If there was one film that epitomizes my love for action films during my childhood, then Jean-Claude Van Damme in Kickboxer was one such film. Made not long after Bloodsport; this is actually my preferred of the two as this is purely a more polished feature.
When Kurt Sloan’s brother is crippled during a Thai boxing match he decides to seek out a martial arts master to help train him in the ways of kickboxing and take out the man who disabled his brother.
It is so fantastically dated that it becomes hard not to feel endeared towards it: with its synthesized 80s soundtrack, through to its bad (but instantly quotable) one-liners. This truly is a film which can be enjoyed either in a group or solo screening. So good in fact is this film that the great Charlie Sheen parodied a specific moment (the resin covered fighting gloves) in Hot Shots Part Deux. If that does not convince you its’ worth I am not sure what will.
On to the film itself, this really does rate up there with Van Damme’s best: with its torturous and grueling (least I forget manly) training montages; violent and bloody fight sequences coupled with Van Damme grinding and dry humping the air (during a dance and fight sequence no less). This really is a film that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
The training sequences really are some of the best Van Damme has ever committed to film. While a few scenes do verge too close to being similar to Bloodsport; they are shot with a more visually aesthetic eye. All of the ruins on the Thai location are utterly scrumptious to look at, especially when Van Damme is high kicking during a sun setting background. It is quite possibly an underrated classic in the 80s montage stakes, with its synthesized ethnic score down to Kurt leaping over flaming sticks during sundown and (unexplainably) learning to do high kicks in a swimming pool. It just reeks of 80s cool along with its slow motion action shots.
But what of the fights? Well it takes a while for some of the best bits to appear, but when they do they really are a sight to behold. Each and every impact that Van Damme delivers to his suspecting (or unsuspecting) victims is felt. This is bone crunching, powerhouse violence that was not recaptured until Tony Jaa (coincidentally a Thai martial artist) propelled on to the cinema scene in 2004 with Ong Bak.
Watching Van Damme’s character (Kurt Sloan) aggressively kick the living hell out a firmly rooted tree truck until he is left screaming in agony, certainly is painful viewing. All because he was told by his trainer he does not care enough. From then on in it gets all the more brutal.
One of my favorite scenes sees Kurt having a few relaxing drinks with his master Chow (played by a darkly comic Dennis Chan) after some intense training sessions. Which honestly if after having my legs forcibly stretched I would heartily recommend. As young Kurt gets drunk (astonishingly quick), Chow gets the locals to attack him. Cue Van Damme using his grooving moves (from Breakin’ no less) to entice the ladies and his drunken martial arts to break noses, arms and half the tables in the bar. All of which is done to the smooth sounds of 80s pop music (from Beau Williams with Feeling So Good Today).
All of which brings me to the final epic confrontation with the big bad, Tong Po. After the violent brute has disabled Kurt’s brother, shot his dog and raped his would be girlfriend, you really will him on to defeat the kickboxing loon. Obviously Kurt does, after being basically beaten to a pulp, but it still doesn’t detract from the sheer visceral violence that unfolds before the film ends.
In an epic 15 minute fight sequence (which involves the aforementioned bandage bound, glass shard covered gloves) we see Kurt get pummeled by Tong Po, only to finally come back from the brink, dishing out some old school ultra violence. The physicality that Van Damme had back in the 80s was second to none. When he finally launches into his bone breaking revenge on Tong Po, you can’t help but fist punch the air (particularly when he executes his legendary, gravity defying split kick).
I have a lot of love for this film as it was both the first Van Damme film I ever saw and as such I hold in high regard. This showed Van Damme as an action hero to be reckoned with by taking what was learnt in Bloodsport and shaping it into better package. Which of course means that what we get with Kickboxer is a more refined, bloody, brutal and often unintentionally hilarious feature that is still one of Van Damme’s best.
All together now; Nawk Soo Cow, Nawk Soo Cow, Nawk Soo Cow