may indeed add it to his wardrobe.

#3: Canned Pasta and Ridiculously Overpriced Cars

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This is The Rock holding a large can of Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli while standing next to a Porsche with a Chef Boyardee license plate. Because nothing entices the “ladies” like the official Porsche of Chef Boyardee.

#2: Gone Fishin’

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That is The Rock fishing.

#1: The Rock Gets a Haircut

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No joke, this was the very first card I saw when I opened the first pack of these awful, awful cards.

I guess that horrible hairstyle doesn’t cut itself, huh?

wpid-1376540925873.jpg[The following is the second in a series of writings about the filmography of Jean Claude Van Damme.]

I swear that I’m not a masochist. I have known people who claimed I was, for various reasons, but I maintain to this day that this is not the case. However, what I am about to admit to you will not help my argument.

I have seen Albert Pyun’s Cyborg at least six times (possibly seven). I am not exactly proud of this.

Perhaps being able to sit through Cyborg is the film-watching equivalent to the milk challenge (GUYS NIGHT!). Can you finish the movie without puking? Better yet, can you make it through the entire movie without wanting to commit suicide? Can you do it multiple times? I have, and yet I don’t know how! (okay, maybe at least one of those times I might have been drunk…)

Cyborg is unwatchably bad. Cyborg is not a movie that is so bad it’s good. I can’t decide if it’s a movie that should be preserved to show people how not to make movies, or if we should have every copy of it in existence placed in a missile and launched into the sun. If nothing else (and definitely taking his entire filmography into account), Albert Pyun should most definitely be sentenced to eternity in the Phantom Zone.

Cyborg was made over the course of mere weeks, cobbled together from half-finished costumes and sets for two other movies (an aborted sequel to Cannon’s Masters of the Universe adaptation and a proposed film based on Spider-Man, reportedly, and while I’m certain those movies would have ended up better than what we got in Cyborg, I doubt they’d be that much better) with a budget of about $12, because Cannon Films was about to implode, with a script that’s barely there. Van Damme himself stars in the film because, at this point in his career, he was still new and pretty cheap to cast as a lead. This movie has as much production value as a backyard wrestling video. And it shows. I have seen video tapes recorded by 8-year-olds that make more sense than Cyborg. I could probably strap my old Sony Handicam onto the back of my pug with duct tape, let him wander around aimlessly for about an hour and a half, and come back with a more coherent film.

So why do I keep going back to Cyborg? It is not out of a desire to inflict harm upon myself, by any means. No, I go back to this movie in the vain hope that I will somehow begin to make sense of what is occurring on screen. This is a movie that is so nonsensical that you manage to convince yourself that their must be some hidden meaning, some secret locked away in it that you can somehow uncover after another viewing. And if you’re like me, you’ll continue these fruitless endeavors until one day you realize you’ve wasted hours of your life not just watching Cyborg, but thinking about Cyborg.

The sad reality is that this is a movie where you will learn more from reading the Wikipedia synopsis for it than you ever will from actually watching the thing. If it weren’t for the wiki page on Cyborg, I’d probably still be wondering what the plot of the movie was, and to be honest, I’m still kind of unclear. I wouldn’t even have caught on to the whole “everybody is named for a guitar” thing if it weren’t for the Internet, partially because the dialogue is so sparse, and partially because half the people who talk in it barely speak coherent English. Did all the actors get root canals the day before shooting?

You know what I do know? Characters go places. There’s a lot of running.

A good friend of mine described it (if I remember correctly) as a series of fight scenes created by a kid smashing his collection of action figures into each other, just throwing more random, nameless bad dudes at a dazed Jean Claude Van Damme (please note that this movie is so awful, it really does appear like Van Damme is suffering through it with you; he feels your pain, and he’s as exhausted by all of it as you are).

I like the analogy, because it really does speak directly to the seeming randomness of the entire film.

However, for me, it’s more like a generic arcade fighter in the vein of Double Dragon, Final Fight, or Streets of Rage, where your characters just keep going and going and going, with endless generic dudes that kind of all look alike coming at you. You begin to wonder why you’re still playing it, long after it’s lost its novelty, until it just ends when you kill the final boss. But you know what? Even Bad Dudes is better than this.

And when it ends, it just ends. Who won? What did they win? I don’t really know! I have watched this movie six (possibly seven) times, and I still don’t fucking know for sure.

There are sex scenes that are so incredibly stilted and awkward, they could very well work as cutscenes in an 8-bit or even 16-bit video game (especially with the bizarre midi soundtrack going on in the background). You’re left wondering if anybody involved in the writing of the sex scenes, the directing of the sex scenes, or even the actors acting in the sex scenes have ever actually engaged in sexual intercourse in their entire lives. I wonder if this is what it was like the first time Kirk Cameron had sex.

A year from now, I’ll probably watch Cyborg again, hoping something will finally click for me, even though I know it won’t. And you know what? That’s still probably not going to stop me.

My only hope is to take my DVD of it and chuck it into the ocean. But then, some poor fool in another part of the world will find it and think, “Jean Claude Van Damme? I better watch this!” And the curse will live again.

I guess at least it has some hilariously bad wigs in it.

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[The following is the first in a series of writings about the filmography of Jean Claude Van Damme. This block of intro text does not count as part of the aforementioned 795 words about Sudden Death, in case you were wondering.]

For my first written foray into Van Dammage , I’ve inexplicably chosen a Van Damme movie that isn’t my favorite. I surprise even myself by not going with Street Fighter: The Movie or TimeCop or Bloodsport. But here we are, looking at a movie about Van Damme fighting terrorist dudes at a hockey game.

Sudden Death is not the best Van Damme movie by any means, and as far as Die Hard movies go, it’s not as good as any of the first three Die Hards, but it is certainly one of many Die Hard knockoffs that I still enjoy far more than latter-day films that bear the actual Die Hard title (another good Die Hard knockoff being Cliffhanger).

Some people like to point to Seagal’s Under Siege as a good Die Hard clone, but Under Siege suffers the major problem that the hero isn’t actually an everyman. Instead, he’s a superman disguised as an everyman, thus ruining the Die Hard Formula.

Aside from all of this talk of Die Hard movies, Sudden Death has a lot of really awful things going on in it, but they’re awful things that I love. I love that for some reason we managed to elect a vice president who likes hockey. I love that terrorists actually think anybody cares if they take the vice president hostage (I mean, I love Joe Biden because he’s the coolest VP in history, but if he got kidnapped, The Daily Show‘s jokes would write themselves for weeks). I love that the head secret service dude inexplicably and illogically turns out to work for the bad guys partway through the movie (it really doesn’t make any sense on any conceivable level). I love that Powers Boothe is in it, because Powers Boothe is awesome in everything, and he’s especially awesome in this (better than the fan favorite Tommy Lee Jones in Under Siege, and you’re reading the words of a man who loves him some Tommy Lee Jones).

Most importantly, I love that I get to watch an entire fight scene where Jean Claude Van Damme beats the shit out of a costumed mascot who’s trying to kill him. There is something artful about it, something that really speaks to my soul on a level that only the greatest fight scenes in action film history tend to do. And it’s hilarious. I now demand more movies featuring Jean Claude Van Damme fighting costumed mascots. Van Damme versus the Suns Gorilla. Van Damme versus The Philly Phanatic. Van Damme versus that hideous Cornhusker guy with the ridiculous chin.

Sadly, here’s the real problem with the movie as a JCVD vehicle: while it sticks to the hero being an everyman, it does so at the cost of kicks.

This is important, because the true quality of a Van Damme flick can be mathematically calculated by the number of awesome kicks the Muscles from Brussels delivers. TimeCop knows this. Even Street Fighter knows this. But Sudden Death doesn’t know this, and the film suffers on the Van Dammage Scale of Kickitude.

Van Damme isn’t very good as an everyman anyway, because he lives and dies by how well we buy him as the superkick superman. When you take away his kicks, what are you left with?

Now, let me be clear that I never went into this expecting Hard Target-level Kickitude. Hard Target set the bar for Van Damme kicks so high that all Van Damme vehicles to follow were destined to lose.

But Van Damme spends more time punching dudes and disarming bombs than he does kicking anybody, and the number one draw of Jean Claude Van Damme? EPIC KICKS THAT WILL KNOCK YOU INTO THE FUTURE (this was the original premise of the first draft of TimeCop‘s script, BTW, and I’m totally not making that up; it’s a fact).

Peter Hyams (yes, THAT Peter Hyams, who really fell so far after 2010 and Outland, movies that I genuinely enjoy on their own merits) attempts to make up for this kick deficit by giving us a few Jackie Chan-esque moments where Jean Claude uses random items to beat the shit out of dudes, including two (TWO) instances where he cooks bad guys’ body parts in the arena kitchen. Hockey sticks and ice skates also become weapons, naturally (in one of the few moments where he actually does kick somebody). As Joe Bob Briggs would put it, you got hockey stick fu, hole punch fu, deep fat fryer fu, griddle fu, ice skate fu, pen fu, water gun fu…

The creativity in Van Damme’s kills is what makes this at least a better-than-average Die Hard clone, and probably a slighty-better-than-average Van Damme flick. It is at least highly watchable, which you can’t say about Double Team.

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