Kickboxer: Vengeance is released on premium VOD and in cinemas on September 30th.
I love Jean-Claude Van Damme, like absolutely love him! I grew up with Bloodsport, Time Cop, Cyborg, Double Impact, Death Warrant, Sudden Death, Universal Soldier, and so many more. To me he was always the underdog action star, never quite getting those big numbers (or more appropriately, the big praise) like Stallone or Arnie would. I loved him all the same. It’s sorta funny when you sit and think about it because it really FEELS like he’s been away and now he’s having a comeback, but one quick look at his IMDB page makes you realize that he’s never really been gone. He was just relegated to the poorly made, straight to video market. Seriously, go look at his IMDB page, I’ll wait................SEE! He hasn’t had more than a 2 year gap between films since 1984. That’s kind of incredible.
One of the highlights of his truly impressive career was the original Kickboxer. It’s cheesy as hell, has amazing fight choreography, and one of the greatest antagonists since Chong Li in Bloodsport. Tong Po was a nightmare of a man! His massive knee and elbow Muy Thai style was so much different from what we had been used to seeing in these flicks that is was pretty shocking how violent it was. Jump ahead 27 years and never did I think I’d be watching a Kickboxer remake, but I am, and surprisingly it’s not terrible!
Kickboxer: Vengeance enters into a world that’s well aware of the Muy Thai style and instead of trying to up the ante with brutality it relies on skillfully crafted fight sequences with a flimsy retread of the original’s story. The film follows the story of fighter Kurt Sloane (originally portrayed by Van Damme, this time by Alain Moussi who is best known as a stuntman) who is seeking revenge for the death of his brother by the hands of Tong Po. Along the way he realizes he’s not good enough and seeks out training by a master, Durand (played brilliantly by Van Damme, frankly this is the sort of role JCVD should be doing all the time!) See how simple that is? That’s absolutely all you need in a revenge flick, just enough story to allow for a few training montages (because who doesn’t love training montages) and a handful of killer fight sequences. One can argue that Vengeance might even be a better film than the original! It cuts a lot of the backstory fat out. We’re given just enough information about Kurt’s Brother, Eric (played by the sadly departed Darren Shahlavi) to let us know how important he was and to give us hints about people we shouldn’t trust. It’s a simple formula and it’s done to perfection in Vengeance.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have its faults, though. Kickboxer: Vengeance features a smorgasbord of professional fighters and wrestlers, not a single one of whom can act! I can get down with a Georges St-Pierre fight, but listening to him talk for more than a minute and I wanna jam a spoon through my ear. Same can be said of Dave Bautista who plays Tong Po. I loved him in Guardians of the Galaxy, but that role almost felt tailor made for him. Po really should be the silent, but deadly type (like when you crop dust your coworkers while walking to the bathroom). He only has a handful of lines, but each one is delivered so poorly that you want to stuff your ears with cotton. Bautista takes you so out of the movie it’s sad. If they had just kept him quiet and had his little talker do all his banter for him it would have been perfect. It’s not enough to ruin the film though, because the second he stops talking it’s back to training and fighting which draws you right back in. The biggest blown opportunity in Vengeance was not using Gina Carano in any fights. She’s tough as nails and has proven over and over since Haywire that she does great work. Carano could be the modern day Cynthia Rothrock if they’d just cast her better, GET ON THIS HOLLYWOOD!
Despite my better thinking and my unadulterated hated for remakes, Kickboxer: Vengeance managed to lure me in and has me asking for more. Which is good because Kickboxer: Retaliation is currently in post production! Vengeance hits all the right beats from the original, while stripping away the fat and making it feel like its own film. I wholeheartedly recommend it if you’re a martial arts action film fan, and why wouldn’t you be?! Be sure to stick around through the credits for some fun bits.
While you’re off checking this out, be sure to go watch the pilot for Jean Claude Van Johnson which just got the go for a full season!
- Stay Weird
Jon Cross had the pleasure of talking with the star of Kickboxer: Vengeance, renowned stuntman and martial artist, Alain Moussi. They talk about his martial arts training, he shares his stories about Van Damme, Gina Carano, Dave Bautista and the dearly departed Darren Shahlavi and he tells us what the future holds for the franchise!
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