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Bloodmatch (1991)

Plot: kickboxer avenges the death of his brother.

At one point in the mid-nineties Albert Pyun was the go-to guy for cheapo kickboxing movies. Sure, he was no Cirio H. Santiago, but who is? Santiago was the master of topless kickboxing with TNT Jackson (1974), the self-proclaimed “first erotic kung fu classicNaked Fist (1981) (with Jillian Kessner), and the relative unknown Angelfist (1993) (with Cat Sassoon and Melissa Moore). Pyun was the man behind the first sequel to the Jean-Claude Van Damme action classic Kickboxer (1989) and if there’s one thing that can be counted upon, it’s that Pyun never will let an opportunity go to waste. Before he made the cyberpunk slogfest Heatseeker (1995) (with Keith Cooke and Tina Cote) there was Bloodmatch. An expert in stretching budgets and resources (as his Nemesis series attests to) Bloodmatch was filmed back-to-back with Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991) and shared much of the same production crew and cast. It answers that question that has haunted Sidaris fans for years: what exactly did Hope Marie Carlton do after Savage Beach (1989) and her exit from the Andy-verse?

Well, for a while at least it looked as if hottie Hope was going to carve out a decent career as supporting actress for herself. Before her last outing with Sidaris she already had a bit part (where she showed quite a bit) in Renny Harlin’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988). She could be seen in the Huey Lewis and the News music video for ‘Give Me the Keys (And I'll Drive You Crazy)’ in 1989 as well as Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College (1990) and the Roger Corman produced Slumber Party Massacre III (1990), more often than not in roles wherein some nudity was required.

To top things off Carlton also made an appearance as Stiletto in the 1994 Electronic Arts point-and-click adventure game Noctropolis. And the other big name (although that is, admittedly, very relative) is Thom Mathews. Mathews had starred in The Return of the Living Dead (1985), and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) but by the following decade would become an Albert Pyun regular with roles in, among others, Nemesis (1992), Heatseeker (1995), Blast (1997), and Mean Guns (1997). Michel Qissi played a small role in Bloodsport (1988) and perhaps is best known as the villain Tong Po in Kickboxer (1989). Sadly, Qissi has done little of interest since. He’d feel right at home in Ben Combes’ long-awaited Commando Ninja (2018) sequel.

Brick Bardo (Thom Mathews) plans to exact revenge on everyone involved in the disappearance (and apparent death) of his brother Wood Wilson. After chasing and subsequently torturing Davey O’Brien (Michel Qissi) on a stretch of concrete in the baking sun he learns a few things. First, Wilson was involved in illegal price fighting and this transgression led to his exile from the sport and was key to his apparent suicide.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, O’Brien (whether Davey is related to Chance or China is, unfortunately, never revealed) spills the names of the parties involved in the scheme: current middleweight champion Brent Caldwell (Dale Jacoby), kickboxer turned janitor Billy Muñoz (Benny Urquidez), fighter Mike Johnson (Thunderwolf, as Thunder Wolf), and promoter Connie Angel (Hope Marie Carlton). Bardo and his assistant Max Manduke (Marianne Taylor) travel crosscountry to pick up their targets, and if they don’t cooperate the duo simply drug, coerce (either by having Max bed them, or kidnap their families), or knock them about into doing their bidding. For the occasion the duo have rented the Las Vegas Arena to enact their own Bloodmatch.

The American martial arts movie is a strange beast. On the one hand there are the early Jean-Claude Van Damme classics who do the genre justice, and then there’s everything else. Bloodmatch, obviously, falls into the latter category but acquits itself at least partly with the presence of Benny Urquidez (who also was responsible for all the action choreography) and Dale Jacoby. The arena fights are heavily edited and artificially intensified by making ample use of fast cuts and constant repeats of the same punches and kicks. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and an effective one when used sparingly. Not so here since none (except maybe Urquidez and Jacoby) were actual fighters and preparation for the fights was probably minimal. Of the vintage Sidaris bikini babes Hope Marie Carlton was always the only who could reasonably act. She does so here too, and for once the role doesn’t require of her to get naked. Who does get naked is Marianne Taylor. Taylor bears some resemblance to Nemesis (1992) star Deborah Shelton, and Pyun doesn’t shy away from shooting her from a few very flattering angles. Like Tinto Brass, Pyun too seems to like junk in the trunk. The remainder of the cast are complete nonentities, and not worth discussing as such.

As always director of photography George Mooradian at least makes whatever Pyun shoots look good. The same goes for long-time composer Anthony Riparetti who provides a suitable score for what, for all intents and purposes, is a boring slogfest. Heatseeker (1995) and Mean Guns (1997) (both not Pyun’s finest hour either) were not only marginally more interesting visually, but they actually had a pulse. Bloodmatch was apparently shot on autopilot and none of that keen visual flair and deft action direction that made Nemesis (1992) a minor action hit is accounted for here. The screenplay is functional in its minimalism and was written by Pyun under the nom de plume of K. Hannah (an apparent portmanteau of Kitty Chalmers and Hannah Blue, two pen names old Al frequently used around this time). It’s not often that it happens but Bloodmatch makes Angelfist (1993) and Heatseeker (1995) looks like works of art in comparison. That Bloodmatch would fail as a thriller was all but a given and it makes the critical error of having stilted and slow kickboxing routines. Nobody expects the American martial arts movie to match, let alone surpass, its agile Far East counterparts – but even by lowly American standards Bloodmatch is terminally rote in every sense of the word.