Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kickboxer (The Series)

Kickboxer (1989) * * * 1/2

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Alexio, Dennis Chan, Michel Qissi,

Directed by Mark DiSalle, David Worth

Kickboxer stars Jean-Claude as Kurt Sloan, the corner man to his brother Eric (Dennis Alexio), an arrogant kickboxing champion that decides to fly to Thailand to take on the World’s best. After some admittedly half-assed training, Eric steps into ring with the Thai champ Tong Po (Qissi, in an excellent performance) , in a fight that leaves Eric unable to step anywhere ever again. Kurt swears vengeance and trains in kickboxing with legendary master Xian (Dennis Chan, in an impressive performance) which of course leads to a fight between Kurt and Tong in what is one of the very best American kung fu movies ever made. Kickboxer feels almost identical in feel toward the classic greatness of The Shaw Brothers kung fu epics, in that Kickboxer features elaborate training montages, despicable villains, larger than life heroes and fight sequences that are epic in scope. Also adding to The Shaw Brothers feel, is the bloody element of villains that mean business, fights that have a brutal edge as well as a lot at stake, and of course a plot driven by family honor. Kickboxer then, is a must see for martial arts fans.

Kickboxer 2(1991) * * *

Cast: Sasha Mitchell, Peter Boyle, John Diehl, Michel Qissi, Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa,Vince Murdocco

Directed by Albert Pyun

Kickboxer 2 works adequately well as martial arts films go. Indeed where as the original had a meaner edge as well as a Shaw Brothers approach to the action and plot, Kickboxer 2 feels more or less a retread of Kickboxer 1, only with 2/3 of the elements that made it work so well. That said Kickboxer 2 isn’t all bad news. In fact star Sasha Mitchell is a decent actor, has genuine charisma and can indeed hold his own in the fight arena. The real problem with Kickboxer 2 is that it’s more like Rocky when it should be more Rocky IV. Indeed, the ambitious attempt to develop characters and have heart is sometimes effective, but when the first one is about blood thirsty vengeance, a sequel about fighting for honor or to save a flagging business is going to come off as somewhat of a letdown. Mitchell plays David Sloan the brother of Kurt (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Eric (Dennis Alexio), who wants no part in avenging them, rather he just wants to keep his nose clean, but of course Tong Po (Qissi) and his trainer (Tagawa) won’t stop until a revenge match surfaces. David trains with Xian (Chan in another excellent performance) to face the enemy. Kickboxer 2 has too many subplots about David’s gym, the new kickboxing federation led by Peter Boyle and David coming to terms with an unruly student (Vince Murdocco) who uses steroids and so on…Indeed the film’s revenge angle doesn’t work as well because of so many of these subplots. Still Kickboxer 2 works well as far as martial arts films go, by the time the climax comes around, the viewer is ultimately won over.

Kickboxer 3: The Art Of War (1992) *

Cast: Sasha Mitchell, Dennis Chan, Richard Comar, Ian Jacklin

Directed by Rick King

Kickboxer 3 finds America’s kickboxing champion David Sloan (Sasha Mitchell) in Rio ready to defend his title against the Argentinean kickboxing champ Martine (Jacklin) while arriving in Rio, David befriends some street kids and fights a prostitution racket led by smarmy kickboxing promoter Lane (Comar, the film’s only decent element) Predictably Lane abducts the teenage girl for his brothel, and David runs into save the day, however Lane gives him a choice, to let Lane train him and deplete his energy so Martine will wipe the floor with America’s champion or witness the girl perish. Kickboxer 3 from it’s opening title pretty much opens on a serious note, where a woman runs from Lane, and then with Lane shooting her, it’s this sequence that sets the tone for Kickboxer 3 a deadly dull martial arts film that depends more on shooting than on the fight arena. Another problem is just how one sided the movie is in Sasha Mitchell’s favor. Mainly he has to be weakened and put through the ringer so his opponent can even have a chance at beating him. The biggest problem of all is that the film is predictable with interminable sequences of Sasha Mitchell and Dennis Chan wasting the wrong bad guys, just to make sure there is some action. Sasha Mitchell and Dennis Chan look bored with the material, and since there is no revenge angle or any bad guys to give Mitchell any competition in the kickboxing arena, Kickboxer 3 is a real loser.

Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor (1994)  * * *

Cast: Sasha Mitchell, Kamel Krifia, Thom Mathews, Nicholas Guest, Megan Thornton, Jill Pierce, Brad Thornton

Directed by Albert Pyun

After the embarrassing part 3 in this series, Kickboxer 4 thankfully goes back to the basics and often captures the magic that made Kickboxer 1 work so well. Certainly the film isn’t quite as good as that, but thanks to non-stop fighting involving to the death matches and indeed a pumped up revenge angle, Kickboxer 4 at least works as decent midnight viewing. The preposterous story finds David Sloan (Played once again by Sasha Mitchell) in jail set up on a bum-rap by arch-enemy Tong Po (Kamel Krifia, an adequate fill in for Michel Qissi, despite a really bad make up job) who has also taken Sloan’s wife hostage, and in the process has become a drug lord in Mexico. David is sent in by the DEA to thwart Tong Po once and for all. Kickboxer 4 reminds one more of a really good Bruce Li kung fu flick than a Shaw Brothers masterpiece, but that’s high praise in any case. Kickboxer 4 features adequate character development, excellent action choreography and some extremely unintentionally hilarious moments. Kickboxer 4 has a surreal B. movie energy that makes for memorable viewing, and while Kickboxer 4 is, and always will be B.grade martial arts fare, for what it is, fans of the genre won’t be let down.

Redemption: Kickboxer 5 (1996) *1/2

Cast: Mark Dacascos, James Ryan, Geoff Meed, Denney Pierce

Directed by Kristine Petersen

Redemption: Kickboxer 5 has very little to do with the original movies in the series, although it pays lip service to its predecessors by killing of David Sloan (Who was played by Sasha Mitchell in Kickboxer 2-4) due to him not signing with a sleazy kickboxing promoter Negall (James Ryan of Kill and Kill Again fame) in any case, forgetting the DEA angle of # 4, a new fighter trained by Sloan, Johnny Styles (Denney Pierce, who was ironically killed by Sasha Mitchell in the equally lame Class Of 1999 II:The Substitute) who also refuses to join Negall’s kickboxing federation and is killed for it. This leaves us with Matt Reeves (Mark Dacascos) who was the best friend of Styles and Sloan, and who inherits the role of avenging kickboxer status, which leads Reeves to go to South Africa to face James Ryan in a fight to the death. Redemption: Kickboxer 5 at least has its heart in the right place, the film has a charismatic hero in Dacascos, the bad guy is an expert in martial arts and a story revolving around vengeance. However while its heart is in the right place, the brain is dead and the movie has no life whatsoever. The fight sequences are indifferently staged, the bad guys cartoonish and the South African locales don’t add anything to the mix. Indeed the only pluses this uninspired dud has, is charismatic head liner Dacascos, and the always enjoyable and welcome grindhouse legend James Ryan, here vamping it up as a kickboxing expert who also appreciates the fine things in life, as well as remaining a gentleman when he isn’t crushing throats.

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