Running Time: 97 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jean-Claude Van Damme (BLOODSPORT, CYBORG, DOUBLE IMPACT), Dennis Alexio (PICASSO TRIGGER), Dennis Chan (KICKBOXER 2, KICKBOXER 3), Michael Qissi (LIONHEART, BLOODSPORT), Haskell V. Anderson (A CIVIL ACTION, THIS CHRISTMAS), Rochelle Ashana (FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2, BLADE). Music by Paul Herztog (HOLLYWOOD ZAP, BLOODSPORT). Directed by Mark DiSalle (THE PERFECT WEAPON, co-producer of BLOODSPORT) and David Worth (POOR PRETTY EDDIE, SHARK ATTACK 3, CHAIN OF COMMAND). Written by Worth, Van Damme, and Glenn A. Bruce (ASSAULTED NUTS, BAYWATCH, CYBORG COP).
Tagline: "If your enemy refuses to be humbled...Destroy Him!"Best one-liner: "I want Tong Po! GIVE ME TONG PO!"
Brought to you by many of the luminaries who gave birth to BLOODSPORT (which I have amply discussed HERE) and distributed by those heroes of the 1980s, Cannon Films, KICKBOXER is another seminal film which devotes the majority of its run-time to astounding and delighting its audience with the ecstatic visual poetry of toes being jammed into bloodied faces:
and homoerotic leg stretch exercises courtesy of the Splitmaestro himself:
Perhaps this sounds an awful lot like BLOODSPORT to you. You couldn't be more wrong. KICKBOXER stands on its own. Er, rather, it kneels on its own as it prepares to erupt with a forthcoming low-blow. I mean, let's compare random screengrabs from BLOODSPORT and KICKBOXER, and then I'll contrast them to illustrate my point.
SCREEN GRAB A
SCREEN GRAB B
Grab A is clearly from BLOODSPORT. Those blurry background spectators are clearly watching a Kumite, while in Grab B, they're clearly watching a Muay Thai match. I suppose I could see how the uninitiated might find differences to be a bit subtle, but it's all in the levels of crowd enthusiasm, and in BLOODSPORT they're waving around Hong Kong money, and in KICKBOXER it's Thai currency. And then, look at the lighting– BLOODSPORT is photographed like a sporting event you'd see on TV. KICKBOXER is much more influenced by Italian chiaroscuro woodcuts of the Seventeenth Century. Not to mention that the loincloths are completely unalike. I could go on, but I won't. Instead, I'll regale you with my Lucky 13 Favorite Facets of the Gem that is KICKBOXER:
#1. As if it wasn't already unfortunate enough that Thailand is often reductively associated with just Pad Thai and child prostitution, within the first three minutes of KICKBOXER, Jean-Claude is delightedly taking photographs of naked Thai children.
And wait– is that a sleeveless jeans jacket? And the lyrics to this schweet n' synthy song go "Cruisin' down the streets in Si-am/Every-body loves a winner!" Hold up one sec–
Sorry, I'm always mixing up these DVDs, and I seem to have mislaid the disc for CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC inside the KICKBOXER case.
Er, wait– no, that's KICKBOXER, alright. Try not to strain anything, guys!
#2. The devastating opening match whereupon Van Damme's brother is paralyzed by Tong Po and he must swear revenge. WATCH Van Damme literally throw in the towel, only to have it KICKED back by the completely evil Tong Po who has zero respect for Van Damme's particular brand of Belgian-American sincerity.
The 'ole Back-Breaker is executed as Van Damme screams from the sidelines in abject misery:
And then the weight of it all sinks it: Van Damme is a broken man, and he lets the sensation of loss wash over him. Brando may have trained with Lee Strasberg, but Van Damme trained with Golan and Globus. Each have achieved their own particular emotional heights and depths in the annals of film history, but only Van Damme can do it inside or outside a Muay Thai ring with equal mastery.
Outside the ring emotion:
Eventual inside the ring emotion:
#3. Haskell V. Anderson, and exposition, exposition, exposition.
JCVD always needs some sidekicks, and a pretty damned notable one here is Haskell V. Anderson, photographed here relaxing against a wood-beaded seat cover. (Whatever happened to those, anyway?) Haskell plays a sleazy ex-Special Forces 'Nam vet who just might have a heart of gold under that mercenary, strip-club frequenting, heavy boozing, toothpick-gnawing exterior. The screenplay of KICKBOXER wastes no time with subtlety, and within moments of meeting him, he's saying things like "By the way, my name's Taylor, Special Forces." And shortly after that, things like "I had a buddy in 'Nam. He needed me once, and I could have saved him, but I froze." Instant character! It just flows forth from their mouths. I like that. It's like those pill-shaped "Instant Animals" I had as a kid; you stuck 'em in a glass of water, and they grew into miniature foam creatures overnight. That's what the supporting characters are like in a JCVD flick– just add water, and all of a sudden they're growin'– spouting exposition and character development and deep-seated secrets! I love it.
Also of note: it's revealed later that Taylor is well-known for his specialty quiches.
#4. Underwater Kung Fu or Tai Chi or Muay Thai, or whatever he's supposed to be doing.
Because you're just not going to see this sort of thing anywhere else.
#5. This particular training montage, which involves dropping gourds from great heights onto JCVD's abs. Note the impeccable comic timing.
#6. The training method which involves tying raw meat to JCVD's leg as he attempts to outrun a dog.
The close-up reveals that he's wearing community theater "urchin" shorts, carefully scissored immediately prior to this take for that authentic, "well-worn" look.
Also, he becomes friends with the dog later, and they speak at length.
#7. Paul Hertzog's soundtrack, which echoes, but does not copy, his masterful work on BLOODSPORT. "Fight for Love" is excellent, as is the aforementioned "Cruisin' in Siam."
#8. The fact that they actually filmed on location in Thailand. It lends the film an actual touch of class. Today they'd just green-screen it, but here they're actually training at ancient temples.
It's described by a character as "like Shangri-La meets Alice in Wonderland," and ya know what, they're right.
#9. This eagle.
This eagle ends up being a main character, and delivers one of the most stoic, nuanced performances in the film. Let me repeat that: this eagle becomes a main character.
#10. This scene of pure brilliance which is probably the artistic centerpiece of the film. JCVD, who plays a tee-totaler throughout, is told by his master to drink a beverage entitled the "Kiss of Death" and then hit the dance floor to groove with some local ladies. A brawl ensues, splits are involved, and, well, just watch the damn thing:
Now here's my hypothetical question: why did the men attack? Your hypothetical answer is probably "because they were put up to it by the local Muay Thai-organizing crime syndicate." But allow me to float a different, bolder answer: perhaps is it because he was ignoring the local croozin' dudes and dancing with the hags at the village gay bar? Ah, but who can say.
#11. The stakes, which are raised hilariously and exponentially throughout. JCVD isn't just fighting to avenge his paraplegic brother. He's fighting to keep him alive, after he's been kidnapped by the local Muay Thai syndicate who say they'll kill him if he doesn't A., Throw the fight, and B., Go the distance! And he's also fighting to avenge his girlfriend's honor after she's been raped and beaten by Tong Po! You're left wondering if perhaps Tong Po is about to fly to Belgium to push Jean-Claude's grandmother down some stairs before the big fight, too. Alas, it doesn't pan out.
#12. Ass-kickin' paraplegia.
On a related note, Taylor, JCVD's mentor Xian Chow, and his paralyzed bro Eric team up to kill the syndicate captors in a fight which runs concurrently with the final kickboxing match.
A henchman takes a meat-hook to the balls, which merits a thumbs-up:
And only now does it occur to me that Van Damme bro Eric (Dennis Alexio) bears an incredible resemblance to SAVED BY THE BELL's A.C. Slater! How 'bout that?
#13. The final duel, which is as full of broken-glass-licking, sweaty, asscheek-revealing, low-blow action as you'd expect.
And I like this snake sculpture, possibly papier-mâchéd by interns ten minutes ago.
And this guy, who, upon being splashed in the face with JCVD's blood, savors and licks it in a display of masculinity and subtle homoeroticism.
And when Van Damme starts winning, the crowd begins to chant something approximating "NUK SU COW! NUK SU COW! NUK SU COW!" This reminded me of "KUMI-TE! KUMI-TE! KUMI-TE!" and subsequently warmed my heart.
Well, JCVD, you've done it again. I can't say that KICKBOXER can equal the incredible majesty of BLOODSPORT (I'm not sure ANYTHING can), but it certainly fits my definition of "a grand old time." See you on the dancefloor.