The movie begins with montages of various hopeful competitors training and practicing their fighting techniques. Interspersed with these montages are shots of the arena where the Kumite will be held. The hosts of the Kumite are rehearsing pageantry and preparing the arena for proper use. Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), an army captain at his base, is summoned to a meeting with his colonel before going on furlough. The colonel has found out he plans to travel to Hong Kong while on furlough, and Dux's superiors want to stop him from entering the Kumite, in part because the Kumite is an illegal, underground fight. It is not sanctioned by world martial arts organizations, due to its particularly violent nature. Fatalities, though uncommon and frowned on, are considered part of the risk. Dux stages a daring escape from his base, going AWOL to travel to Hong Kong. The Army dispatches two MPs, Helmer (Norman Burton) and Rawlins (Forest Whitaker) to find Dux and bring him back.