THE BLOOD OF HEROES. Post-apocalyptic championships
Futuristic sports-themed films deserve a genre of their own. One of the earliest films of this kind was The Tenth Victim with Marcello Mastroianni, and some of the most famous ones include Death Race 2000, Rollerball, The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and more recently, The Hunger Games. However, The Blood of Heroes stands out as exceptional because it proved to be partially feasible in today’s world.
While for some, soccer is their entire life, and they might be willing to kill for their favorite team, fortunately, it’s still against the law. In contrast, in films like The Blood of Heroes, sports can be a tool of the law, reflecting societal moods, and the match results affect the future of dozens of people. Of course, chess and checkers are out of the question; blood must be spilled, and the weak and inexperienced must strive for glory like Rocky Balboa taking down Apollo Creed.
In The Blood of Heroes, there’s about as much plot as there can be in sports competitions. For some reason, these brutal duels manage to captivate, and when I first watched them – somewhere towards the end of elementary school – I had the urge to become a Juggers player and spike a dog skull on a pole myself. The charm of this film primarily arises from two factors – the extraordinary setting of scorching Australia and the excellent, surprising cast.
In the lead role Rutger Hauer who had the best decade of his screen career in the 80s. He started modestly with Nighthawks alongside Sylvester Stallone; then a year later, he portrayed Roy Batty – the “philosopher” android; and later, there were The Hitcher, Blind Fury, or Ladyhawke. I won’t hold back my fan excitement – I adore this actor, his captivating charisma, and his mysterious appearance, which makes him look like he wants to stick a knife between your ribs even when he smiles.
In one of his early roles, Delroy Lindo appears here – an actor known to anyone who followed the movie hits of the 90s, although few know his first name. His distinctive face was present in the background of Malcolm X, Get Shorty, Ransom, or Minnesota Nice. An early appearance is also noted for Vincent D’Onofrio, already acclaimed for his excellent performance in Full Metal Jacket by Kubrick, but perhaps experiencing the peak of his career right now, thanks to his role as Kingpin in the TV series Daredevil. In a supporting role, there’s Richard Norton – a living legend of kickboxing cinema just before his breakthrough role in China O’Brien. And as the main villain, Hugh Keays-Byrne, an actor with a very modest but memorable legacy – he played the main antagonist in both the original Mad Max and Fury Road.
However, the most surprising is the presence of Joan Chen, an actress who had just risen to fame with her role in The Last Emperor by Bernard Bertolucci at the time. A year later, she portrayed Josie Packard in Twin Peaks. Chen and action movies usually don’t mix well. She accompanied Steven Seagal in On Deadly Ground and Sylvester Stallone in Judge Dredd, and none of these performances were particularly successful. In The Blood of Heroes, she adds intriguing exoticism, a type of leading female role that wasn’t common in the 80s.
Overseeing this excellent cast was a debutant director who never went on to direct anything else. David Webb Peoples, however, is a notable figure in the science fiction world – seven years earlier, he co-wrote the screenplay for Blade Runner with Hampton Fancher, and later, with his wife Janet, he created the film and TV series 12 Monkeys.
Another important and unique aspect of The Blood of Heroes is its location. The movie was filmed in Coober Pedy in southern Australia, where the average summer temperature is thirty degrees Celsius, occasionally reaching up to forty degrees. The underground caves seen in the film are not just part of the set; they are actual shelters and living spaces for many opal miners in the area. The film featured 150 extras who permanently resided in this region, described by the casting director as “the weirdest bunch of people she had ever met.” The diverse population, representing forty different nationalities, may have contributed to the unique atmosphere of the film.
The dual nature of the film’s reception is best reflected in the average ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics were not impressed, criticizing the film for its shallow plot, slow pace, and the creation of a non-existent game with unclear rules. Their score stands at a mere thirteen percent. However, there are people like me – enthusiasts of the magnetic atmosphere and low-budget post-apocalyptic settings. Thanks to them, The Blood of Heroes not only received a rating of seventy-six percent but also led to the creation of a real sport called Jugger, which is especially popular in Germany but also has passionate enthusiasts in Poland, organized as the Polish Jugger League.
I won’t give you false hope – the on-screen battles don’t look much better than the matches of existing leagues that you can find on YouTube. They lack the over-the-top absurdity of Rollerball or the drama and naturalism of Battle Royale by Kinji Fukasaku. Honestly, I doubt that discovering this film today can evoke the same emotions it did in the late ’80s and early ’90s. However, if you’ve made it to the last paragraph of this lengthy text, you probably have the ability to appreciate somewhat kitschy, vulgar, and brutal productions with budgets around seven and a half million dollars, featuring talented actors who make their absurd roles feel natural. For you, The Blood of Heroes, if you haven’t seen it yet, can turn out to be an exciting adventure.