AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 110 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
It’s been eighteen months since Kurt Sloane killed Tong Po and avenged the death of his brother Eric. Now a professional mixed martial artist, he’s told after his latest fight that he must return to Thailand to be implicated in the death of Tong Po. Tasered, he awakes in a Thai prison where Thomas Tang Moore, the mastermind behind the underground tournament where Kurt, Eric, and Tong Po competed, tells him that when Tong Po was defeated, he was to remain there as the new champion, but instead with Kurt returning home, Moore needed to find a new champion. Moore now wants Kurt to fight the new champion, Mongkut, and will give him one million dollars and his freedom back, but Kurt is reluctant.…
Sometimes we get overloaded with screeners of films at HCF, and it’s possible to miss some. Looking through mine the other day, I came across Kickboxer: Retaliation, which came out in the UK on the 5th of March, and which I had totally forgotten about. Then again, considering how weak its immediate predecessor Kickbover: Vengeance was [which had little of the fun factor of the original Kickboxer it was rebooting and fell into the trap common today of editing the fights so you can’t appreciate the skills on offer], I may well have waited a while to be brave enough to see the thing anyway. Whilst skimming some reviews seemed to indicate that it’s generally received a more positive response than Alan Moussi’s first outing as Kurt Sloan, I know that our webmistress Bat thought it to be pretty terrible and she’s a far bigger fan of the Muscles from Brussels then I am. And how good can it really with Moussi, who may have the martial arts skill but who can’t act to save his life and who has no charisma whatsoever, in the lead? Why on earth did the producers think that retaining him for this sequel was a good idea?
Well, some of the problems of this film [though not all], a film where it seems that they did make an attempt to better Vengeance but botched its potential with poor handling, can be summed up by a description of one of its major scenes which sounds downright awesome on paper. Our hero is challenged by several goons whilst in a Thai prison and says these cool lines as the camera pans in turn to each of his opponents: “You’d better call the prison doctor. Tell them there’s three broken ribs, and a punctured lung, a dislocated jaw and a broken nose”. He then proceeds to best his opponents, then a load more as he moves along an outdoor corridor with the camera first right behind him, then following his actions from the side fifteen or so feet away. And all this is done in one take!!! However, anyone expecting something of the brilliance of similar scenes from the likes of Atomic Blonde, The Raid 2 or Oldboy had better lower their expectations. First of all, Moussi delivers his lines with the seeming disinterest he carried throughout the first movie, while the action that follows is constantly interrupted by slow motion, fast motion and that weird slightly jittery effect [though thankfully full-on ‘shakycam’ is mostly absent from this film] which disrupts the rhythm. In fact throughout this film I kind of felt sorry for Moussi despite his lousy acting, because he really put a lot of work into it and he does really show what he can do martial arts-wise with some absolutely killer moves. Unfortunately director Dimitri Logothetis, whose downright peculiar work in this film will get further attention later on in this review, obviously feels [as do many other current action directors] that kick-ass martial arts fighting isn’t exciting enough in itself and needs ‘enhancing’. Of course things like slow motion can work well in moderation, but even Zach Snyder would balk at employing it as much as Logothetis does here.
The film opens with our hero and his wife Liu about to have some sexy time on a train when a load of bad guys attack them, leading to him battling some opponents on top of the train in pouring rain before falling into water and possibly drowning. But wait, it was all a dream- albeit a dream which has nothing to do with the rest of the film except I suppose to let Kurt know that he may soon be in danger of losing his life. But really the scene is a terribly forced excuse for an opening fight, and the film will do this throughout, with many of the main characters coming to blows for little reason except that they’re the main characters in the movie. Anyway, Kurt soon finds himself back in Thailand because the shady Thomas Tang Moore wants him to fight again. Moore is played by Christopher Lambert with that unique ‘acting’ style that’s all his own [there really is only one], but he now seems to be badly losing his voice. Kurt doesn’t want to fight, so Moore has him viciously beaten in between various fights that he has. One particularly random one has him interrupt Mike Tyson’s “meditation” so the two then go at it for a bit. Tyson’s turned up several times in films of late and he still can’t act either, not that I’d say it to his face of course. The number of bad performances in this film is rather high. Sad to say Van Damme is amongst them, returning as Durant, now constantly puffing on a usually smokeless pipe. Durant has been blinded for training other prisoners, but you’d never know it from the way he walks around. Van Damme does get a couple of decent of brief combat moments to shine, and you have to laugh when he says: “I hate violence”.
Liu soon comes looking for her husband while Moore, realising Kurt still will not accept his offer, decides to take drastic measures. Durant goes to one of Mongkut’s training sessions only to learn the fighter is a product of bio-engineering by Ivy League graduate Rupert, who’s developed a combination of adrenaline and steroids, thus making Mongkut virtually invincible except for one small weakness: a glass jaw. The brawls keep on coming, including a slightly better shot one-take passage with a Jackie Chan-style “using your environment” aspect, and a rather ineptly done variant on Enter The Dragon’s hall of mirrors climax which fails to make much use of the setting. I enjoy watching fight scenes just like anyone else who likes watching martial arts movies, but this film [which runs 110 minutes] really could have done with sacrificing two or three battles and giving us just a bit of characterisation or explanation as to why people are doing what. The big showdown runs twenty-five minutes and, despite the incredibly imposing Hapthor Björnsson appearing to have incredible strength more than anything else so we don’t get to enjoy Moussi battling somebody with martial arts skills equal to his own, it’s quite exciting, reminding me somewhat of Chan’s epic battle at the end of The Young Master what with the way Kurt is continually beaten down but still carries on with almost superhuman endurance. But even the Chan film [SPOILER ALERT] wasn’t daft enough to have a bit where our hero is actually DEAD for a short while yet is still able to win the fight. And you may be interested to learn that punching someone in the stomach can send that person into a coma. Who knew?
Gerardo Madrazo ’s cinematography provides a few nice flourishes like a green-dominated nightclub interior, but for much of the time he just seems to be trying to make the film look as dark as possible while the camera frequently spins around characters in an attempt to give a tediously hyperactive feel to even the simplest moments. It’s the direction and the editing that really deserve special mention. A good example is when Kurt is trying to get information from someone in a car – it features really odd choices of shots and the scene just doesn’t flow at all. Scenes cut away before they seem to be finished, random touristy shots are continually plonked in to serve as transitions, the way close-ups and long shots are used in dialogue scenes is very random and almost experimental in nature – though it looks more like Logothetis and his two editors just don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Even the training montages, which should be some of the highlights, don’t flow, and you don’t get any of that uplifting feeling you should get when our hero begins to get things right. In fact, there’s little sense of an evolution here.
As in Vengeance, several real-life MMA fighters [in addition to Björnsson] appear, and they’re better actors than some of the principals. Sara Malakul Lane was a bright spot in this movie to these male eyes, but she gets hardly anything to do especially when you consider that she can actually fight. Yet another example of waste in this film. I think that if you’re a really undemanding fan of this kind of movie then it may still give you your fix: it really is one fight after another and attempts a bit of variety too with some nice use of weapons. There’s undeniably some considerable skill on offer which is one of the most important things in a martial arts film and is the major reason why my overall star rating isn’t quite as low as all that. But if you want an actual quality movie then you may find much of this one rather painful to watch. The best bits are probably on YouTube anyway. Of course there are those who say that all martial arts movies are poor anyway but those of us with a bit more diversity in taste know that the very best ones can stand tall with the best films in any genre, they don’t have to be dumb at all, but of course dumb can sometimes be fun too – which isn’t the case here. Maybe they’ll get it right with the third installment….