What is it all about:
The long awaited sequel to the 80’s classic Kickboxer finally arrives and in a shocking twist, its revealed Jean Claude Van Damme’s Kurt had faked his own death and comes out of hiding when he discovers his long time enemy Tong Po (Michel Qissi) is now a well know terrorist and causing mayhem in America. Its the rematch of the century………..Oh Wait!…..Nope its not that, we can only dream……its in fact the same story-line as the original, which means…..REMAKE TIME!!!!!!!!
The Hughes Verdict!
Now here comes a real difficult review as Kickboxer is one of our bosses’s favourite movies and hearing that our Chief Bat, hated this version, I wonder how she would feel if I said that this is better than its original and a five star martial arts film to boot?
Before I start this review, lets just debate what do you actually call a classic? Its well known that over the years, Kickboxer since its release in 1989, is now considered one, a cult classic that is loved by millions and often regarded (with huge debate) of being Van Damme’s best film, even though the likes of AWOL, Cyborg, Bloodsport and even the criminally underrated Death Warrant can put their hands up and say “What about us?”.
Kickboxer is the film that introduced me to the world of JCVD. Back then I was twelve years of age when the film came out and my similar age cousin from London came down for a visit, clutching a VHS copy and demanded I watch with him and over the next few years, that actor was a legend. Its hard to tell the new generation just how big Van Damme was back in those days and its one of the reasons why the film is much loved and cherished. I adore Kickboxer and even own all the sequels on DVD, but I be the first to admit that time as not done kindly for the quality of the film.
Lets be honest, its quite naff!. We not talking Rocky or Warrior quality here and if it was released now it be ridiculed, especially with the now legendary JCVD Dance that has gone down as one of the most infamous moments in cinema history. But despite the awful acting and some cringe-worthy scenes, the film has heart and was released at the right time and age, which thrilled young boys thanks to its training and the brutal fight scene which like the dance as gone down in fight folklore.
I am not ashamed to say I love every single scene of it!
Which brings me to Kickboxer: Vengeance. With all the remakes out there and with martial art as popular as ever, Kickboxer is ripe for a new generation and having stupidly killed off Kurt in the first sequel, there was never any chance of doing a proper sequel, which fans have wanted for years, so it actually makes sense to go down this route. Also there is room to improve the story-line, but sadly Vengeance wastes its potential. What we have is a typical remake that ups the violence and stakes, but loses the heartbeat that made the original loved by the masses.
In the original story, Kurt’s brother Eric, stupidly fights Tong Po, despite the warnings of his brother and gets paralysed in a proper match, which makes Kurt vow revenge. Here we have a sort of Best Of The Best 2 riff, in which again despite Kurt’s warning, Eric (Darren Shahlavi) flies to Thailand to battle against Po (Dave Bautista) in a underground fight, only this time to end up dead.
Now this is where the new version lost me. I mean I totally get the revenge angle in the original as Po was a vicious bastard who broke Eric’s back, but this time, if Eric was stupid enough to fly to another country and fight underground, giving up his career and putting his own life at risk, then whose fault is it? Surely not Tong Po’s who was only fighting what was in front of him. I also sympathised with the character as when Kurt turns up at his training camp and pulls out a gun, Po calls him a “Coward” and actually praised his brother, so I just don’t get why they expect us to hate this 2016 version of the legendary Tong Po.
But it is what it is and Kurt goes off to find some guidance and training skill from Master Durand, which see’s JCVD now playing the similar mentor role that the brilliant Dennis Chan pulled off in the original. Now as I totally love Van Damme, I watch everything he is in, damn if he made a film in which he starred as himself talking to the camera, I would watch – Oh Wait he as – and to be honest he is the only good thing in this film, despite the new fad of always wearing sunglasses in his movies and I am sure his voice was dubbed at times, in which I can’t explain why?
The trouble is Van Damme oozes so much quality and Bautista is criminally wasted as Tong Po that you wish that it was these two that were either training with each other or squaring up at the end. I don’t want to sound mean, but the infamous moment at the end where they dip they bandages in glue and then put in glass, did not have to be included in this version, because Alain Moussi as the new Kurt is sooooooo wooden, that when you hit him, you would expect splinters to come flying out and stabbing you in the eye.
In fact the casting and set up is all wrong. If you wanted to do something bold and new, why not make this new version with a sister vowing revenge, especially when you have the brilliant Gina Carano in the cast, who does nothing of note, not even throwing a punch, which made me scream “Then why are you in this film?”.
I will not go into the stupid subplot of a the police involvement in the plot as it makes no sense whatsoever, I mean what exactly are they investigating? Even the romantic love interest is more forced and written into the story to just be there, but you not watching a Kickboxer film for the criminal procedure, and a martial arts film lives or dies by its fight scenes and, well its OK! It never raises the bar, but then it doesn’t lower it either, even though die hard fans will probably frown at the quick cuts that makes each punch lose its impact.
But despite all this negativity, this new version is alright! Its not horrid and with a few cans, its perfect Saturday night dumb entertainment, especially if you a fan of the franchise like myself, who have sat through each and every sequel over the years. You never get on Kurt’s thirst for revenge and the final showdown is more longer but less vicious, but the studio is extremely confident that old fans will love it as there is already a sequel in production.
But the truth is, if you looking for a cheesy, cringe-worthy, bad acting kickboxing film, then watch the 1989 original, because people like us believe its a classic, and the only reason I am adding a star to Vengeance below, is because it includes that Damme Dance again, and that alone, is not only Moussi’s best acting in the entire film, but reminds me, just how much I love JCVD!