Monday, September 22, 2014

Newsploitation: BLOODFIST makes the list

September 1989 was apparently a prime month to unleash flicks about people being kicked in the face.  A few weeks back we celebrated the 25th anniversary for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s KICKBOXER (1989) and this week we bestow another silver anniversary (world title?) on BLOODFIST (1989), the Roger Corman produced film that looked to stake its claim in the box office bloodsport.  Not only did this film launch the last major star (of the direct-to-video era) for Corman, it also served as the impetus for what would become the most sequelized American martial arts series.

Roger Corman will always be known as much for his films as his ability to spot good actors and give them their big break in show business.  As the legend has it, Corman first spotted Don “The Dragon” Wilson, a kickboxing champion, in a profile in a martial arts magazine.  After a very successful kickboxing career that begin in the mid-70s, Florida native Wilson moved to California in the mid-80s to pursue acting, but only had a La Choy commercial and GENERAL HOSPTIAL gig (as Thug #1) to his name by the time Corman came calling.  With the aforementioned BLOODSPORT and KICKBOXER giving a resuscitating punch to the martial arts genre, Corman, never to miss out on trend he could bank on, quickly signed Wilson to a several picture deal.  The first of these pictures would be the perfectly titled BLOODFIST.

Corman’s innate ability to spot talent also extended behind the camera and he gave Concorde’s very first in-house martial arts film to the steady hand of Terence H. Winkless.  The director had previously turned in the horror film THE NEST (1988), easily cinema’s best killer cockroach movie (high praise!) and a personal fave here at Video Junkie. According to an interview Winkless did with our buddy Marty McKee, Corman approached him with the project and gave him ten days of prep time before flying off to the Philippines for production under the watchful eye of Cirio Santiago in December 1988.  Yes, ten days, less time than it takes for Tom Cruise to decide on which lifts to wear. When given the opportunity, Winkless didn’t blink (ah, boo yourself!) and he headed overseas for three months.

BLOODFIST tells the story of Jake Raye (Wilson), a retired kickboxer who is drawn to Manila after his half-brother turns up dead.  Adhering to the martial arts movie formula, the cops (including Vic Diaz) are ineffectual and Jake soon begins investigating on his own.  He soon finds out his brother was participating in a tournament of deadly combat called Ta Chang.  Naturally, he must enter the contest under the tutelage of Kwong (Joe Mari Avellana), his sibling’s old trainer, to find the killer. While checking off every martial arts cliché in the book (this is, after all, a Corman cash in), BLOODFIST actually plays with several conventions and features a few twists not commonly seen in this type of movie.  Director Winkless actually gets a lot of bang for his buck, portraying the exotic locales for all of their “stranger in a strange land” worth and even getting some nice crane and helicopter shots.  His biggest coup is undoubtedly surrounding Wilson with a legit army of fighters.  The film features several real fighters including Dutch kickboxer Rob Kaman and future star and workout guru Billy Blanks.  With each fighter introduced in the opening credits with their fighting style and international championships, it gives the film an air of legitimacy where it counts the most.  As it stands, Wilson is still the best kickboxer to ever grace the screen as a leading man.  And for a beginner, The Dragon acquits himself well.  While his high kicks will always outshine his acting ability, he is affable and believable in the role.

Corman got the film into theaters on September 22, 1989 at just 54 theaters.  To give some perspective, the weekend’s top release BLACK RAIN (1989) opened on 1,600+ screens. While the initial haul was only $89,132, the film proved to have drawing power as it went across the country over the next three months, suckering…uh, I mean, drawing in spin kick-desiring martial arts fans.  Its highest release point was on a mere 77 screens in mid-November (no doubt to celebrate my birthday) and by the end of December it had hauled in $1,770,082.  Not a blockbuster number by any figure, but it proved to be Concorde’s biggest release that year.  Yes, it did better than LORDS OF THE DEEP (1989).  It was also Concorde’s highest grossing theatrical release before being dethroned by BODY CHEMISTRY (1990) in March 1990.

Not surprisingly, Corman announced the sequel BLOODFIST II in mid-December, while the first film was still punching up dollars around the country.  It went into production in February 1990, just as BLOODFIST was hitting video via MGM/UA.  The sequel would hit theaters just over a year after the first film on October 12, 1990 and would pull in a slightly smaller haul of $1,292,323.  It is the only film in the series that continues the Jake Raye storyline as starting with BLOOFIST III: FORCED TO FIGHT (1992) the series featured Wilson as a new character in each entry.  The third film was also the last to see a theatrical release. Beginning with BLOODFIST IV: DIE TRYING (1992) Wilson would be starring exclusively in the direct-to-video market.  All together, Corman and Wilson would make 13 films from 1989-1999.  Eight of those were BLOODFIST films, with the non-Wilson sequel/remake BLOODFIST 2050 (2005) starring Matt Mullins being the ninth and final entry.  We thought about reviewing all of them here to celebrate this anniversary, but only an insane man would do that.  That said – check out Marty McKee’s rundown of all the films at his site here.

The greatest BLOODFIST poster ever:

A selection of BLOODFIST worldwide VHS covers:

1 Reactions:

  1. I had fun working with Roger Corman while creating the Bloodfist Series. Thanks for this Retrospective and to Roger for giving me a second career as a Martial Arts Action Star. After 28 years as a Pro Kickboxer,I've really enjoyed working in the entertainment business as an Actor-Producer. Thanks also to all the fans who have supported me throughout my Fight and Acting Careers!


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