Kickboxer of 1989 was produced and directed by Mark DiSalle and David Worth, duo is responsible for awesome martial arts movies of ’80-90s. David Worth worked as a director of photography on Bloodsport, directed Lady Dragon and American Tigers with Cynthia Rothrock. Mark DiSalle was a producer of Bloodsport, Death Warrant and of outstanding kick-ass film The Perfect Weapon with Jeff Speakman.
Moreover talented composer Paul Hertzog graced the movie with timeless and very catchy inspirational lyrics!
Screenplay was written by Mark DiSalle and Jean-Claude Van Damme himself, and in the beginning of his career, Van Damme could create a simple but very inspiring story.
This crew knew what they were doing working on Kickboxer and bringing the fans another classic action movie of ’90s.
If you expect to see in Kickboxer Vengeance how the hero studying the fundamentals of Muay Thai you will be disappointed. If you expect to see jaw-dropping temples of Thailand you will be disappointed once again. If you want to see strong characters you better go and watch another movie.
The story opens where Kurt Sloane is trying to gain admission to a remote fortress to train under Tong Po. Yes, train under him! But his true intention is to get vengeance and he attempts assassination with a gun! which unsurprisingly does not work out.
In the original Kurt was on a single-minded mission to condition his body so his arms and legs become weapons, and Xian put him through a very tough preparation process. The remake doesn’t follow the same strategy and demonstrates only a few elements of training and more focus on beautiful shots of high kicks during a sunset.
If Van Damme’s character experienced spiritualism taken from the spirits of long-dead Thai warriors, Moussi’s character all about revenge and a girl (truth to say all love scenes look dub that you just can’t relate to.)
Let’s talk about characters.
An intriguing cast announced in the beginning of Kickboxer Vengeance shooting impressed everyone and good reviews made us barely waiting for the release, but as a result we got an absolute mess.
Kurt Sloan played by Alain Moussi, but unfortunately, he just can’t give an impression of a good fighter with skilled moves ready to crash and burn everything on his way. Yes, he can perform acrobatics moves, but when it comes to fight scenes you just don’t believe in his abilities.
The camera simply loves Van Damme and his undeniable charisma but it doesn’t work with Alain Moussi and he plays just another straight-to-forget character.
Eric Sloan played by late Darren Shahlavi. He performs the character as an arrogant fighter thinking about big money. He is more of a bad than good, and Darren nails this role perfectly. Unfortunately, he hasn’t got so much screen time and killed by Tong Po after first 20 minutes of the movie.
Tong Po played by great Dave Bautista is a total fail. I just can’t imagine how producers could waste talent of this great athlete and actor. They just made him some kind of a master with students, living in the ancient temple as a nomad. As I understand Dave is not happy with this role himself and no wonder he is not talking about it on his Twitter.
Master Durand played by Jean-Claude Van Damme. This is a totally different character and has nothing in common with Master Xian from original. There is no backstory of him and we don’t know how Eric found him. Master calls both brothers his sons but there is no explanation of that again. What is really fun he doesn’t go anywhere without his hat and sunglasses.
Marcia played by Gina Carano. The shady promoter of illegal fights with her own story which we probably will never know. She knows Eric from the past and made him come to Thailand promising $400,000 for a fight.
Liu played Sara Malakul Lane. She is a police officer chasing Marcia and trying to stop illegal fights. Also, she is a love interest of Kurt but this story again poorly developed.
Kavi played by Georges St-Pierre. This is the character which stole the whole show in my opinion. GSP is so full of charisma with his accent and when he appears on the screen he grabs all attention. Producers made his a drinking average fighter but from his fights you can clearly see the professional MMA champion.
Kavi has his own story but I don’t think we will know it. What is interesting, Kavi was among Tong Po’s students but later crossed the threshold of Durand’s house, who accepted and tested him. The fight scene looks like was specially developed for JCVD and GSP just to allow them to have fun on sets.
Crawford played by Sam Medina. He is an announcer and a right hand of Tong Po. I didn’t like his assumed gestures and voice but maybe that’s what audience are looking for in this kind of characters.
Director John Stockwell previously filmed good movies such as Into the Blue with late Paul Walker, Turistas, In the Blood with Gina Carano. I don’t know what happened on sets of Kickboxer but this work shouldn’t be listed on his resume. Hope his next movie Temple with Wesley Snipes, about a team of highly trained operatives trapped inside an isolated military base, will be much better.
The fight scenes in original Kickboxer were spectacular featuring Van Damme’s trademark splits and 360-degree flying spin-kicks, and full of Muay Thai spirit. In the remake they are cheesy and not impressive. Alain hasn’t got Van Damme’s charisma and moves and prefers to rely on acrobatic tricks.
Choreography feels more like dancing than fighting, it feels like hits and kicks barely making contact. In a world of The Raid and Ong Bak with bloody brutal knuckles flying around like in a poetry, you just can’t choreograph scenes this way.
The bar fight is one of the best fight scenes in this movie and Cain Velasquez looks much better than Tong Po. But looking how Van Damme knocking out a former two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion with just one kick is truly ridiculous.
My favourite fight scene is when Durand testing Kurt under the rain. Van Damme demonstrates all his trademark moves, and even if they are funny and far from reality they are still a guilty pleasure to watch.
The climactic battle is very slow and absolutely not realistic. Both fighters fists are covered in broken glass, and if when Van Damme got his face and abdomen raked by glass shards was truly painful to watch, here all blood and cuts disappearing somewhere during the fight and all you can see is how Kurt stands up again and again in a fighting stance, like nothing happened.
Actually, the face of Alain’s character should have looked like a chewed hamburger after the beating he received from Tong Po but realism isn’t a primary concern here or maybe he has a special power of self-healing.
Film has the most terrible editing I have even seen so far, blending cross-fit training montages with love scenes is a very bad vision. Many story lines make it looks like a total mess and reminds latest Hong Kong films with a lot of characters and stories mixed all together. I only hope this is not the future of this genre.
Here is the list of questions film leaves you with:
– Story of Tong Po and his students
– Story of Marcia and where she knows Eric from
– Story of Master Durand
– Why Duran’s place is hidden?
– Story of how Eric found Master Durand
– Story of police officer Liu
– Story of Kurt and Liu
– Story of Kavi and why he was banished from Tong Po team
– How and where Kavi broke his arm?
If I wanted to say that Kickboxer Vengeance is a bad movie or it’s basically a string ’90s action movie cliches, I still wouldn’t say enough. The real huge problem here is a lack of engaging star and a good fight choreography as this is what made this genre popular.
Kickboxer Vengeance doesn’t praise the legacy of original and even can’t be named a decent tribute. But besides all of that we will see two more sequels Kickboxer Retaliation and Kickboxer Syndicate in 2017.
End credits will please you with famous Kurt’s dancing scene, but even here Alain can’t beat Jean’s moves.