Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016); Director: John Stockwell; Distributor: RLJ Entertainment; Country: USA.
27 years after the original, Jean-Claude Van Damme is back on (selected) big screens in a new Kickboxer film – he shows that he’s still got the moves, but from the shadows of a supporting role. Directed by John Stockwell, Kickboxer: Vengeance is the sixth Kickboxer film in total, but this new addition serves as a reboot for a new trilogy for a new generation.
After opening with a number of short, but beautiful shots from around Thailand, we’re presented with a lone traveller (that being Kurt Sloane) wishing to gain entry to a prehistoric-looking battleground of sorts to be under the training of the legendary, but scary and monster-like Tong Po. For Kurt Sloane to prove his worthiness of living and training at the premises, he must spontaneously fight a few of Tong Po’s trainees – weirdly, Tong Po doesn’t actually oversee these mini-fights, so it would seem that it’s down to the other trainees to decide whether Kurt Sloane is worthy enough to be under Tong Po’s training – weird, but that’s what we’re presented with.
Uh-oh: Kurt Sloane doesn’t actually want to train under Tong Po…he wants to murder him! But why?! When receiving a beating after the failed attempt at murdering Tong Po, we’re presented with a MASSIVELY LONG flashback of why Kurt Sloane travelled there – to cut a long story short, the attempted murder of Tong Po is in revenge for the life-changing defeat Eric Sloane (Kurt’s brother) received in an underground fight, of which a large amount of cash lured Eric from the U.S. to Thailand for the fight.
Jumping forward into present time, after the failed murder attempt, Kurt Sloane is taken (by the police) to the house of Master Durand (who trained Eric prior to his Tong Po fight), who is expected to train Kurt Sloane to fight Tong Po, but like a warrior in an underground fight, and not a coward with a gun. Of course, after a little persuasion, Master Durand accepts to train Kurt Sloane. As we progress through the film, two minor sub-stories are apparent – a police investigation into these underground fights (and the imprisonment of Tong Po & organisers) and the love relationship between Kurt and Marcia, the female officer in the said investigation of underground fights – hilariously and unfortunately for us viewers, neither sub-story is developed enough to actually have relevance – at one moment, Kurt and Marcia are having sex, but it is spontaneous and cringe-worthy, and the relationship isn’t well-developed leading up to it – it’s just kind of random, therefore it’s just kind of weird.
Ultimately, as you’d expect, the film’s main story concludes with Kurt Sloane and Tong Po having their underground fight – which features minor gore at times, but isn’t too different from preceding fights in the film.
In comparison to its 1989 counterpart, Kickboxer: Vengeance’s story is a fair bit different, but retains majority of the main characters and select happenings from the original, such as:
Kurt Sloane receiving training from a slightly mysterious trainer.
Kurt Sloane avenging Eric Sloane, his brother.
The film concluding with an organised fight between Kurt Sloane and Tong Po.
A female love interest for Kurt Sloane.
Kurt Sloane fighting in a disco club.
And here are the key players:
Alain Moussi (stuntman from the following: two newest X-Men films, Suicide Squad and Pacific Rim) is Kurt Sloane.
Dave Bautista (Spectre, Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick, and former WWE wrestler) is Tong Po.
Jean-Claude Van Damme (1989 Kickboxer, Universal Soldier, Hard Target and Bloodsport) is Master Durand.
Gina Carano (Deadpool, Fast & Furious 6 and Haywire) is Marcia.
· Darren Shalavi (Watchman, Tomorrowland and Ip Man 2) is Eric Sloane.
Unfortunately, only Bautista and Van Damme provide any “decent” or “believable” acting in the film – throughout the eighty-something minutes of on-screen happenings, I only bought into just two members of the cast, and they were the support. Bautista’s real life size and physique makes for a very believable almost-indestructible fighter – he actually is monstrous. The film’s lead, Alain Moussi, was extremely visibly out of his depth as the hero of Kickboxer: Vengeance – the problem I find is that having Van Damme in a supporting role (and actually supporting Moussi’s character) is that the audience’s preference and attention will be with Van Damme, which is greatly unfortunate for Alain Moussi – the lack of domineering screen presence doesn’t help either. Essentially, Moussi was doomed from the casting process – primarily being a stuntman rather than a lead actor probably doesn’t help.
Putting the story, cast, and their acting to one side, but focusing on the actual production and editing of the film…aside from the opening shots of various locations within Thailand, I can (thankfully) say that the overall film wasn’t overly glossy. As a lover of “golden era action cinema”, I do like to see a well rehearsed and well recorded fight – Kickboxer: Vengeance possesses well-choreographed fighting, but the overuse of slow-motion editing forces the fights to feel somewhat video game or sports channel “action replay”-esque, which (for me) is disturbing.
After my viewing of Kickboxer: Vengeance, there are two memorable happenings, and these occur at the end of the film, and they are; the third round in the final fight between Kurt Sloane and Tong Po, and the credits. During the launch of the credits, there was a comedic tribute to the original Kickboxer film, but by doing this, the seriousness of the film (if any) is totally blown away; which was potentially silly considering there are to be sequels.
Ultimately, I regard Kickboxer: Vengeance as a missed opportunity to be a much better film – if the duration was extended by 30-40 minutes (the film’s running time is around 90 minutes), and sub-stories were more developed, then the film could have been much, much better within its genre. However, in contemporary Thailand, do these underground fights and associated corruption actually occur? Is Kickboxer: Vengeance accurate, slightly misleading or racist?
My final rating: Kickboxer: Vengeance is applicable to those wanting to see 80-90 minutes of semi-frequent slow-mo fighting and/or Jean-Claude Van Damme wearing a fedora and sunglasses.