Wednesday, 17 August 2011


Title: Kickboxer
Director: Mark DiSalle, David Worth
Released: 1989
Staring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Alexio, Dennis Chan, Michel Qissi, Steve Lee, Rochelle Ashana, Haskell V. Anderson

Plot: When Kurt Sloane’s (Van Damme) brother Eric (Alexio) is crippled by undefeated champion Tong Po (Qissi), forcing Kurt to seek out a reclusive trainer Xian Chow (Chan) to train him in the art of Muay Thai, so that he can get his revenge against Tong Po

Review: Released a year after the epic “Bloodsport” (1988), “Kickboxer” is another key title in the Van Damme back catalogue, even if it is more or less the same story as “Bloodsport” with Van Damme fighting in another foreign tournament, while essentially being another showcase for the abilities of Van Damme, whom is shown here in his prime as he spends pretty much the whole film running through various training montages in the lead up to the final showdown with Tong Po and that is actually all this film is, which makes it unique in the fact that Directors Di Salle and Worth arn’t trying to cram in any of the usual questionable side plots which tend to show up these films, which for those of you not enthralled by a young Van Damme running through training routines might find this one more than a little tiresome.

Van Damme seen here as Kurt is very much an innocent character in a change from the usual cocky young bucks that Van Damme liked to play in the early part of his career though it would seem the directors would like to think this has something to do with his mother making him take Ballet lessons and Kurt's inital reaction when they fly out to Thiland is to be shocked by the violence of the Thai kickboxing circuit, unlike this brother the reigning American champion and general egotistical jackass and assuming because he is the U.S champion that it applies to fighting in Thiland as well completly ignoring the fact that they invented the sport, much less that he shows up without the slightest bit of research into how they fight and unsurprisingly gets his ass handed to him by Tong Po, in what seems to be the most one sided fight ever and serves to only make Tong Po all the more of a ruthless badguy, let alone the fact that we are introduced to him training by kicking a concrete pillar, which to most people might be enough of a warning to perhaps sit this fight out. Still despite being confined to a wheelchair, it seems that it doesn’t make Eric any less of a dick, as randomly gropes nurses and generally sulking when there isn’t an attractive female to hit on, but I have to ask if his mullet and moustache combo was ever a good look even back in the 80’s?

Having been put on the path of revenge, it’s not long before Kurt teams up with the eccentric trainer Xian, who not only gets all the best lines in the movie, while having a highly questionable training regime which ranges from the traditional scenes of Kurt running through punch and kick combos, to the more random moments such as Xian dropping coconuts onto the torso of Kurt, while also having him kicking a tree until his leg breaks, while the best of these being when he get’s Kurt drunk at the local bar before having Kurt demonstrating his...well shall we say limited dancing skills (apparently he didn’t learn much from those ballet lessons), while unbeknown to Kurt taunting the local gangsters to attack Kurt who is left to defend himself against them while clearly not having a clue as to why everyone keeps trying to attack him.

When it comes to baddies in Van Damme movies Tong Po was interestingly named number two in a recent article over on the underated “The Jaded Viewer” and it’s easy to see why, for all although he’s not as monstrous as Bolo Yeung’s Chong Li in “Bloodsport”, Qissi is still imposing with his long braid and manic eyes, let alone how confidently he holds himself in the ring, doing anything it takes to win his matches, while caring even less for sporting behaviour especially when he kicks out the towel thrown in by Kurt before then crippling Eric, though seeing how much of a jerk Eric is I think we all were hoping that he took him out permanently. Still Tong Po cares little for Westerners who it would seem much like his gangster bosses who have just as much contempt for the westerners, especially when they dump Eric and Kurt on the sidewalk after the match, but essentially these are cardboard thin villains at best and might as well be shown kicking puppies for how subtle the characterisation is here.

The fight scenes are all pretty great, with Van Damme choreographing these scenes to great effect, while the fact that all the fighter were professional fighters before they became actors, with Alexio a former American Kickboxing champion, while Qissi was a long term training partner for Van Damme, with Qissi helping Van Damme to train for his role in “Bloodsport” and certainly proves himself capable of holding his own against all comers. The climatic showdown between Kurt and Tong Po, gets another level added to it by having the two opponents wrapping their fists in hemp, dipped in resin and then covered in broken glass in a scene frequently talked about amongst Van Damme fans, despite the fact that neither of them causing as much damage as you’d expect from such a stipulation, but it’s a nice dramatic touch which adds to drab setting for such a climatic showdown, by which point any conceivable thing that can be done to make Tong Po and baddies seem even more evil is thrown into the mix, with Tong Po (unnecessarily) raping Kurts girl friend and even (Equally unnecessarily) stabbing Xian’s dog in an attempt to throw Kurt off his fame and generally seem more evil!

“Kickboxer” is very much a flawed film, especially when it is essentially a one thread story of a man’s quest for revenge and the path is takes him down and essentially giving you the kind of movie the title suggests. Nostalgia for 80’s action films like this one has meant that many reviewers seem to view it with some kind of nostalgic haze, but compared to “Bloodsport” outside of some decent fight scenes and the training montages the parts which fall between, are frequently bland and uninteresting, which can be also said for most of the supporting cast with the character of Eric no doubt being alot more effective had he been killed off rather than crippled, at least that way it would have not only potentially added alittle more emotional depth, while also saving the audience from having to endure Alexio’s sulky performance.

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