Last night, when I settled on the couch to relax in front of a movie from Netflix that I hoped wouldn’t suck, I picked Bloodsport, the 1988 film that catapulted Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career.

Unless you’re a 10 year old boy, or a grown man who watched it as a 10 year old boy, the movie may not hold your interest.

My wife is neither, but she didn’t put up a veto.

So I pressed play and settled back to enjoy it.

Poster from the movie Bloodsport.
That fist is for you, my friend. Be afraid.

I loved Bloodsport when I first saw it as a kid – but would it hold up almost thirty years later?

Bloodsport opens with a montage of fighters from around the world. They each showcase their wildly different fighting styles as they train for the secret, global battle of martial artist supremacy: the Kumite (“KOO mih tay” for you uninitiated.)

There’s the Brazilian capoeira master, the Kung Fu wizards, the big American brute …

… the small African fighter who leaps and rolls like a possessed frog …

… the evil Chong Li who sports an unnaturally large pair of granite slab pectorals …

… and our hero, Frank Dux, played by a young Belgian actor with an amazing ability to do the splits.

I loved watching it again. (My wife got in some quality smartphone time.)

And it wasn’t just nostalgia, either.

Because despite the (mostly) terrible two-dimensional acting …

… the tone deaf dialog …

… and the contrived love story …

Bloodsport still works — because the heart of the film — its chief appeal — still beats as strong as ever.

The movie doggedly follows a single story: preparing for and fighting in the Kumite.

And the filmmakers packed the screen with all the eye candy-combat a boy could want.

Want to see a reverse round-house kick to the head?

You got it – repeated three times in slow motion.

Bust a brick with your fist? Of course! (But Dux somehow smashes the bottom brick in the stack.)

Bruce Lee-style battle scream – mouth open, head shaking slowly back and forth in slow motion, eyes bugging out?

You won’t be disappointed.

And by the end, yes, I displayed my faux martial arts prowess in the living room, no doubt impressing my wife by unleashing a dazzling blur of punches, roundhouse kicks, knees to the face, and other instant kill moves.

“That’s great, honey,” she said with her eyes glued on her screen.

Oh, well. Like I said, Bloodsport isn’t going to appeal to everyone.

But it’s not meant to. The core store of The Big Fight is largely a testosterone driven drama.

And that’s the key to its success (and the launching of a lucrative career for Van Damme).

Because the person it does appeal to gets everything he wants to see.

Good marketing relies on the same secret sauce…

It weaves a story with a relentless focus on one plot line – the “dominant desire” of the specific prospect.
That means the story won’t attract everyone.

But when the copy hews to that one central theme – the itch that needs scratching, the hidden dream she never whispers, aloud even among her friends – then the copy can be forgiven all manner of sins.

It can survive a weak subhead or two, an anemic call to action, or failure to follow the latest wisdom on how many pixels wide your “buy” button should be.

Sure, it’s nice when a master’s touch can be seen at all levels of a message.

Same with a movie – nuanced performances, flawless effects, and tight, snappy dialog.

But the most important thing is a big heart that beats in time with the heart of your audience.


When the story you tell targets one clear goal that your audience wants, most of the heavy lifting is done.

Stay Tuned For Next Week …

In which I turn to a police sketch artist to challenge an ancient claim

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