AKA: The True Story of JCVD Bloodsport
Director: Jesse Barrett-Mills, Daniel Gallai
Producer: Jesse Barrett-Mills, Daniel Gallai
Cast: Frank Dux, Joe Fiorentino, Jeff Langton, Sheldon Lettich, Brian Thompson, Vic Moore, Jean-Claude Van Damme (archive)
Running Time: 70 min.
By Jeff Bona
If you’re a fan of 1988’s Bloodsport, then you might be familiar with the name Frank Dux. If not – or if you’ve forgotten – here’s a refresher: In Bloodsport, the name of the character Jean-Claude Van Damme portrays is a guy named Frank Dux, a real life American martial artist who supposedly lived though the events portrayed in Bloodsport, hence the “Based on on a true story” tag that was slapped on the film’s initial VHS release. The main focal point of Bloodsport’s plot is Dux’ participation in a deadly, underground fight tournament known as the Kumite.
In most cases, when the name “Frank Dux” is brought up to a reputable martial artist, they’ll reply back by calling Dux a fraud, liar or con artist. Then you have that other small percentage of people, including four-time world karate champion Vic Moore, who says that Dux is “one of the top fighters today because of what he went through…” The next thing you know, you hear a rumor that Dux bought his martial arts trophies at a local trophy store.
In a series of archival footage and interviews – mostly from Dux himself – Put Up Your Dux: The Story of Frank Dux examines the highly debatable Dux story, and by the end of its 70-minute duration, it’s up to the audience to decide whether Dux’ life is fact or fantasy.
First and foremost, there’s no evidence of the Kumite ever existing. Many people, especially those in the martial arts community, believe that Dux made it up to sell a screenplay – but that’s just the tip of the ice berg. There’s a lot more to Dux than his supposed Kumite competition…
The controversial martial artist is also known for breaking bullet proof glass with his bare hands, as well as being a master of the “death touch,” (the ability to bare-handedly strike through layered thin bricks, only to break the bottom thick brick, leaving the first layer of thin bricks intact) which can obviously be a fatal technique if used against an opponent. Although there is no actual “film” of the Kumite, there is footage of Dux breaking glass and performing the “death touch.” However, skeptics dismiss the footage as being fake or staged.
Things get really strange when the documentary goes into Dux’ life as an undercover CIA operative, complete with propagana-like “home video” footage of Dux walking the Ukraine streets in a James Bond-like suit, as well as questionable interviews with anonymous Russian agents (via voice changer to hide their identities) who authenticate Dux as a legit secret agent. During these scenes, Dux clearly states that he was on a mission to recover biological weapons from terrorist organizations. In fact, he has even written his own book titled The Secret Man: An American Warrior’s Uncensored Story, which is described as “a true-life espionage account chronicles the exploits of a former CIA hitman who performed highly classified missions and who masked his covert operations under his international reputation as a martial arts black belt.”
Regardless if Dux’ life is fact or fantasy, Put Up Your Dux: The Story of Frank Dux is both an interesting documentary and a solid character study. One minute, it feels like a mockumentary; the next minute, you actually feel bad for the guy. For instance, during an autograph session at a martial arts convention in the 90s, Dux was knocked out by MMA fighter Zane Frazier (who was supposedly wearing brass knuckles). After the incident, Dux checked into a hospital to treat the injuries caused by Frazier, only to discover a massive tumor in his brain. As a result, Dux lost the use of one side of his body (including one of his eyes), which eventually led to memory loss. It was around this time that his wife aborted their child and divorced him. Additionally, he had to shut down many of his dojos due to his disability.
What really makes Put Up Your Dux: The Story of Frank Dux shine is the rare archival footage: Dux’ appearances on shows like That’s Incredible (circa 70s), obscure tabloid talk shows (circa 90s), news interviews, and even an HBO special that aired around the time of Bloodsport’s cable premier. Also featured are snippets from the “Dux vs. Van Damme” Court TV footage (In 1998, Dux filed a lawsuit against Van Damme, claiming that 1997’s The Quest was based off a 1991 screenplay he co-wrote with Van Damme which was then-called The Kumite: Enter the New Dragon).
Adding to its pacing are interviews with various acquaintances and friends, such as filmmaker Sheldon Lettich, who worked with Dux on Bloodsport, Lionheart, Double Impact and Only the Strong. At one point, Lettich explains that Dux “started becoming an embarrassment” on various film sets.
I was shocked to find out Put Up Your Dux: The Story of Frank Dux was panned by audiences. The negative response definitely has something to do with how it was marketed. In most countries, Put Up Your Dux: The Story of Frank Dux was changed to the totally misleading title The True Story of JCVD Bloodsport (click here to view artwork). To make things even more bizarre, the Blu-ray was released in 3D, which makes no sense at all. With a title like The True Story of JCVD Bloodsport, anyone would be disappointed if it wasn’t solely about Van Damme and the film Bloodsport. They should have called it Bloodsport: The Frank Dux Story – not only does this title make sense, it’s also highly marketable.
Put Up Your Dux: The Story of Frank Dux may not have the budget or slickness of a PBS documentary, so it has its production/editing hiccups here and there. Other than that very minor flaw, this film is highly recommended. Cheers to filmmakers Jesse Barrett-Mills and Daniel Gallai for making it!
Jeff Bona‘s Rating: 8/10