With Kickboxer: Vengeance, the remake of the 1989 classic and its sequel not really winning over fans, its time to look back at a series of films that came out after Jean Claude Van Damme had danced his way to victory.
Here we look back the franchise that spanned four sequels, yes…..four films that was released to a massive market on good old VHS! What do you mean you have only seen the original? Did you know Tong Po returned for a rematch on two occasions and Kurt had a secret other brother? Lets explain:
KICKBOXER 5: Redemption
Ah the Kickboxer film that all fans of the franchise ignore, why? Because its the first film that no longer carries a Sloan brother as a lead character. With Sasha Mitchell finally bowing out of the franchise, with his death sort of similar to Van Damme’s shadowy demise in the first sequel, the character of Matt Reeves is thrust into the limelight.
Mark Dacascos never managed to become an A List Action star, even though he does have an impressive CV and also as the added fact that he once played Eric Draven in a short lived Crow TV Show. Here, Dacascos is pretty solid in the lead role in a film that basically only carries the title Kickboxer so it can sell to the fanbase. Truthfully its just another typical 90’s run of the mill Martial Arts film that either delights or frustrates.
While this moves away from the Sloan Brothers, the film itself is not that bad. Yes shock horror guys, I said it, simply because it helps that its lead can basically kick some butt! If you can ignore the quite stupidity of Mitchell’s David getting murdered (that poor family), what we have here is an action flick of a man getting revenge against one evil mutha of a bastard in the shape of Negaal (James Ryan). The plot is so far removed from the basic simplicity of the original that you start to think that the writers are taking the piss, as this evil Kingpin kills all those who refuse his orders to attend a South African Kickboxing tournament. Yes, this is a Don King with rage issues. When they murder the champion, his trainer Matt vows revenge and that is the basic jist of a dumb story-line.
Fans like myself who adored every entry of the Best Of The Best films and the likes of China O’Brien despite their qualities get a lot of kicks (excuse the pun) from crap like this and while its more easier to mock what is on show, then I ask the question “What did you expect from a film called Kickboxer 5?”. Its awfulness is the reason why its watchable and with decent fight scenes, this was a fitting end to a franchise that was loved by a generation.
KICKBOXER 4: The Aggressor
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Sorry, but every time I see this movie, I can not help but laugh before screaming obscenities at the screen. You see Kickboxer 4 was the film that intrigued me for years, teased me for its existence, before leaving me open mouthed at the sheer awfulness on show.
Banned for a few years in the UK due to scenes of rape and violence, the film also boasted a re-match between David and the infamous Tong Po. What was there not to be excited about? But damn this film is awful. No seriously, its an angry film with some misguided plot threads that shock you when watching.
I really don’t know how they could have got it so wrong? OK, I correct that, its quite easy really, but the film should never have been that bad. It does have its fans, I admit that and the fight scenes are well choreographed that will delight the die hard martial art watchers, but for me it was such a waste of good material.
The film starts will a montage of Kickboxer 1 and 2 which leads us to our hero David now being in prison for a crime he did not commit. It turns out that Tong Po is back in town and on a revenge mission against the last remaining Sloan Brother, by putting him in prison for two years and kidnapping his wife and using her as a kind of Sex Slave. Oh Tong Po, from a kick ass Kickboxing champ to a criminal Kingpin, how the years have changed you……and your face. Yes in the worst make up ever seen in any bad film, the original Po played by Michel Qissi is now replaced by Kamel Krifa, doing the worst impression of a legendary character you can imagine. Believe me, he is as bad as the mask he wears and while the return of Tong Po to the franchise should be a wonderful one, in reality it sucks the entire energy out of this film. It puzzles me why Qissi turned down this film unless he saw just how bad the whole plot was.
After two films, Sasha Mitchell actually grew into the franchise, but here he comes across like a different character from before and misses his mentor Xian Chow, with Dennis Chan inexplicably not invited to this party. Here David is more hard and cold and not so likeable even though his fighting skills have improved since Part II.
The plot makes no sense, for a start, David was once a Kickboxing Champ but now works for the DEA? How did his life change so much since we last left him in Rio? Also Tong Po knows him well, his whole army knows him well, yet David’s mission is to bring down Po by killing him, get back his wife and to do this, all he needs is enter a no holds barred fight tournament, at Po’s home. So his undercover disguise is a pair of sunglasses? Really? WTF?
The trouble is for me personally, is some fans actually love this addition. Many believe its the underrated addition of the saga, with a few thinking its the best since the original (my mate adores it), but I simply couldn’t get past the awful new Po and the nasty tone that engulfs the entire show. By being gritty, kind of takes away from the fun and I was more frustrated when I first watched. After so long being unavailable and the whispers of “how dark and good it was”, it kind of left me cold! But I wouldn’t be surprised upon reading this feature, you seek it out and disagree! Its that kind of a love or hate sequel and despite everything, I must admit Mitchell is pretty good in what was is swansong and the fight scenes are moved up a gear and have been well received by most fans.
KICKBOXER 3: The Art Of War
For the third film, David and Xian fly to Rio for an Exhibition fight only to come across a plot involving child slavery and prostitution rings.
The second sequel is a huge favourite among fans and its the film that is often shown in the UK in the early hours of the morning!
Its the one that moves away from the blueprint of the film’s before and after. There is no Tong Po or a revenge fight match up at the end as Part 3 plays more like a straight action film with its lead Mitchell now comfortable in the role of David Sloan and showing some neat skills with a swinging kick.
The film also benefits by still having original actor Dennis Chan return in as David’s mentor, his dry wit and sheer presence is enough to push the lame plot into something watchable for those who drink a few beers and want to watch something silly on a Saturday night. I might add though, that considering Chan’s Xian was almost a hermit in the first film, he is now happy to fly around the world and face peril head on!
For me, I don’t hate this film but I never actually thought it deserved the love it gets from fans. In fact I am beginning to question why I actually own the entire films in my franchise. The best thing about The Art Of War is that there is a good pace to it but the change of tone, from being a kickboxing set-up to a fight against trafficking and a silly plot of using David’s fatigue as a weakness (yes, you have to see it to understand), sort of makes you pine for a true sequel starring JCVD.
The amount of gunfire on show always left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth as there should be no guns in a Kickboxer film (hey just my opinion) but it does have the obligatory woman kidnapped and threatened with Sex Slavery which means the two heroes not only have to win the fight, but also save the gal!
The entire film is silly and at times makes no sense, especially with David showing a deft hand at shooting for no apparent reason and the fight scenes which lets be honest is what the franchise lives by, are brief and unmemorable. The truth is, if you watch the original then out of curiosity you want to watch the sequel and then you find that you need to watch this one…..and so on and on again. Unlike Part IV which tries to be dark and fails miserably, Part III is light entertainment despite the subject matter, and is a perfect reminder of what straight to VHS films were like in the early 90’s. One thing is for certain, they don’t make them like this anymore.
KICKBOXER 2: The Road Back
Here is a shocker and its not the fact that the first sequel’s budget could not afford to bring back JCVD which was the original intention. Would you believe that this film is actually written by David S. Goyer, yes…he of Blade and Man Of Steel fame.
Also this was also released in cinema’s, so the intention originally was to make a franchise out of the Kickboxer brand, even though it never quite panned out that way.
What went wrong? Well no Van Damme was the main selling point and even though Sasha Mitchell who was well known as JR Ewing’s son in soap opera Dallas was not the obvious choice for many fans to replace him, fans forget he was a black bet in Tae Kwon Do, so he did come into the role with some Martial Arts experience.
Now I have to admit that I have watched this sequel about the same amount of times as the original, only because back then I owned the VHS Copy that had both films on tape.
I found that I could not watch the original without the other and that was mainly due to the fact that Michel Qissi returned to the role of Tong Po, a bad guy who I loved with relish back in those days. With Dennis Chan also returning, Kickboxer 2 had a great continuity from its original even though the loss of Van Damme was huge for many fans. The sequel is also not that bad, its not great and the final fight scene is awful, but the plot is so overstuffed trying to get David on the road to revenge that you can not help but be entertained even though it suffers from some blatant nonsense that will leave you shaking your head in what you are seeing!
Before this released, back in the days of no Goggle or any Internet of that matter, I was fifteen years of age and in the town I live, there was also a huge billboard showing a poster of an upcoming film. I was in awe when I saw Kickboxer 2 staring back at me and a shadowy figure of who I assumed was Jean Claude underneath the title.
I waited patiently for the film to come out on VHS and when I saw it on the shelves I ran, picked it up and scanned the back to get some idea what the plot was. Of course I looked…..and I looked again and doing the best damn Darth Vader impression ever……..
I realised that our hero, Kurt, Mr Van Damme was not in this movie at all! I remember feeling hurt, disappointed and quite angry.
What we find out is after the final bout of Kickboxer, a vengeful Tong Po murders Kurt, Eric and Mai Li. Now that is some deep shit that completely ruins the feel good factor of the ending because even now, when I watch the original, I can not help but think “Who cares, you all going to be dead in a few minutes”
The previously never mentioned younger brother David is left all alone, a trainer of a Kickboxing gym. In a heavy plot, way before the 60 minute mark, we see David has money problems, makes friends with an orphan, agrees to one fight, wins, announces his retirement, pisses off the promoters who burns down his gym, killing the young orphan boy (deep stuff this) and at the same time, beating the shit out of David.
Luckily, Master Xian (Chan) somehow escaped death inflicted on Kurt and Eric, turns up unannounced and vows to train David to defeat the enemy he faces. But……and deep breath here…..that’s not all. In between all this, David has a protégé fighter that signs up to the evil promoters and in his first fight, which David and Xian attends, his opponent drops out to be replaced by a last minute fighter……going by the name of….yep you guessed it Tong Po.
Deep breath again………..
Xian is livid, David inexplicably has no clue who Tong Po is (really?….he paralyzed one brother, fought the other and then killed them both when he lost?…….but he knew who Xian was?). Anyway Po brutally fights and kills his protégé, David gets all angry and upset and jumps in the ring to fight Po for a final battle……well until Part 4 anyhow!
Phew, so much going on and I got to be honest and say the final fight scene is appalling. All close ups, slow motion and none of the swagger, its the perfect example of how not to do a final fight especially as it looks like Mitchell is pretending he can kick box. But despite all this negativity, the lead role is likeable and its an alright film, a perfect beer movie and one that was typical 90’s fare. Despite some DVD Covers having the quote “Better than Kickboxer!”, its nowhere near as good. Too much revenge shit is piled on David to have any impact, but its good to see Po have his arse kicked again, especially with Qissi playing him for the last time!
I don’t hate the Kickboxer sequels, I’ve probably watched them more times than I should have, the honest truth is that they were released at a time when many films of this nature were massive business. As a young lad, I really needed to see the next entry in hope that it least contained some level of greatness that the original film offered, even though I be the first to admit that Kickboxer itself is not exactly a brilliant film.
I may have been a tad critical with this look back, but time as not served the sequels well, but I know one day, maybe not this year, maybe not the year after, but on a cold wet Sunday afternoon when boredom creeps in, I will dust down my DVD Box-Set and watch parts 1-5 in one go. I laugh at the JCVD dance, have my head shaking at the heavy plot of Part 2, smile at the clothes Mitchell wears in Part 3 and laugh out loud at the new Tong Po in Part 4, while finish of criticising Part 5, but one thing is for certain, the sequels maybe be awful at times, but honestly….they are never ever boring…….