Thursday, May 12, 2016


   As the marginally more violent brother to Bloodsport, 1989's Kickboxer is a decent cinematic companion to the underground tournament flick, but manages to have more in common with a Rocky movie than anything else. What fresh hell is this? You might ask. Rocky? No way. Yes way. See, there's a big difference between Bloodsport and Kickboxer and it never really hit me until just watching it now. Bloodsport is a tournament flick, Kickboxer is a one-on-one vendetta-fight flick. Which means Bloodsport can be grouped in with Enter the Dragon, Mortal Kombat, Undisputed, The Best of the Best, Bloodfist, and hell... even The Karate Kid is a tournament flick. Kickboxer is not, and it makes a world of difference.

   See, Kickboxer's build up is all training, and the one fight at the end. Sure Kurt (Van Damme) gets into some other memorable shenanigans like a drunken dance-fight, and a brawl at a local marketplace, but ultimately the whole thrust of the movie is about the climactic fight. Bloodsport kept us engaged in a very different manner. I'm not saying one plot structure/story is better than the other, but it's really hard to mix up the two once you realize this. Nevertheless, despite the fact that because of it's violence, Kickboxer used to edge out as my favorite between the two, but it doesn't anymore. For a few very simple reasons...

   First of all, the final fight is bullshit on so many levels. Mainly because Van Damme wins with zero effort. Wait a minute! you might be saying, he got the shit kicked out of him! True, he did. But, only because he wasn't fighting back at all. See, the bad guys had his brother hostage. Obviously Kurt's friends rescue his brother (Spoilers? Sorry?) and this allows Kurt to start fighting back... and he effortlessly wins the fight, beating the ever-living shit out of villain Tong Po like he's a crippled old lady. Which, while it looks cool and the movie has set everything up for this to be an amazing moment that makes you want to cheer... it's bullshit. Bullshit.

    You have no idea how much it pains me to say that, and maybe I'm breaking my own rules of enjoyment here, but... the entire first act of the movie was setting Tong Po up as the fucking boogeyman of kickboxing! He was this insane and unstoppable force. He had enough strength to kick a structural support beam and shake it loose. He absolutely eviscerates everyone he fights in the ring, and then the movie has us believe that Kurt goes from being a poorly trained American loser, to being so much better at Muay Thai than Tong Po, that Kurt effectively becomes Superman. There's no other explanation. He beats Tong Po so bad that Po doesn't really even try and fight back.

   This is nonsense! Think of Bloodsport, when Dux got to fight Chong Li. It was a challenge. There was a literal fight going on there. Not just a merciless justice-spanking. Any Rocky movie ever (except the fifth one, screw that one), Rocky's training montages shows him trying to reach the level of his adversary. Then we get a big, long, epic, climactic fight. Not in Kickboxer! They overshoot Kurt's training so much, that he makes Tong Po look like a 4th grader in a playground brawl trying to fight a full grown adult UFC fighter. Like, holy hell. Sure, it's still great to see Tong Po get beat senseless and bloody, because he's a scumbag rapist and a killer. So yeah, kick his ass. Still though...

   The final fight is devoid of the deserved tension once Kurt can fight back because suddenly Tong Po doesn't look all that tough or scary anymore. Which is saying a lot because he was legitimately scary right up until then. Like, horror movie villain scary. Regardless, the training montages are fantastic, the supporting characters are a lot of fun, and Dennis Chan steals the show as Kurt's new mentor, Xian. As much as I'm pointing judgmental fingers at Kickboxer, I can't lie, I enjoy the hell out of this movie. It's a relic from a simpler time, when heroes were faultless and villains had to be the most relentlessly vile baddies ever. It's one-note entertainment.

   It's a fight flick where the hero fights not just for revenge, but for justice! And honor! Because would it even be a thing if he wasn't fighting for justice and honor? You always have to have justice and honor, and a small romantic subplot as well. Then there's the fantastic score, which makes you want to jump in there and fight Tong Po yourself. Or, you know... at the very least, do some light cheering at the end. Either way! Kickboxer does unfortunately break some very "duh" unspoken rules about how these things are supposed to happen, and it suffers for it, but it's still a enjoyable time with plenty of classic 80's Cannon Van Dammage! Recommended for genre fans to revisit. Still pretty damn fun.

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