I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Kickboxer

KICKBOXER is a much better version of BLOODSPORT. It’s another late ’80s/Cannon Films/Jean-Claude Van Damme/Belgian-American competing in dangerous Asian fighting competition movie. This one starts with Van Damme as Kurt Sloan, goofy kid brother sidekick to United States Kickboxing Champion of the World Eric “The Eliminator” Sloan, whose hair and mustache might have influenced Danny McBride’s look in THE FOOT FIST WAY, I’m guessing.

The Eliminator is the best… in the United States. But he’s arrogant and ignorant. When asked by a reporter about kickboxing’s origins in Thailand he asks Kurt to book him a flight to Taiwan (Kurt has to correct him and bring him to Bangkok). The Eliminator thinks taking on the Thai champion will be a piece of cake, or a bowl of sticky rice or whatever. But Kurt knows it’s trouble as soon as he sees the opponent, Tong Po. This guy is a crazy-eyed maniac with a braided ponytail down to his ass who practices by kicking a column in his dressing room, cracking it.

KickboxerKurt looks around and sees that this is totally different here. They fight different, using elbows and knees. But the Eliminator doesn’t think he even has to pay attention to where he is, because he’s THE BEST! That’s why this movie won me over quick, it has this subtext about this guy being sort of a tourist in the world of kickboxing, not respecting or understanding or even taking a quick glance at where it comes form. And just going into a foreign country this arrogant asshole not bothering to understand the culture, assuming he’s the best and not even doing any fuckin homework. I mean somebody clearly should’ve made Rumsfeld watch KICKBOXER in around 2001, could’ve saved us alot of trouble.

Kurt is the wiser one, he pays attention, but big brother won’t listen so he gets his ass whooped and can’t walk after an elbow to the spine. The crew at the arena don’t exactly give him VIP treatment. They carry him out on a stretcher, set him down in the street and lock the gate.

Luckily Tong Po also kicked Kurt out of the ring and literally into the lap of an American ex-special forces dude named Winston Taylor (Haskell V. Anderson III) who he guilts into giving him a ride to the hospital and being his Steve James for the rest of the movie.

But Kurt is pretty pissed off so he decides he has to find a crazy dude to train him in muay thai, become a successful fighter, get a match with Tong Po and then like kick him in the balls or at least call him a weiner or something. His teacher is Xian Chow (Dennis Chan), who comes up with some excellent training sequences. Kurt practices kicking underwater, breaks his leg kicking a tree to death, runs from a dog with meat strapped to his thigh, and gets a coconut dropped on his belly from a real high tree to test his abdominal fortitude.

But the best test by far is when Tzian takes him to a bar, gets him really drunk and tells him to dance to the jukebox with some ladies. This leads to a bunch of locals attacking him, so he drunkenly fends them off. This is a somewhat legendary scene I think because it’s been sent to me more than once as incentive to watch these early Van Dammes. The fight is good but I think they chose the clip for Van Damme’s enthusiastic dancing.

Apparently Xian is telling those guys that Kurt insulted them, but I think it would make sense that they wanted to beat him up just for dancing like that.

Tong Po is the Chong Li of the movie, or the Ivan Drago. There’s also a crime boss behind him named Freddy Li (Steve Lee) and he has a nice Just How Evil Is He? moment when he’s sitting in the crowd during the final fight and a little blood squirts on him, so he tastes it and smiles perversely. They don’t show if he has a boner or not but I’m guessing yes, for sure, definitely.

Tong Po is a great villain too. He doesn’t really have a fleshed out personality or anything but he just looks like such a monster that he seems like a formidable opponent. Being so one-dimensional fits completely with the theme, these guys got no idea who this is, he might as well be an alien. I wondered who this was and to my surprise the credits credit Tong Po as being played by “Himself.” What!? Tong Po is a real guy? Some famous martial artist and he doesn’t mind being portrayed in the movie like that?

Well, as tempting as it might be to believe that dude is out there somewhere, there’s nobody named Tong Po. He’s actually played by Michel Qissi, a martial artist who grew up with Van Damme. He was his personal trainer for BLOODSPORT and for this one they made him up to look Asian and called him Tong Po. His probaly not as evil as you would think, and apparently he’s standing next to Van Damme in that notorious clip from BREAKIN’ where they were both extras.

Still I’d be careful, some day he could get a bump on the head and start thinking he’s Tong Po, and it could be trouble.

Anyway, the fight with Tong Po is good, and has the memorable gimmick of their fists being wrapped in hemp, dipped in resin and then covered in broken glass. (Somehow this doesn’t cause as much damage as it sounds like it would.) But the filmatists are smart enough to know that a fight in a circle of torches is a little drab as far as action movie climaxes go, so they intercut it with another scene where the supporting cast has to kick ass – Xian and Taylor rescue Eric from kidnappers. And Eric gets to do a few Eliminator moves with his arms even though he’s in a wheelchair. Also Xian’s dog gets stabbed, that’s pretty fucked up. It’s also a missed opportunity because in the beginning it’s mentioned that Kurt might want to become a veterinarian. There could’ve been a scene where he practices veterinary medicine on the dog, but nope.

Despite that major oversight I recommend KICKBOXER to all viewers who think they might enjoy a movie called KICKBOXER.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, December 1st, 2008 at 4:26 am and is filed under Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Responses to “Kickboxer”

  1. My reaction was exactly the opposite to yours, Vern. I thought this came off as a far-inferior remake of “Bloodsport” without the tournament fights that made that film watchable. As a side note: why does the reigning champion always have to be an asshole? Is it that hard to write a film about a contender who trains himself up to fight a great and honorable champion? “Every Which Way that Can” and “Rocky” and “Rocky 2” managed it long before Dolph Lundgren gurned out the words: “If he dies, he dies.”

  2. Because as all of us and Joe Sixpack knows:
    Nobody in power has earned it and they are all evil.

    After all if they bring up that the “enemy” is actually a nice guy or has something that makes him sympathetic then that will confuse us and we’ll be spending more time thinking of the moral conundrums then watching the movie. As a result we’ll hate it.

    That said I’d love to see a ‘little guy against the system’ movie that follows the hero, who is of coarse a loveable down on his luck guy, then he goes and fights the big mean baddie at the end and it finds out that the bad guy is actually far more deserving of the title than the hero and in fact the hero seems kind of like a dick after wards.

    I don’t think Bruckheimer & Bay will be making that movie though.

  3. I liked kickboxer much better than bloodsport. The plot behind Kickboxer just seems more interesting to me..

  4. The Undefeated Gaul

    August 6th, 2014 at 3:59 am

    Would love to join the GOTH discussions but the fucking thing takes two more weeks to get released here. So instead let me share the following:

    The upcoming 3D KICKBOXER reboot has added two more cast members to round out the martial arts flick. Scott Adkins (ZERO DARK THIRTY) and Tony Jaa (ONG BAK) will join the previously announced Dave Bautista (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY), former UFC welterweight champion George St. Pierre (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER) and Alain Moussi (X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST).

    That’s a pretty exciting cast for a reboot.

  5. So there are TWO Kickboxer remakes on the horizon?!

    The Albert Pyun/Sasha Mitchell one, City of Blood, which continues the series, even though Mitchell’s character got killed. Maybe he’s now a cyborg.

    And the one mentioned above, which according to this:

    http://spinoff.comicbookresources.com/2014/12/09/gina-carano-muscles-her-way-into-kickboxer-remake/

    Says that not only is Carano now onboard, but is also saying that Bautista will be…Tong Po!

  6. I believe also Van Damme is confirmed for the remake, in a mentor role, so the cast is looking good. The Pyun/Mitchell sequel will then be some kind of a less respectable bastard step-sibling thing, which seems fitting, as Pyun has always been so far from the mainstream as one gets. Looking forward to both, but would not be surprised if Pyun’s version runs into some legal troubles with regards to the rights. Didn’t stop him from making sequels to STREETS OF FIRE and CYBORG though!

  7. Bautista did a 2-part episode of Chris Jericho’s podcast (which I recently started listening to) and he seems excited about KICKBOXER, and confirms that he’s playing Tong Po. At the time of the interview it was still Tony Jaa as the mentor, but honestly Van Damme will be better for that since it will probly require more acting and less stunt work. (Also he had practice playing the mentor in DRAGON EYES.)

    The last question of the interview is about Bautista’s lunchboxes, and it’s great to hear him un-self-consciously discuss his search for a particular Superman lunchbox. So that badass juxtaposition is still in place now that he’s a bigger star.

  8. Ever listen to Steve Austin’s podcast, Vern? Quite a bit of it is wrestling stuff or stream-of-consciousness but he’s had a few of the guys he’s worked with in movies lately on as well.

  9. The Original Paul

    December 12th, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Oh a “Kickboxer” remake? I am… surprisingly… not completely averse to that.

    It’s never a film that I had that much affection for to begin with. My view on the BLOODSPORT / KICKBOXER comparison is almost the exact opposite of Vern’s – I think BLOODSPORT, although flawed, makes for a fairly gripping and entertaining ride, whereas KICKBOXER goes for a very different tone and doesn’t really hit the mark for me. I still like it, but it’s not a film I’d go out of my way to see.

    I’d like to see them take the premise and just try and go balls-out to make it the best damn KICKBOXER film that ever existed. Kinda what I was hoping for from the MY BLOODY VALENTINE remake. (The result of that was a movie that I absolutely detest on every level, so I’m hoping KICKBOXER turns out a helluva lot better than that one did!) If they get the talent, and they use it wisely, it could be great. If not… look, I liked MAN OF TAI CHI a great deal, but damn it, if you’re gonna put Iko Uwais in your film, at least have the guy fight, ok?

  10. BLOODSPORT comes closer to being a real movie by having a better cast and by the then-novelty of seeing so many different fighting styles share the screen. (I don’t know about you guys, but I’d certainly never seen capoeira before BLOODSPORT.) So it has come legitimately good aspects to it, in addition to being a stupid action movie. KICKBOXER is like BLOODSPORT’s little brother who got dropped on his head as a baby. Filmatistically, it’s a half step up from a Pyun joint. Which is not an insult. What’s awesome about it is how idiotic it is. They’re probably not even going to try to recapture that, but that’s okay. The concept of KICKBOXER is so generic that it was basically a remake to begin with. There’s no harm in making it a couple more times.

  11. Onthewall – I’ve fallen way behind on the Steve Austin Show, but I like it. He just seems like a really cool guy. Even when he does a stupid comedy skit (the episode about him fighting a fly) he gets so into it that it’s pretty enjoyable. I do like interviews with wrestlers but I prefer when it’s somebody I remember from back in the day, which is not usually who he talks to since he came up in the ’90s, well after I stopped watching.

    I’m starting to get into Piper’s Pit too.

  12. Whatever happened to the BLOODSPORT remake? Is it still on? Van Damme’s reaction when he learned they were re-doing it without him, as captured on the reality show, was quite affecting, so I’m glad they’ve invited him to join the KICKBOXER-remake. Actually he’s been trying to get a new fight/tournament movie going for a looong time, but BLOODSPORT 2 and KUMITE never reached production, so this must be a minor victory for him. Was THE MONK also supposed to a movie in this vein? I only mention in because I want to share the brilliant poster they made for it: http://entertaining.free.fr/vandamme/filmographie/affiches/the%20monk.jpg

  13. Forrest – THE MONK only existed a poster to schlep around that year’s Cannes looking for backers, I believe.

    The BLOODSPORT remake-equal-boot from a few years ago never took off, either.

    (Man, that JCVD rant was epic, though. Had to feel for him there.)

  14. I love this movie personally but I’m okay with the remake I’m actually pretty hype for it. The cast shows a lot of promise and there’s potential for the movie itself to be pretty entertaining overall.

  15. First teaser for KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE –

    Kickboxer Vengeance Trailer Teaser (Official)

    Happy Thanksgiving… Stay tuned. A complete Theatrical Trailer will be released soon.

  16. I”m not sure what that was but I loved it.

  17. First time in a while I’ve seen JCVD throw a kick that high. Didn’t know that Carano is in it either. Footage looks good. Still got that Cannon flair with a modern touch despite the awful trailer music.

  18. Pretty great trailer, for sure.

    Bautista’s take on Tong Po looks awesome.

    Hope Carano gets more to do than just stand around.

    And Van Damme’s hat is sweet.

  19. I don’t really see the comparison to Bloodsport. These are really two different movies.

  20. “KICKBOXER is a much better version of BLOODSPORT.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with Vern more than this. Bloodsport is an all-time classic and perfect in every way. Kickboxer is an inferior knock-off – the only part of Kickboxer better than anything in Bloodsport is the bar scene.

    But don’t get me wrong, Kickboxer is still a great movie. I would give it 4 1/2 stars to Bloodsport’s 5. Training scenes were awesome, the NUK SU KOW chant was great (but it was really weird how the pro-Tong Po crowd starting chanting that before Kurt had even started winning the fight at all).

    Also, I think Kurt probably did some veterinary work off-screen (maybe in a deleted scene?). Ki ki was fixed up pretty well in time for the final fight (why was the dog allowed into the underground fight club??).

  21. Watching this now for the first time and had to stop for a minute just to tell you:

    My hair is longer than Tong Po’s.

    Now I’ll continue with the movie.

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