Do you ever go to one of those sale outlet stores that sell really cheap things, like appliances, clothes, candy? I do, I always go in those kind of stores because I know somewhere deep into the store, lurking in the back aisle are the DVD stands. The DVD’s people think aren’t worthy enough to sell for over $5. The ones who look like the covers have been ripped off the VHS, the films people forget, or the films that the supplier decided to buy rights to because they thought that some loser out there would buy it, and they would make a quick buck. I am that loser. I have found many hidden gems in bargain bins over the years such as ‘King of the Kickboxers’, ‘Shaolin Drunken Monk’ and ‘Hunt to Kill’. But there is one film I thought I never thought I would see in the bargain bin for $4.99, it was a film I hold so close to my heart, a film which in my opinion is the greatest American Martial Arts film of all time…’Kickboxer’. My reaction wasn’t total sadness because when I saw the DVD cover it was an exact rip off of the VHS, which got me thinking is this the original cut version with no dubbing and all scenes intact, I bought it with hopes that it was the Holy Grail I had been searching for. I took it home, settled in bed with a Cherry Coke and turned it on…But I was to be disappointed, AGAIN. And then the reality of the adventure of buying it for $4.99 sunk in. It got me thinking about why was such a great film just tossed aside? Why was this in the bargain bin? Why wasn’t this recognised for the violent masterpiece that it is? Is this a film that the supplier could only get rights to? Or was it a film they knew some loser like me would buy? I felt a little crushed. My love for ‘Kickboxer’ started a long time ago…get ready…I can feel a flashback coming on…but first the run down.
Here we have two brothers Eric and Kurt Sloane. Eric is a word kickboxing champion and decides that he is finally ready to take on foreign fighters because well he is as he says ‘kicking ass wherever he goes’…so he and Kurt go to Thailand to fight their greatest fighter, ‘Tiger’ Tong Po. Kurt notices straight away from walking into the arena that the fighting style is so different to Eric’s, for a start it looks a lot brutal, which plants the seed of worry inside Kurt’s head. Once inside the locker rooms, Kurt encounters Tong Po and sees him kicking down a cement pillar as a warm up exercise…that is normal right? Kurt tries to warn Eric but of course his 80’s ‘Soul Glo’ hair-do has seeped through his skull and into his brain and made him think he is actually better than what he is. Eric goes out there and from the moment he is in the ring, Tong Po just slaughters him. These ‘doctors’ take Eric on a stretcher and leave him outside with Kurt and lock the door so they can’t get back in. But lucky for Kurt he encounters Taylor, the Vietnam veteran who is a weapons expert. They take Eric to the hospital and then the waiting begins….and then BANG it’s official Eric is paralysed. Kurt’s mind is foggy with emotions that he decides he wants to take on Tong Po, and Taylor tells him he isn’t good enough to fight him. Kurt then vanishes and walks around Thailand in a form of a montage. Once back in the city he encounters Taylor yet again who says he knows a man called Xian who may teach him the Muay Thai ways. And what do you know, that wisecracking old Xian does teach him the ancient ways and with a lot of discipline with training exercises, montages and incorporating dance with fighting, Kurt proves he is worthy to go inside the ring with Tong Po. Oh…the flashback is starting…
The year is 1993, I was 5 years old and I took a trip down to my local video store with my older brother. As you can imagine I never got first choice of the movies, I had to watch whatever my brother wanted. Sometimes having my brother choose what we watched didn’t work out because I would either be so bored I would end up playing outside, but this particular day would change the course of my life. My brother rented a film called ‘Kickboxer’, I remember thinking to myself ‘What is with the random colourful glass on this man hand wraps’, but judging aside I rolled with it. After buying a dollars worth of cola bottles which bought you a lot back in those days, we went on our way home to indulge in what would eventually be one of my favourite films of all time. Needless to say the film was a roller-coaster for me because one minute I was fired up, then sad, then scared because of Tong Po but then I would fire up again, I learnt new words watching this film one of which was the word rape…yes I was confused as hell as what that word meant for a year or so. But that aside, I walked away from this film just in complete amazement. I remember trying to tell my friends at school about the film, and since boy/girl germs were around back then I wasn’t allowed to talk to the boys, so I had to explain the story line to a bunch of girls; they were not impressed. In my life I have moved to a lot of different places, which meant a lot of different memberships at different video stores, and a common occurrence that happened as majority of these video stores was that the clerks and I were always on a first name basis and secondly they all commented on how much I rented ‘Kickboxer’. ‘Kickboxer was my safety blanket, it made me feel invincible. I went to an all girls school, and let’s face it a girl like me didn’t stand a chance there, so every week of twelfth grade I rented ‘Kickboxer’ every week(no exaggeration) and would watch that in a double bill of ‘Enter the Dragon’.
‘Kickboxer’ is a magnificent American Martial Arts films, and I do believe it’s an acquired taste. I have found you either love this more than ‘Bloodsport’ or you don’t. And well I do. I think the story behind this is far more grittier than ‘Bloodsport’ and well it’s a story based around revenge, and I am sure the readers of my stuff know by now, that I have a lot of love for revenge stories. I think ‘Kickboxer’ really shows off Van Damme’s acting chops and should be commended for it. I mean sure there are montages in this film, but you can’t take away the fact that he is really giving it the old college try in terms of his acting. And some of you may laugh at me for saying this but he really is one of my favourite actors as well as martial artists. I do believe he is very well rounded and can actually possess a lot of emotion with his acting. He is a man out for revenge, and he looks like a pretty pissed off guy who would love nothing more than to rip Tong Po’s heart out. It was believable. I know some of you may be thinking I am reading too much into this film, and you can think that, but I know this film isn’t going out to win Oscars, so I can see the effort that went into all aspects of the film, and I think everyone played their parts perfect . Sure this film is a little over the top, but what American Martial Arts film aren’t? I mean majority of what happens in these films do not happen in real life, but if any of you do know of any underground fighting tournaments of any kind that are happening I would love to know about them.
I really did enjoy Van Damme’s portrayal of Kurt Sloane because he has a huge heart. If he didn’t he wouldn’t have been able to go on this conquest of revenge and justice for his brother. You see him make a genuine change in character throughout the film, because he starts off as more of a shy kind of guy who is semi okay at martial arts, but he listens, he lives and breathes everything Xian is teaching him about Muay Thai. It isn’t just about the physicality and the skill it’s about the heart and mind that you possess to take you all the way. And Kurt does reach that high level that Xian wanted him to reach. I also found that Kurt is a lot less naive as he is learning about himself with this new training, it is crazy how some things like that can change you and give you a new perspective on things. Now you can’t leave out Michel Qissi’s performance of Tong Po. For such a long time I thought that Tong Po was a real person, but when I discovered IMDB in my early teens I realised Tong Po was fictional…I won’t lie, I was slightly disappointed. But either way you cannot help but love Tong Po as a character. I mean look at him he is freakin’ scary. I think what added to his menacing quality that he had was the fact that he didn’t speak much, he didn’t need to, he let his martial arts skill do the talking. Even now when I watch ‘Kickboxer’ I just feel worried of what Tong Po could do if you bumped into him in an alley way, late at night in the dark…it’s a scary thought isn’t it. Tong Po is a great martial arts villain, who totally stands out and any American Martial Arts film fanatic could never forget Qissi’s portrayal. I would even say it’s that good, it rivals Bolo’s portrayal of Chong Li in ‘Bloodsport’. And lastly you cannot talk about ‘Kickboxer’ without mentioning Dennis Chan’s portrayal of Uncle Xian. I loved the duality of his character because one minute he is a wisecracking old man with life lessons lying underneath his jokes, and then he would switch and be completely serious and a no nonsense kind of guy. You can see just by looking at Xian he has seen and experienced some shit, so while he does take a serious approach at times, he does learn to laugh at the world in his own unique way.
The fight choreography in ‘Kickboxer’ is amazing, and I definitely think it is one of Van Damme’s finest work. However if you do not remember the original cut of the film then you would have missed out a lot of the parts of the final fight between Kurt and Tong Po. I love the fact that this was so violent, and it was violent in a B grade movie kinda way. The fight scenes weren’t glossy. Sure there are parts where there is a slow motion part or two when you see the impact of Van Damme’s graceful helicopter kick, but otherwise I would say the fighting isn’t sleek in the well polished way. It is beautifully choreographed but in a rough, and very violent way. The music is brilliant because Stan Bush graces his talents in the opening credits with his hit ‘Streets of Siam’. That song alone sets the tone for the entire film. The musical score by Hertzog was nothing short of superb. Because while at times it can be very soft and it is something you can meditate to, it can also fire you up because the music totally hits your core. It’s truly inspiring music.
‘Kickboxer’ is a film which tattooed in my brain, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen it, but I know it line for line and scene for scene. If you wanted me to perform this in a Shakespearian style play I could do it. So when this FINALLY got released on DVD in Australia back in either 2008 or 2009, I was happy, one of the happiest days of my life when it came in that red box at work. I held it in my arms and made it clear that this DVD was going to have a safe home on my ‘Most Watched Movies Shelf’…I took it home and realised something straight away, Eric was dubbed…badly. I then also noticed that scenes were cut out, and certain frames from scenes were cut out, but then they took away several things which disgusted me more than anything. The final fight is approaching and there was a scene where Tong Po dipped his hands in the box of broken glass which were then stuck to his hand wraps, and then licked the glass just to show how badass he was…yeah well that got taken out. And then I realised something else…the fight was cut up so much it wasn’t like the original any more. It felt out of sync, it didn’t flow as well as the original cut, my heart sank. I felt like I had been cheated out of being able to experience a film it was originally intended to being viewed. To this day the closest thing I have found to the original is the Supreme Edition that a guy has made and put on Youtube. ‘Kickboxer’ is a highly influential film in my life, it shaped a portion of my taste in film, it supported me when I was getting bullied, it entertained me for so many hours and 20 years on that film still manages to blow my mind. The original cut might be out of my reach right now, and while it is harder to capture than Carmen Sandiego, I know I will find it, and I will be able to enjoy it the same way I did all those years ago on VHS.
If it wasn’t for Jean-Claude Van Damme, I wouldn’t have been into these films, and I wouldn’t have the passion for film that I have today, so thank you so much for being in ‘Kickboxer’ and showing me how awesome and timeless films can be.