Friday, February 1, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Some Bastard Who Fights Like the Devil

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody cheers from ringside for all five films in the Kickboxer series.


Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as Kurt Sloane, and when the film begins he is not a fighter. His older brother, the permed and mustachioed Eric "The Eliminator" Sloane, is the ISKA World Heavyweight Champion and he's played by Dennis Alexio, who held that title in real life. Kurt is just working as his corner man while the two reconnect after childhoods spent being raised on different sides of the globe following the divorce of their parents.

Kurt is the voice of reason in Eric's life, a voice that Eric largely ignores. Big brother's success in the ring has led him to believe that he's truly untouchable, he's arrogant about his abilities and irreverent when it comes to the fights and his opponents. When he's told that kickboxing was invented in Thailand, he decides it's time for him to go kick some ass at the roots of the sport.

As soon as Kurt gets a look at the Thailand Champion that Eric has challenged, he knows his brother is way out of his league. The physically imposing, crazy-eyed "Tiger" Tong Po is, like Bloodsport's Chong Li, a fighter who too often crosses the line and causes unnecessary harm to his opponents. The "Tiger" makes quick work of "The Eliminator", then finishes him off with an elbow to the spine, paralyzing Eric on purpose.

An enraged Kurt vows to avenge his brother in the ring and fight Tong Po himself. But first he'll need extensive training in Muy Thai. Luckily, since he's played by JCVD he's already in damn good shape. With the help of party-loving former Special Forces American expat Winston Taylor, Kurt is able to get that training from eccentric recluse Xian Chow.

The bulk of the second act focuses on Kurt going through the Xian Chow training program, which includes such elements as Xian dropping heavy objects onto Kurt's abdomen from a height, making him shin-kick trees, attaching raw meat to him so he'll run faster to escape a hungry dog, and tying him up to a makeshift leg stretcher so Kurt will be able to kick higher and perform JCVD's trademark splits. In the midst of all this work, Kurt also strikes up a romantic relationship with Xian's niece, Rochelle Ashana as Mylee.

Kickboxer has a good sense of humor running through it, and Dennis Chan as Xian and Haskell Anderson as Taylor are quite good at providing funny moments and delivering laugh lines. Both the comedy and Xian's unconventional training methods reach their peak when he takes Kurt to a bar, gets him drunk, then has him show some "American dance moves" to the local girls. Kurt doesn't realize Xian is doing this to upset the local guys and instigate a fight, instead he throws everything he has into his moves, which rank right up there with Crispin Glover's dance in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.

When Kurt finally gets the fight with Tong Po he wants, it's memorably fought in the "ancient way", in a chain-encircled ring in an underground tomb lit with torches, Kurt and Tong Po's hands wrapped and dipped in glass.

The scarred, taciturn, ponytailed Tong Po is a fantastic villain for this type of film. The credits claim that Tong Po plays himself, but beneath the uglifying makeup he's actually Michel Qissi, a friend of Van Damme's since they were kids. Qissi also had a small role in the previous year's Bloodsport as a fighter who gets his leg broken by Chong Li.

Tong Po isn't just a bad guy when he fights, being a bad guy is also part of his day job working in a criminal organization, a fact that plays into some third act action that Xian and Taylor get up to concurrent to the Kurt/Tong Po fight, in case a great climactic kickboxing match isn't enough to satisfy you.

Van Damme came up with the story with Mark DiSalle, who also co-directed the film with David Worth after Glenn A. Bruce wrote the screenplay. Not only were there two directors, but Van Damme also gets a credit as director and choreographer of the fights.

I can clearly remember when Kickboxer first came out on VHS, the poster high on the wall right inside the door of a local video store. We rented it as soon as it came out, with the owner of the store informing us that Van Damme was the new big action hero, following in the tradition of guys like Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Bloodsport was a good start and Kickboxer confirmed it, Van Damme was someone to watch.

Many viewings of Kickboxer followed after that first rental. As I said in the Bloodsport Mention, my older brother watched this film and that one repeatedly for a while in the early '90s, and I think that Kickboxer was the one that played out on our TV the most. Watching it again for this writing, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia as soon as the song over the title sequence began, much like I was recently when rewatching another childhood favorite, Blind Fury. Kickboxer reminds me of easier days.


Neither Van Damme nor Alexio return as the Sloane brothers in this sequel, instead screenwriter David S. Goyer, who wrote the 1990 JCVD movie Death Warrant and would go on to be Hollywood's go-to guy for comic book adaptations, came up with a story that follows a third brother who was never mentioned in the first film, David Sloan. (He lost the E from their last name somewhere along the way.)

Kurt did avenge Eric and best Tong Po in their fight, but turns out that it was all for naught, the Sloanes should've just packed up, gone back to the U.S. and left Tong Po alone, because the "Tiger" was so humiliated by his loss that he gunned Kurt, Eric, and Mylee down.

With his brothers dead and no other relatives to turn to, David is left struggling to keep the family gym in Los Angeles, at which he's a kickboxing instructor and enjoys working with the local kids, up and running by himself. He used to fight in some competitions, though he always felt overshadowed by his older brothers. He wasn't as strong or as fast as they were, but Kurt always said that David had the biggest heart, and heart can win a lot of fights. David is encouraged to do some more fighting to make money to keep the gym afloat, but he's reluctant to get back into the ring. Fighting got his brothers killed.

It doesn't help that all of the matches in the area are being run by a shady con man played by Peter Boyle, Justin Maciah, who has created the United Kickboxing Association and is looking to turn the sport into an international commodity with cable deals and product endorsements. In David's opinion, he's going to destroy the sport by selling it out. And Maciah is in league with a character played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, so you know he's up to no good.

The situation that builds out of Maciah's criminal dealings and the financial strain that David's under not only draws Xian Chow, a returning and still entertaining Dennis Chan, to L.A. to help David out, but also sees the organization behind Tong Po orchestrate a fight between the disgraced Champion and the youngest Sloan. The idea is that by beating David, Tong Po can regain the honor he lost. And really never had. Hands are wrapped, dipped in glass, things get bloody...

Kickboxer 2 is a lesser film than its predecessor, not as interesting or fun and built on a foundation of retcon and letdown (Kurt being killed between movies), but as far as sequels like this go, low budget follow-ups that the star doesn't return for, it's actually not too bad.

David Sloan is a likeable enough character as portrayed by Sasha Mitchell, who this same year got a standout role on the sitcom Step by Step, playing a dimwitted character named Cody who I enjoyed watching as a kid.

It is a decent idea to have Tong Po go up against a third brother who has been built up as being weaker than his elder siblings, since we've seen how much trouble the other two with him. The idea works because Michel Qissi is back in the role and retains the intensity he had in the first movie.

Famed and prolific B-movie director Albert Pyun (Invasion) was behind the camera for this one, beginning a working relationship with Sasha Mitchell that they've recently revived for a couple of Pyun's latest movies.

Like the first Kickboxer, we had Kickboxer 2 recorded on VHS. I made sure my mom caught it and taped it during one of its cable airings. It didn't get watched as much as the first, nor was it the second most viewed Kickboxer movie in my household. The next one was.


Coming from writer Dennis Pratt (Leprechaun 4: In Space) and director Rick King (who got a story credit on the previous year's Point Break), the third film in the series took a bit of a different approach, as was evident when you walked into your local video store and saw that the movie's VHS box art featured a glowering David Sloan wielding a machine gun.

Since neither of them have any family left, David and Xian have stuck together since the events of part 2. David is back in the world of professional kickboxing and Xian now works as his corner man. Business takes them to Rio de Janeiro, where they become acquainted with a pair of homeless youths, the tough-talking Marcos and his teenage sister Isabella.

David and Xian hang out with the kids in their downtime, get them cleaned up and take them to events with them... and that's how the trouble starts. Isabella is a cute girl, and her looks catch the attention of Frank Lane, a wealthy fighter manager who moonlights in human trafficking. When Lane's henchmen kidnap Isabella, Lane's intention being to force her into prostitution, David and Xian hit the streets to track her down, asking questions and busting heads.

There are a couple pivotal kickboxing matches with an unreasonably brutal opponent, but this time the most memorable action sequence is David and Xian's raid on a guarded compound with bullets flying. As Xian says when they make their firearm purchases, "Just as water adapts itself to the conformation of the ground, so in war, one must be flexible."

Part 3 is an entertaining entry in the series, quickly paced and full of action, a standout among the DTV action flicks of the '90s. Once the movie hit cable, it got a good amount of viewings in my house, viewings that were again initiated by my brother.

Of note to horror fans is the fact that Harry Manfredini, composer on most of the Friday the 13th films and others including Swamp Thing, provided the score for this film. This being 1992, Manfredini's music had evolved at this point from the violins and horns of the earlier F13s to synth work along the lines of Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X.


Albert Pyun returned to the franchise to write (with David Yorkin) and direct another chapter in the Sloans vs. Tong Po saga.

As the film begins, David Sloan is serving a prison sentence at the Sante Federal Penitentiary. Through some vague exposition, we learn the confusing reason for why David ended up there: seems he got roped into doing a mission as a favor for the DEA to bring a major drug dealer to the U.S. to stand trial. Somehow Tong Po manipulated things so that David was forced to kill the drug dealer. David says that Po framed him for the crime, yet there's no doubt that he did kill the man, in what he calls a "him or me" situation. The court didn't agree with David's point of view and he was convicted for murder.

Since the events of part 2, Tong Po has moved to Mexico and over the course of five years set himself up as the most powerful drug lord in the country. Also sometime between movies, David met and married a woman named Vicky. Once David was behind bars, Po struck another blow against the Sloans by having Vicky kidnapped and brought to be held captive at his compound, a "fortress in the desert". He sends David a mocking note assuring him that he's "taking good care of her".

Two years into his sentence, David is visited by a DEA agent who offers him a chance to get out of prison, get revenge on Tong Po, and save his wife, if she's still alive. The agency has been trying to get to Po for years, but they can't get close to him. Every Day of the Dead, the former kickboxing champion invites all of the top fighters from around the world to compete in a tournament at his compound. The winner takes on Po for a million dollar prize. David is sent to Mexico to compete in the tournament, under the assumed identity of Jack Jones, with the hope that Tong Po won't recognize him once he gets there.

As the tournament commences, David finds two allies amid the fray: a young man named Lando and tiny, foul-mouthed firecracker Megan Laurence, who's played by real life world champion martial artist Michele "Mouse" Krasnoo.

The tournament setting allows the film to feature a good amount of fighting, and David gets up to some extracurricular fisticuffs as well, even taking part in a prison yard fight, a street fight, and a bar fight before he gets to Tong Po's place.

Like 3, The Aggressor features the work of a notable Friday the 13th player. This time, it's Thom Mathews, our hero Tommy Jarvis from Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, as Tong Po's lead henchman, Bill.

Though Tong Po is back and ugly as ever, it's not Michel Qissi beneath the makeup. This time, Kamel Krifa stepped into the role. Like Qissi, Krifa was a childhood friend of Van Damme's. He appeared in several of his pal's films: Lionheart, Death Warrant, Double Impact, Universal Soldier, Maximum Risk, and Legionnaire.

Kickboxer 4 wasn't one that got a lot of replay on our TVs, but I do remember renting it the day it hit video. Appropriately, my first viewing of the movie was had with my brother in the room. He was in his early twenties at that point, and had some friends over to the house that evening. If they hadn't already been drinking by the time we were watching the movie, alcohol was certainly on their agenda for the night. They had a lot of fun watching the movie and carrying on like jackasses. Lots of chatter about characters and fights and laughing at in-jokes, finding particular amusement from the fact that there was a character named Bill, which was their nickname for my brother for some reason unknown to me. Their favorite scene was obviously the gratuitous softcore threesome that David witnesses while sneaking around Tong Po's property.


Unlike the previous four movies, I never saw a copy of Kickboxer 5 on video store shelves and I never caught the movie on cable. I didn't know the movie existed until years after its release, and wasn't able to watch it until much later, when I rented the DVD from Netflix.

Directed by Kristine Peterson (Critters 3) from a screenplay by Rick Filon, the fifth film in the series again takes things in a different direction, with a new lead actor and character.

David Sloan appears only in silhouette during the title sequence, during which the film's title is presented as simply "The Redemption", the "Kickboxer 5" part of it never appears. David('s silhouette) is working out when (the silhouettes of) three men attack him. He manages to incapacitate one of the men, but the other two proceed to beat the life out of him with fists and kicks...

David's killers are the henchmen of a man named Negaal, a former kickboxing champion who was accused of unsportsmanlike conduct by the World Kickboxing Council after killing an opponent in the ring, though he claims the killing blow was a legitimate hit. His fighting career ended, Negaal moved to Johannesburg, South Africa and built his own criminal empire, making a fortune on gambling, drugs, and prostitution. In his down time, he enjoys shooting giraffes from his back porch. Now he's using his money to create the Negaal Kickboxing Federation, with the intention of ruining the WKC. He's signing champions from around the world to the Federation, and if they refuse to join or balk at the demands of the contract, which puts him in total control of the fighters' careers, he simply kills them and makes the offer to the next champion who comes along.

David Sloan was the American champion. He refused to join the Federation. Negaal had him killed. The next American in line is named Johnny Styles. Styles refuses to sign the contract, so Negaal's henchmen kill him too.

Unfortunately for Negaal, Sloan and Styles were both friends with undefeated fighter-turned-instructor Matt Reeves, who's played by action star/Iron Chef Chairman/martial arts champion Mark Dacascos. When Matt figures out that Negaal is behind the murders, he heads to South Africa to avenge his pals, aided along the way by a local brother and sister who have history with Negaal.

As the final battle nears, Matt prepares by doing tai chi surrounded by sheep and breaking an arrow shaft between a post and his neck.

The fights are good and plentiful, and the story is fine. If Sasha Mitchell had returned as David Sloan, it could've been a perfectly serviceable Kickboxer 5 with him in place of Matt Reeves. I wonder if Mitchell did turn it down or the plan was to bring in a new star from the beginning. That question aside, the movie does still work as it is. Dacascos, who starred in another of my brother's martial arts favorites a couple years before this, the capoeira-based Only the Strong, is an enjoyable screen presence and handles the physical action quite well.

The biggest issue is David's death. It's even more of a letdown than finding out his brothers had been murdered between 1 and 2, because at least they were shot by Tong Po. After all the people we've seen David fight and take down in the last three movies, he's rather easily beaten to death by a couple nobodies called Pinto and Bull. Two guys who Matt has no real problem with when he goes up against them. It was just a very lame way to write David out. Because of that, and the fact that I saw the movie so much later than the others that I have no nostalgic connection to it, 5 is the outsider of the bunch for me. But if you're into low budget DTV action, again, you can do much worse.

There's another cause for feeling unfulfilled when you reach the end of the Kickboxer series, a loose end left dangling. As far as we know, Tong Po is still out there in the world, raping and pillaging and enjoying the criminal life. The last we saw of him, he was scurrying away to safety after being bested by David once again at the end of 4. He was never brought to justice, and now every Sloan brother is dead. With 18 years having passed since Kickboxer 5, it doesn't look like we're ever going to get a part 6 in which Tong Po gets his final comeuppance. That thought is so disappointing, it makes me want Albert Pyun and Sasha Mitchell to get a Kickboxer 4½ made that rights this wrong.


  1. Okay, Life between Frames! Because you want a proper conclusion...I'll reach out to Sasha and Michele Quissi to see if we can reunite everyone for a last closing chapter - Kickboxer 6 "Closure". I'll see if we can pull it together but it seems like we would need to return to Thailand to properly close the circle.

    1. A closure sequel set in Thailand would be awesome. Thanks for leaving a comment!

      - Cody

    2. Jcvd's dance moves are as epic as crispin glovers but remind me more of donkey kong from snes donkey kong country lol!

  2. The Quality of the pictures from Kickboxer 3 are great are they from some new releases of dvd?

    1. The Kickboxer 3 images are screen caps from when the movie was streaming on Netflix.

      - Cody

  3. Hi, the KICKBOXER 4 images are very great and in Scope 2.35 ! Is in the dvd ?


    1. I can't really remember whether I got those screen caps from the DVD or from Netflix. I think it was the DVD, but I may be mistaken. Sorry I can't give a more clear answer!

      - Cody

  4. Thanks for the answer. The dvd is in 1.33 format. Perhaps is in Netflix.