Many martial arts films have a recognizable soundtrack that gives their film away instantly as soon as their themes start playing.
From Lalo Schifrin’s classic “Enter The Dragon” score, to John Barry’s composition for “Game of Death” all the way to Kenji Kawai’s “Ip Man” theme, the music sets up for the action to come and follows all the way to the end, capturing the tone and tension of the film.
American composer and teacher, Paul Hertzog is part of that grand tradition having written and performed the soundtrack for three iconic action films of the 80’s and 90’s. “Bloodsport”, “Kickboxer”, and “Breathing Fire” all stand out as they feature Hertzog’s epic, timeless themes along with the more catchy disco-style funky numbers accompanying some memorably iconic scenes.
These films’ unusual upbeat, toe-tapping score accompanies brutal battles and harsh training to perfectly capture those moments.
Hertzog viewed the action in these films as something akin to ballet, and so the music was written to work in tandem with the action, almost choreographed as if it were a dance bringing together elements of rock with his own interpretations of Asian sounds and music.
Over the decades the soundtracks have been previously available on a variety of formats including vinyl, cassette and CD – although outside the US they were pretty hard to obtain.
In the UK, unless they were available via imports, one could only own bootleg versions of the soundtracks lifted directly from the film. In time this changed and finally the music from all three films is available for all to enjoy for your aural delight courtesy of Perseverance Records, and also to stream via Spotify.
The albums come complete with all the tracks and tunes featured in the films and, as we enter the fourth decade of that golden era of martial arts cinema that saw the rise of two of those films star, Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Now without further ado, sit back, and relax as Kung Fu Kingdom presents our pick of the best kick-ass tunes from one of the masters of martial arts action OSTs in Bloodsport & Kickboxer: Top 10 EPIC Paul Hertzog Hits! (in descending order)
10. Kickboxer: Streets of Siam
This is not the first collaboration between 80’s rock singer Stan Bush, and Paul Hertzog with the two previously having worked on “Bloodsport” – more on this later.
It’s a partnership that clearly worked as the two reunited to provide many of the songs for “Kickboxer” starting with “Streets of Siam”.
Hertzog’s disco symphony sits perfectly with Bush’s gravel-like rock vocals belting out the song’s anthemic lyrics symbolizing the age-old theme of triumph over adversity – the film’s theme, surprisingly enough.
Played over the montage of the Sloane brothers Eric (kickboxing legend Dennis Alexio) and Kurt’s (Jean-Claude Van Damme) tour of Thailand, its inspirational lyrics and upbeat feel sets the tone for the film. Its beat however, has a pretty infectious vibe so be careful listening to this on your headphones as you walk down the street as you might feel yourself start to bop and strut!
9. Breathing Fire: Garage Fight
One of the most powerful facets of a film’s music score is in its character introductions. In “Breathing Fire” – starring Jerry Timble, Bolo Yeung and Ke Huy Quan, we get the best introduction to a character that pays homage to a time-honoured trope – the seasoned sifu, in this case the legendary Beggar – So.
After witnessing her parents’ brutal murder Annie Stern seeks help from David Moore (Ed Neil). When a group of burly henchmen led by Alan Tackett catches up to her they make mincemeat of the seemingly hungover David. However not everything is as it seems and David drops his facade and comes to Annie’s rescue.
Hertzog’s score is brilliantly written to encapsulate this starting with a chaotic and chilling Brad Fiedel-esque sound (“The Terminator”). Just listening to the track you can hear the random tunes almost crash into one another whilst not producing the most beautiful sound does invoke the sense of hopelessness with the henchman making off with their victim.
The switch comes thick and fast to Hertzog’s fast-paced disco melody depicting David’s rescue. It’s an interesting listen, in and of itself, packing plenty of drama and variety keeping the listener on their toes.
8. Bloodsport: Second Day
Hertzog’s established mix of disco synth and rock music fusion was established in Van Damme’s other fight film cult classic, “Bloodsport“. Many of the tracks have a familiar sound giving consistency, but at the same time avoiding repetitiveness.
For the “Second Day” of the Kumite there is significantly more difference in tone and style than the “First Day” capturing the scene’s intensity and increasing danger factor for the fighters including Frank Dux (Van Damme).
Since this features more of Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) much of the track nosedives in tone and beat adding a sense of forboding to his scenes. The sound, though still retaining that funky synth beat, is a bit more intense in keeping with the tension one feels when progressing through a kumite tournament. It’s a stimulating listen, packed with more drama and melodic variation.
7. Kickboxer: Never Surrender
With the resoundingly uplifting (and predictable ending) of “Kickboxer” which sees Kurt Sloane winning the battle against the monstrous ‘Tong Po’ (Michel Qissi), it’s time for a celebration. And what better sound for a post-match party than another musical collaboration between composer Hertzog and singer Stan Bush.
Like “Fight to Survive” and “Streets of Siam” the track is all about overcoming the odds and never giving up in a fight. It’s a real fist-bumping, or air-punching, feel-good anthem.
So if you’re looking for a track for your workout playlist or to pep you up in the morning then “Never Surrender” will get your heart pumping and kickstart and fire off your synapses ready to face the day…!
6. Breathing Fire: Training Montage
The training montage is a familiar staple of action fight films packed with intense, almost superhuman training feats accompanied by an inspirationally moving rock track.
For the scenes featuring brothers ‘Charlie’ (Ke Huy Quan) and ‘Tony’ (Eddie Saavedra) training together, Hertzog takes the Bill Conti (“Karate Kid” saga) approach with a more soothing, reflective melody, without the disco.
The smooth tone, which on the “Breathing Fire” album is split into three tracks – “Training”, “Train More”, and “Spar More” – capture perfectly the two brothers’ physical and spiritual martial journey as they go from spoiled pranksters to serious martial artists and protectors.
If you listen to all three in succession you can follow that journey, with the tone briefly changing for levity to capture Charlie and Tony’s larking around during sparring.
These are definitely solid tracks for something soothing to listen to, accompany a steady run, or even for meditative, steady forms practice. It’s a mesmerizing piece.
5. Bloodsport: Final Fight
The score for “Bloodsport’s” final matchup between ‘American Ninja’ Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and the deadly Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) is a masterclass in Hertzog using music to tell a story.
The frequent change in tone and beat keeps you on your listening toes as you follow the fight, from Frank’s determination to gain the advantage, to his fall thanks to a cheating, villainous Chong Li.
The mix of upbeat and darker undertones depict the ups and downs of Frank’s battle overcoming more than just a larger, vicious opponent perfectly. It also captures Frank’s need to dig deep and overcome his handicap.
After that, the disco sound kicks up the tempo as our hero recalls all the esoteric training received from his master or ‘Shidoshi’ Senzo Tanaka (played by the late Roy Chiao), as he slowly regains the advantage and begins to helicopter kick his way to victory.
4. Kickboxer: Tai Chi
Training to be a deadly kickboxer is not all about kicking banana trees and breaking coconuts as Kurt Sloane soon discovers. His mentor ‘Uncle Xian’ (Dennis Chan) shows the young crusader the softer and slower side of his martial arts system.
For this scene, Hertzog composed the track “Tai Chi” a soft, smooth, and serene melody, ideal for a more chilled-out relaxing session, or to accompany some forms or kata practice. The score follows Xian’s controlled and flowing form, changing tempo to match his sudden bursts of movement with a myriad of sounds and beats keeping you mentally on your toes.
This wonderful piece of music sits perfectly in any training playlist, personally I have this track playing when practising and performing my katas.
3. Bloodsport: Flashback Montage
They say that when you’re dying, your life flashes before your eyes: the same could be said for when you visit your ailing Shidoshi which is the case for Frank Dux.
Whilst he waits to pay his respects to his mentor Senzo Tanaka, Frank relives his youth and recalls how he came to be accepted as a student of his master.
The whole segment is captured on the soundtrack album and is titled “Flashback Montage” with a 10 minute, 21 second run time. This might have arguably been served better split into two, or maybe three individual tracks. However, ultimately it works better as one continuous piece because, as with “Final Fight”, there is a story being told here.
There is a sublime mix of slow, soothing melody mixed in with the all too familiar disco tempo, capturing the tragedy and inspiration of Frank’s evolution from troubled teen to kumite warrior.
2. Bloodsport: Fight to Survive
When it comes to kick-ass, rollicking anthemic fight songs, few hit the mark quite like the first collaboration between Hertzog and Stan Bush.
Fresh off the success of “The Touch”, which he wrote initially for Sylvester Stallone’s “Cobra” but was instead used for “Transformers: The Movie”, Bush lent his vocals to this, the ultimate fight song.
The soundtrack album features two versions of “Fight To Survive” – the two-minute edit which kicks in midway through the kumite’s first day, and the longer edit that plays over the film’s credits.
This is an exhilarating track that captures the intensity of the film’s kumite matches and serves as the film’s main theme. It is also the first pairing of Hertzog’s synthesizer keyboard tunes with Stan Bush’s belting vocals leading to the duo working together again on “Kickboxer”.
“Fight to Survive” deserves to be placed alongside Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from “Rocky III”, and “Moment of Truth” from “The Karate Kid” to name a few, as one of the best 80’s movie rock anthems, one so packed full of energy and excitement that it will have you punching the air chanting “Kumite, Kumite, Kumite!”
Kickboxer: Feeling so Good Today (Mike Piccirillo / Beau Williams)
Before we reveal our all-time favourite Hertzog composition, it’s important to pay tribute to a track from the “Kickboxer” soundtrack that is part of an iconic moment as featured in our “Top 10 Bar Fights“.
Few scenes are more memorable than this in which Kurt Sloane, having knocked back several shorts of local liquor, gets to test his skills – thanks to his mentor Xian against some local barflies.
What follows is a blend of fun-filled comedy with some martial action lovingly iced with Van Damme getting his groove on to this James Brown-style funky number by Beau Williams.
Hertzog was not involved in the production of this song but it is by far one of the most memorable and beloved, and one that is often homaged and parodied, even by the man himself!
…And in at number 1 is…
Kickboxer: The Eagle Lands
A prime example of Hertzog’s musical talent lies in the track “The Eagle Lands” accompanying Kurt’s match up with Tong Po.
Any martial arts action aficionado knows all too well the ending for this Van Damme classic in which Kurt Sloane and the vicious Muay Thai fighter, Tong Po (Michel Qissi) brutally face off, and which at first, sees our hero beaten to a bloody pulp.
When Kurt regains his composure following his brother Eric’s rescue, he puts his newly-learned, martial Zen-esque skills to the test. The track fades in, starting slow, and gradually builds up before exploding with Hertzog’s trademark disco sound.
“The Eagle Lands” has a sound and beat similar to “Bloodsport’s” final fight track, however there’s a certain timeless quality to this take with Hertzog putting a variety of chiming melodies into the mix, invoking a zen like feel. It’s a funky, and upbeat-yet-reflective warrior hero’s anthem through and through which also blends in a sublime, esoteric quality.
In essence it’s an exercise in yin and yang musical art which you can enjoy whilst relaxing, or get your imagination caught up in the thrill and excitement of this final fight to the point where you’ll find yourself punching the air celebrating a hard-fought (albeit vicarious) victory whilst hollering out loud…“YESSSS!”