Directed by: David Worth, Mark DiSalle
Written by: Glenn A. Bruce, Mark DiSalle
Starring: Dennis Alexio, Dennis Chan, Haskell V Anderson III, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michel Qissi, Rochelle Ashana
HCF REWIND: MARTIAL ARTS SPECIAL
HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still can not forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore….our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection. Now we try to be diverse at HCF, so here we bring you three films from the world of martial arts featuring two of it’s greatest stars, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Tony Jaa.
Available on DVD
US Kickboxing Heavyweight World Champ Eric Sloane (Dennis Alexio) travels to Bangkok with his kid brother and cornerman, Kurt (Van Damme) to compete against the true kickboxers, or Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) boxers of Thailand. Keen to make a name for himself internationally, Eric confidently agrees to participate in a fight with Muay Thai champion, Tiger Tong Po (Michel Qissi) at Bangkok Stadium. When Kurt spots Tong Po kicking a concrete post with his bare shins, he hurries to Eric to warn him not to participate in the fight, but Eric thinks he knows better and reckons Tong Po is no match for him.
As Tong Po performs the Wai Kru Ram Muay before the fight, Eric proudly shows off his belt, unaware of the dangerous territory he is getting himself into.
The match starts and Eric gets the first kick in but after a flurry of punches and kicks, Tiger Tong Po knocks Eric down with an elbow to the face. Eric gets up and body kicks Tong Po and finishes with a spinning back kick, knocking Tong Po back. Eric kicks again, but Tong Po catches it, headbutts Eric and carries him over onto the ropes, where, after a succession of flying knees to the gut and ribs, the bell rings to mark the end of the first round. Kurt begs Eric to cancel but Eric wants to win, despite being badly shook up. In a daze, Eric re-enters the ring for Round 2 where Tong Po quickly makes mince meat of him and floors him with repeated elbows to the face. Kurt throws in the towel, but Tong Po kicks the towel out of the ring onto the ropes. As Eric tries to get up, Tong Po squats down and elbows Eric straight down into his spine. Kurt rushes to Eric’s aid who is now unconscious, and shouts “Arsehole” to Tong Po who promptly kicks Kurt out of the ring.
Kurt befriends Winston Taylor (Haskell V Anderson III), who helps Eric to the hospital. When he learns that his brother is paralysed, Kurt promises revenge and with Taylor’s help, asks renound martial artist, Xian Chow (Dennis Chan) to teach him Thai Boxing. Although Master Chan has no interest in teaching Kurt, his opinion soon changes when Kurt fights off two men, who try to take money off his niece, Mylee (Rochelle Ashana), in the village. Freddy Li, gangster and boss of Tong Po, rules the village and ensures everyone pays ‘protection’ money else they suffer the consequences. Xian sees the dedication and potential that Kurt has and thinks that Kurt could stop Freddy Li for good. Can Xian create the ultimate Muay Thai fighter in Kurt and stop Tong Po once and for all?
Kickboxer and Bloodsport are my favourite Van Damme films, because they are pure martial arts with a basic storyline running in the background. Kickboxer has more of a storyline than Bloodsport does, and we follow the steps Kurt takes to come from nothing and develop into a talented Muay Thai fighter who can take on the likes of Tiger Tong Po. There’s some brilliant small scenes in the film such as Eric and Kurt training in the park, Kurt kicking the palm tree til it snaps and of course the bar scene. This is one of my favourites. Xian takes Kurt to a bar and gets him drunk. Freddy Li is there with his young fighters and Xian tells them all that Kurt has badmouthed them, saying they are bad fighters and their mothers slept with mules. Wound up, the fighters attack Kurt whilst he’s throwing some shapes on the dancefloor. Kurt makes short work of them which impresses Freddy Li, who agrees to set up a fight between Tiger Tong Po and Kurt. This is probably the most infamous scene, due to Van Damme’s amazing dance moves. 😉
The film has an uplifting, 80’s soundtrack including ‘Everyone Loves A Winner’, which plays as the two brothers sail in the boat down the river in Thailand. During some of the earlier fights, a Thai band can be seen playing the music that is present at all Thai fights. The scenery and sights of Bangkok, especially the old Stone City where Kurt trains, give the film an authentic feel. As Tong Po and Kurt showdown, they use the traditional method of fists wrapped in hemp and resin, dipped in broken glass. This practice is long gone, but I presume in the odd backstreet fight this may still go on. The fight is held in a dark, quiet location with light provided by flames. This natural edge gives the fight atmosphere a raw feeling, which further accentuates the traditional method in which they fight.
Michel Qissi is outstanding as Tiger Tong Po. The cruel yet highly talented Thai boxer takes no prisoners with his fighting and crushes anyone who dare enter the ring. When Tong Po rapes Mylee, we see the full extent of his true nature and once Kurt finds out, he stops at nothing to defeat Tong Po.
Jean Claude Van Damme strikes again as the likeable hero of the film, who avenges his brother and fights for the people against the controlling force of Tong Po and Freddy Li. Van Damme’s character of Kurt is of the little brother who does karate and casually spars with his older brother. When he learns Muay Thai with Xian, we get to see him train as a beginner, falling at hurdles but then taking that experience to become better. The way Jean Claude moves is beautiful and very graceful. This is not surprising as he comes from a ballet background, it is in his blood to be fluid and graceful. I do like how they referenced his ballet, karate and Belgium background at the beginning of the film and also included his trademark splits.
The storyline of Kickboxer is padded out to make it interesting with a few comic moments whilst keeping the fighting scenes high energy and most importantly of all, accurate. The fighting is top notch, incorporating many techniques in Muay Thai which will be a joy to watch for any martial arts enthusiast. For fans of Van Damme or martial arts in general, this has to be one of THE films to watch.