REVIEW: Kickboxer (1989)

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1989, Kings Road Entertainment/Cannon Films

Directors:
Mark DiSalle
David Worth
Producer:
Mark DiSalle
Writers:
Jean-Claude Van Damme (story)
Mark DiSalle (story)
Glenn A. Bruce (screenplay)
Cinematography:
Jon Kranhouse
Editing:
Wayne Wahrman

Cast:
Jean-Claude Van Damme (Kurt Sloane)
Dennis Alexio (Eric Sloane)
Dennis Chan (Xian Chow)
Michel Qissi (Tong Po)
Rochelle Ashana (Mylee)
Haskell Anderson (Taylor)
Lee Ka-Tung (Freddie Li)

Jean-Claude Van Damme unleashes to avenge his brother in the first of a martial arts saga that will be seeing a remake very soon.

Eric Sloane has won the United States Kickboxing Championships with his younger brother Kurt as his cornerman. Sloane has been challenged to go to Bangkok, Thailand to fight the local and respected Muay Thai champion Tong Po. When Kurt goes to get ice for his brother, he sees Tong Po kicking the wall with the plaster falling down. In a state of shock, Kurt warns Eric not to fight, but the arrogant Eric refuses to listen. Eric soon learns the difference between Thai kickboxing and American kickboxing. When Eric is pummeled, Kurt throws in the towel, but Tong Po ignores the surrender and elbows Eric to the spine.

At the hospital, Kurt learns that Eric has been paralyzed from the waist down. Seething revenge, Kurt wants to challenge Tong Po, but he is not a good enough fighter. His new friend, ex-military vet Taylor, recommends a teacher for Kurt. His name is Xian Chow and he lives in the mountains. At first, Xian refuses to train Kurt. However, when Xian learns that his niece Mylee was harassed and Kurt stopped them, he sees potential. The thugs were members of Freddie Li’s organization and Freddie Li is the manager of Tong Po. Xian pushes Kurt to the limits and when Kurt proves himself in the ring, the ultimate challenge is set between Kurt and Tong Po. Will Kurt be able to finally avenge Eric’s maiming?

With the success of Bloodsport, Jean-Claude Van Damme collaborated with that film’s producer Mark DiSalle and came up with a concept that took the classic revenge theme but add to the twist that instead of having the bad guy kill his brother, he paralyzes his brother, a martial arts champion who no longer could fight due to his injury. The end result is what is hailed as one of Van Damme’s best films from his classic days. It is here where we get to see Van Damme at one of his most emotional, especially when learning that his brother is paralyzed due to the attack on Tong Po. This is something that perhaps no one expected from the usual stone-faced Belgian martial artist. While Bloodsport showed a bit of emotion, it is this film where Van Damme really shows that emotion.

In the role of his brother Eric is former champion kickboxer Dennis Alexio, who pulls it off quite well as the brash, arrogant champion. He does give Kurt tips on power and it is after his incident where we see Alexio play it pretty straight laced as a true big brother, who may be jealous of his brother now in a role-reversal, but is there for his brother and only wants to protect him. Dennis Chan provides some comic relief along with the true mentor mentality in the role of Xian Chow, a role he would forever be known for in American martial arts films when he reprised the role in the first two sequels that would star Sasha Mitchell.

Haskell Anderson provides comic relief as well as Taylor, Kurt’s new friend in Thailand. The funniest scene has to be when he tells Kurt about Xian Chow and instead of going right there, he takes him to a “mellow place” only to give his story and like Xian, has some comic moments but also proves himself when needed. Rochelle Ashana proves to be a worthy love interest in Xian’s niece Mylee due to her support of Kurt throughout his training without having to have any gratuity in terms of love scenes.

Michel Qissi, Van Damme’s real-life best friend and who is best known as Muay Thai expert Suan Paredes in Bloodsport, plays the deadly Thai boxer Tong Po. While his screen time is limited to a few fight scenes and a very pivotal dramatic scene, Qissi truly makes the most of his time showcasing his martial arts skills and the make-up on him is very impressive. On the end credit sequence, Tong Po is credited as “himself”, but it was revealed to be Qissi, who returns the role in Kickboxer 2.

The action scenes, surprisingly choreographed by Van Damme himself, are actually quite enjoyable. Van Damme may do simple techniques with roundhouse kicks and using elements of Muay Thai, but for an 80’s American martial arts film, they are nicely done. There is even the famous “disco scene” in which a drunken Van Damme dances with two girls and is besieged by some of Freddie Li’s goons with Van Damme showing his kicking skills. The finale may have the classic “hero gets beaten until a second wind to finally unleash his skills”, but they are nicely edited with some double and triple take slo-mo action shots when necessary. The climactic battle between Kurt and Tong Po is truly a delight to see with Dennis Chan even showcasing a bit of the comic relief that made Xian Chow one of the most likable mentors in martial arts films today.

Kickboxer is truly one of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s most beloved films with a combination of some good fights and seeing “The Muscles from Brussels” showcase a more emotional side when needed.

WFG RATING: A

DVD

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