"Revenge is a dangerous motive."
If memory serves me correctly, I've seen a total of six Jean-Claude Van Damme films. Of those six, I like exactly one of them: Timecop. I still remember my first introduction to the Muscles from Brussels back in college. A friend and I decided to go rent a movie, as he'd been talking up this film Cyborg and how "awesome" it was. Well, we did end up renting it, and I hated every second of it. Since then, my opinion of Jean-Claude has been very low.
Even with Timecop under his belt, my estimation of the man is still on the low end. And, finally, after fourteen years, I've seen one of his most famous works, Kickboxer. I'm not sure why it's such a fan favorite, nor do I understand why it has spawned four sequels. All I do know is that it contains one of the funniest moments in cinematic history.
Facts of the Case
Eric Sloane is the world heavyweight champion in kickboxing. He's defeated everyone and has no new challenges ahead of him. When a reporter asks him if he's ever considered going to Thailand to fight there, since it is the birthplace of the sport, Eric decides at that moment that he and his brother, Kurt (Van Damme), are traveling there, to Taiwan.
They arrive in Bangkok, Thailand, and after a brief tour of the city, Eric steps into the ring to fight their current champion, Tong Po. Kurt has a bad feeling about the match and begs his brother to bow out. They fight differently in Thailand, says Kurt, but Eric will not be swayed. He enters the ring on two feet, and a few minutes later, he's carried out on a stretcher, paralyzed by Tong Po, who took a cheap shot after Kurt had thrown in the towel.
Kurt is enraged and vows revenge against the man who paralyzed his brother. Luckily, he meets up with Taylor, an ex-U.S. Ranger living in Bangkok. He tells Kurt the only way he can get his vengeance is in the ring, but he's not good enough for the challenge. Taylor happens to know a local master who takes Kurt in and trains him.
Day after day, Kurt trains for his chance to fight Tong Po. After three months, the master determines that Kurt is ready and gets him his chance. Has Kurt learned enough to defeat Tong Po and gain his vengeance?
If I weren't so verbose, I could have summarized the facts of the case as such: Rocky, except with kickboxing. That's pretty much the way I felt with this one. Granted, there are a few different flourishes here, but they're almost one and the same. Jean-Claude even helped write "the story" for this film. If that's not your cup of tea, you could also summarize the film like this: The Karate Kid, except starring a man with huge muscles who can do splits. Maybe it should have been titled "Rocky Karate"?
The movie is a very weak offering in the script department, but it does hold enough to keep someone's attention through to the end: Jean-Claude is a very capable fighter, there is that exceptionally hilarious moment, and the pause button hasn't been disabled during playback. All this film sets out to do is make Jean-Claude mad, giving him an opportunity to show off his enormous calves and thighs as he kicks bad guys into submission. In that, the film succeeds. Presumably aware of his own weakness as an actor, as Jean-Claude wrote the script, he gave himself few lines of dialogue, thereby saving the audience from the pain of watching him attempt to act. Unfortunately, he failed to surround himself with a quality supporting cast, especially when it comes to the character of Taylor—very bad acting!
But who cares about the acting? It's about the fighting. And, there are plenty of good fights throughout this film. But there's one in particular that has the most unusual set up I've seen. It's so different that I laughed out loud…very loudly. It's absolutely hilarious. The scene entails Kurt and his master going to a bar. The master has decided to get Kurt drunk and then test his fighting skills. Kurt doesn't know this. So, the two are sitting around, drinking, having a nice time, when the master asks if Kurt can dance. Kurt says he's a great dancer, so the master puts a quarter in the jukebox, and Kurt is off dancing. It is absolutely hilarious to see Jean-Claude dancing. It's one of the funniest things I've ever seen in my life! That moment alone makes this film worthwhile. Classic!
This appears to be the second release of this film on DVD. A bare bones release from Lions Gate, Kickboxer's transfers are a bit rough and easily accentuate the age of the film. The video is quite soft, with mellow colors, murky blacks, and lots of dirt specks throughout. For the most part, the film looks "okay" but it also looks like an "older" film. Worse, though, are the few night scenes where all the blacks blend together, making it quite difficult to see what is going on. For the audio, you have a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that has a hollow/thin/muffled/flat sound to it. It's hard to put an exact finger on it, but it's just not as crisp as you've come to expect. The solitary "bonus item" is a trailer for The Redemption: Kickboxer 5. How is this franchise surviving?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The movie, as weak as it is, keeps you mildly entertained for an hour and a half; but I have two significant problems with the ending that somewhat tarnished the "experience" for me. The first is the "Rambo" sequence where Taylor comes in and saves Eric from the bad guys. It's totally out of place with the rest of the film, even though you see it coming from a mile away. Worse than that is when Taylor prevents the timekeeper from ending the round during the big fight. That's just flat-out cheating. It invalidates the spirit of the sport and the fair fight that you know Kurt wanted to have. Ring the bell, take your quick breather, and come back out and whoop some butt! The cheat just tarnishes the moral (and physical) victory.
With a film that's been around for fourteen years, has a rather solid fan base, and has led to four sequels, you already know whether or not you want to have this movie in your collection. For those few of you out there who need some assistance, I don't recommend a rental or a purchase. It's just not that great of a film, the comedy scene notwithstanding. If you've seen Rocky or The Karate Kid, then you've basically seen this film. Jean-Claude doesn't make the best films out there, so feel free to skip this one. In my opinion, if you want to see a good Van Damme flick, watch Timecop or even Hard Target.
Kickboxer is hereby found guilty of cheating and is sentenced to eighty hours of community service.
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Scales of Justice
• Trailer for The Redemption: Kickboxer 5
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