Bloodsport vs. Balance of Power – 9 Reasons Why Bloodsport Works Better

Back when I was preparing my 10 Brotacular 90s Action Movies list, I came across a Billy Blanks movie called Balance of Power. I quickly dismissed it from the list, but the setup seemed similar to another film, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport. Here are their respective plots.

Balance of Power is about a guy named Niko (Billy Blanks) who runs a dojo for troubled youth. Unfortunately, Niko’s dojo happens to be on drug lord Hastishita’s (Denis Akiyama) turf. When Hastishita sends his best man, Takamura (James Lew), to collect protection money from Niko and Niko refuses, Takamura exacts retribution by gunning down one of Niko’s students in a drive-by. This leads Niko to Matsumoto (Mako) and his grand-daughter Jasmine (Lisa Jai) who take Niko in and train him to compete in Hastishita’s underground tournaments. Their plan is to defeat Hastishita’s best (Takamura) thus crippling the funding for Hastishita’s entire drug operation and making the streets safe again. (Yes. It is needlessly complicated)

Bloodsport is about Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a fighter who enters a fighting tournament called the Kumite to bring honour to Tanaka (Roy Chiao), the man who trained him. Along the way, Frank makes a friend in the hulking Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) who is another American fighter in the tournament. Together they try and defeat the ruthless reigning Kumite champion, Chong Li (Bolo Yeung).

Both films revolved around no-holds-barred underground martial arts tournaments. Yet Balance of Power wasn’t nearly as good, despite having so many similarities. And while I love Bloodsport, it’s not exactly high art. So what makes this movie:

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so much better than this movie:

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when they share such similar frameworks? Here are nine reasons why Bloodsport works better than Balance of Power.

1. Bloodsport is Purposeful

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The cardinal rule of storytelling is that everything you introduce must have purpose. You don’t introduce a character, an item, or sequence unless it will matter to the story later. In this regard, Bloodsport is much better at storytelling with purpose than Balance of Power.

Just take the training sequence as an example. In Bloodsport, catching the fish, doing the splits during a fight, learning to fight with the blindfold on, and refocusing energy all come into play later on in the film. Like when Frank wins a bet by swiping a coin out of a guy’s hand, or when he gets blinded in the final fight and is still able to continue.

In Balance of Power by contrast, Niko hits boards, does a variety of push-ups, gets slapped in the face while buried in the sand, and practices some katas.

Oh. And he runs.

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Why is he running? It is unclear. They never mention that Niko needs extremely good conditioning, nor do his push-ups seem to have a particular use other than being strong. It’s just a training montage for the sake of having a training montage. But it needs to matter.

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