Kickboxer (1989)

kickboxer

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Jean-Claude Van Damme fights for his brother’s honour in Kickboxer. This 1989 martial arts flick is directed by Mark DiSalle and David Worth with a screenplay by Glenn A. Bruce. Van Damme is in charge of the fight sequences and presumably THE dance sequence. More on that in a moment.

Kickboxer delivers what it says it’s going to deliver. Much like the 1988 Van Damme vehicle Bloodsport, there’s no subtext and the lead actor makes no attempts to do anything with his performance apart from looking the part and lining up the good old boy tropes

Van Damme is Kurt Sloane and he heads to Thailand with his kickboxing brother Eric (Dennis Alexio). Eric wants to take on Tong Po (Michel Qissi) to prove that he’s the best in the world, but Kurt has reservations. The fight ends in disaster as the nefarious Tong Po cripples Eric with a brutal elbow to the back.

Naturally, Kurt wants revenge. He trains with Xian Chow (Dennis Chan), a reclusive trainer outside of Bangkok, and falls in love with the beautiful Mylee (Rochelle Ashana). The fight between Tong Po and Kurt is eventually set up, but not before the Thai mafia gets involved and causes trouble for the good guys.

There’s not much to Kickboxer, so the Van Damme and DiSalle story requires a bit more punch. The mob stuff is really a way to provoke more of an “us vs. them” mentality, with Eric and Kurt being two upright American boys out of their depth in the dangerous underbelly of Thailand. Much is made of how things are “done differently.”

This is hammered home through the character of Winston (Haskell Anderson), whose job it is to serve as a streetwise emissary to Kurt. He also brings some weapons to the party when Mylee is in trouble, offering up shades of Hannibal Smith along the way. The only thing missing during Winston’s penultimate scene is a certain line about a “plan.”

Kickboxer forges a path proudly through every martial arts movie cliché there is, starting with the injustice and moving to the eventual retribution by proxy. In this case it’s brotherly love that serves as the trigger to Kurt’s race through various training montages, but it’s something else entirely that sets off the dance sequence.

The scene in question is legendary. Van Damme’s Kurt is drinking in a flimsy bar with Xian Chow when his master tells his drunken pupil to get up and bust a move on the dance floor. It’s hard to describe exactly what the Muscles from Brussels manages to pull off here, but let’s just say his bit part in Breakin’ has done him a world of favours.

From the splits to the arm movements to the outfit to the song that’s playing, everything about the dance scene in Kickboxer is phenomenal in a way that only the very best in bad scenes can be. The sight of Van Damme dancing must have curative properties.

The fight scene between Kurt and Tong Po is another highlight. The scrap goes down “traditional style,” which means there’s some broken glass and a lot of cheap shots. Qissi, who was friends with Van Damme from an early age, is an intimidating physical presence much in the same way Bolo Yeung was in Bloodsport.

It could be argued that there’s more on the line in Kickboxer, but it’s harder to argue that it’s a particularly good movie. Most of the picture is spent watching Kurt kick trees and perform the splits. He does some underwater posing, too, and handles one immaterial fight before the big one. That’s about it. Unless I’m forgetting something

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