Kickboxer (1989)

An Ancient Sport Becomes A Deadly Game.

If your enemy refuses to be humbled... Destroy him. Accompanied by his brother Kurt (Van Damme), American kickboxing champion Eric Sloane (Dennis Alexio), arrives in Thailand to defeat the Eastern warriors at their own sport. His opponent: ruthless fighter and Thai champion, Tong Po. Tong not only defeats Eric, he paralyzes him for life. Crazed with anger, Kurt vows revenge.

Just listen. With your mind, your heart, your whole being.
Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as Kurt Sloane, who after witnessing his brother getting crippled in a Muay Thai fight in Thailand, sets about learning the art himself so as to enact revenge on the sinister Tiger Tong Po who illegally put his brother in the wheel chair.
Ah look, I don't see any point in writing about the market that Van Damme movies sit in, I think everyone knows that there isn't going to be great acting in these movies, the plotting will be straight and simple and the resolution will be prescribed to get a whoop and yee-haw response. I would think that as much as some highbrow film fans roll their eyes and look down their noses at these type of action movies, they do at least acknowledge the fighting artistry and choreography on show. They, you hope, stay away and leave the ass kicking fans and nostalgists to wallow in their cheese and beaten body pulp kingdoms. I mean why would an arty film lover seek out an early Van Damme movie anyway?
I love Kickboxer, I really do, when I first caught it on release I could be found trying to do some of those wonderful Van Damme moves, rewatching the key moments over and over again, enjoying immensely the adrenalin rush that comes as we go slow-mo and Jean-Claude goes about dismantling uber bastard villain Tiger Tong Po (Michel Qissi). Now, well over twenty years later, I still get that rush, I can't do the moves, mind, I nearly put my shoulder out just punching the air in triumph as a mullet headed Dennis Alexio sticks his thumb up from his wheelchair, but all the thrills are still there, the skills on show still amazing. Hell, there's even a pet thread of substance, damn those animal threads, that cool dog better not get killed! Grrrrrrrr.
Of course now, viewing with older and wiser eyes, you can see the clunkiness of the script, the lame-brained plotting and excuses for Van Damme to flash the flesh and show his dexterity. There's even one of the worst dance sequences ever put down on film, so bad I can't believe I never laughed out loud at the cinema all those years ago. Yet it's still a wonderful movie, often exhilarating, the thematics of second chances (Haskell V. Anderson III having a great old time of it as Winston Taylor), revenge and different cultures, these impact greatly on the picture. Then there's Dennis Chan as Xian Chow, giving Pat Morita a run for his money as the most fun cinematic Martial Arts trainer, the real location photography in Thailand, the training sequences and of course we get to learn about the ancient sport of Muay Thai. There's a lot of good here to off set the saggy cheese.
There are some truly awful Van Damme movies out there, case in point Cyborg which was released the same year as Kickboxer, and without doubt the quality of Van Damme movies improved in the 90s as his stock began to rise and the budgets went higher. But this is a goody for his fans to lap up, a film to sit alongside Bloodsport as one of the two best action movies from his early body of work. And I love it so. 8/10

Kings Road Entertainment, Cannon Group by Mark DiSalle, David Worth, Glenn A. Bruce, Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Alexio, Dennis Chan, Michel Qissi.

Genres: Action, Sport, Thriller

Keywords: sibling relationship martial arts wheelchair bangkok thailand sport phuket meister revenge muay thai kick boxing

04/20/1989

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