In fact, as the film is starting, I should mention because 1) I think it is rather silly that everyone turns away from Chong Li when he kills another competitor on the runway, that 2) the first thing we hear about the Kumite (when Jackson is approached while hitting a punching bag) is that you could get killed there. Later, Janice says she heard the Kumite was "unnecessarily brutal" and she compares it to a cockfight. It is silly, by the way, because the only rules we are ever told for the Kumite is how to win--knock out your opponent (unconscious, and dead should certainly qualify), knock your opponent out (off the runway), or get them to say "mate". Otherwise
(the fighters will also be disqualified for fighting outside the arena or for showing up late, apparently, but those barely seem to matter)it's full contact, and if it were wrestling, I'm sure someone would call it "no holds barred". Fighters can do whatever it takes to win. Including killing each other.
(And Chong Li has killed in the Kumite before, we are told. Additionally, the snap when the sumo guy squeezes the bouncy black guy feels like 80s back-breaking, which if the guy survives is kinda worse than just killing him as far as any rules should be concerned.)But, the movie wants a villain. And, I guess Jackson threatening to kill Chong Li after his (Jackson's) first match, is forgivable because Jackson is... White? Our deuteragonist?
(and I wonder how much of Chong Li's few bits of dialogue--other than Dux and Jackson, Chong Li is one of only twoand it will have a villain because Dux running away from the army guys barely plays as a running joke, and is really just a distraction. The movie is smart enough to leave its primary distractions behind as it progresses, at least. The childhood flashbacks are almost entirely within the first act. By the second act, Janice has found her way into the Kumite to report on it and been horrified, so her storyline is basically over except for a few reaction shots in the later fights. And, by the third act, the army guys--
(maybe three; I'm not sure if the guy with Hossein during the coin switch scene is a fellow fighter or just his hanger on)competitors who even get lines--and ominous staring came from the supposed re-edit after the first version of the film was reportedly quite awful)
who are played rather strangely anyway, with Forest Whitaker's character pushing a little too hard and the older guy immediately giving in on more than one occasion--have given in and just watch alongside Janice.
The only throughline--aside from the Kumite matches themselves--is the rather fast attachment that Dux and Jackson form, Jackson losing to Chong Li and nearly dying in the process, and Dux taking revenge by doing what he was going to do anyway--win. According to Ortigue, Bianchi-Demicheli, Patel, Frum, and Lewis (2010), people can fall in love in .2 seconds, so I suppose trophy romances like Dux and Janice in action movies like this one are realistic. And, maybe Dux and Jackson are besties after three days. Jackson saying he'll be there for Dux, anytime, anyplace--I get that; Jackson is a little crazy. Dux's "I love you" seems a little early in the relationship. But, I guess when you avenge your brand new friend's loss in a martial arts tournament, love is inevitable.
But, what do we go to movies for, anyway? And, better yet, what did we go to them for in the 80s? Fantasy. Action that is far more exciting than our own lives. Love that is immediate and powerful. Friendships that last a lifetime. And vengeance that is swift and satisfying.
In fact, circling back to the real Dux's lies, certain details seem to only be in this film to establish credibility that this is based on a true story. Janice's existence in the story. The Army guys. The dim-mak. Even Chong Li "cheating" (which, really he isn't because it is not against the rules) during his final match with Dux; that little detail--altered from how Dux was really temporarily blinded in the "true" story, by the way--exists because it 1) reinforces Chong Li as villain, 2) it makes Dux look that much more awesome, and 3) (like the other things I just mentioned) it adds a specific note of reality to the proceedings.
The gold tooth bit is one of those elements, too. Just specific enough that it reinforces the idea that this is all real.
Having read a couple versions of Dux's "true story", I imagine there could have been an even better movie here than this one. You know, cut out the Army guys chasing Dux, instead have Dux actually be operating a clandestine military operation infiltrating the Kumite. Janice can help with the infiltration and there would be more intimacy in that than just being curious about the tournament, and their romance would make more sense. And, the dramatic turn after Jackson is nearly killed (or if they want to alter Dux's "reality" for dramatic effect, actually killed by Chong Li) would be that Dux is no longer interested in the infiltration side of things and just wants to keep winning to get to that final fight with Chong Li and get revenge, when for whatever infiltration reasons, Dux is supposed to lose earlier to get close to some fighter or official with specific ties to the IFAA or organized crime in Hong Kong or whatever. Dux's friendship with Jackson is more important than his fling with Janice; maybe he's just using Janice for information, but his very manly relationship with Jackson takes on real, personal import, and his secret mission gets left to the wayside. We still get all the flashbacks. We still get all the fights. And now there's real conflict when the awesome 80s ballad plays.
And we can still include Dux yelling with bromantic pain when Jackson goes down just like Rocky when Apollo Creed went down just a few years earlier.
We will have to fix the world records list at the end of the film, so that the kick is measured in seconds instead of mph just like the punch and the fastest knockout. That inconsistency makes a hard sell that none of us should have bought back in '88.