Kickboxer: Vengeance sees Kurt (Alain Moussi) vow revenge after his older brother is killed in an underground MMA tournament.
So off the bat, for anyone that remembers the ‘by the numbers’ 1989 classic Kickboxer, there isn’t much difference here. Completely ignoring all those straight to video sequels too, we see a whole new fresh take, as fresh as can be. The film begins with Kurt joining Tong Po’s cult, played by Dave Bautista. In this version he’s more than just a champion, he’s more or less worshipped as a god to the point even the police turn a blind eye. Granted in the original, it didn’t paint a pretty picture of Thailand where after Eric is defeated he is just left out on the street, here I guess they’re trying to add some bulk.
After a failed assassination attempt, Kurt is arrested and taken to be deported by future love interest Liu (Sara Malakul Lane) She’s on her own mission to take down Tong Po and needs Kurt alive so she takes him to the only man that can protect him( and train) Durand. Jean-Claude Van Damme returns this time as the actual trainer, gone is the stereotypical short little Asian man, oozing cool with his glued on shades and Walter White pork-pie hat. And to be honest, it’s a welcome return because if you think all this was much, this all happens in the first twenty minutes!
I’m all for quick pacing but in all fairness there’s an overwhelming straight to video quality throughout. Scenes cut off half way, inserted into the opening is a flashback between Kurt and his brother Eric which adds nothing. In the original there was a small buildup but here, it comes and goes without establishing much.
And where to begin with the side plots? Gina Carano pops in every few scenes to offer some exposition that goes nowhere. She’s the ringleader pitting fighters against the mighty Tong Po which in essence makes little sense. How does anyone make money betting on someone who cannot be defeated? Durand had trained Kurt’s brother months prior and saw him as a son, (When did that happen? Show don’t tell!) One addition I can appreciate is that in the original, the love interest was, well just that, a pretty young Asian who did nothing more than fall in love. Here, Liu is given some weight and things to do, she’s a cop on a mission no matter how corrupt the system is. In all fairness the script just needed a slight polish, especially with the various plot threads and the dialogue which sometimes borders between cringe and outright hysterical. Maybe that’s why Bautista hardly says a word throughout.
So, in a movie called Kickboxer: Vengeance, maybe most of you are interested in the actual fights itself? Well I was, in a time where we’ve had Ong Bak and The Raid to name a few which had set a new bar, the fight scenes are kind of lacking which is a shame with the talent involved. Moussi, in his first starring role after many stunt roles has the technique and the Captain America flippy spinning kicks, MMA legend Georges St Pierre has an extended cameo and a fight here and there, one of them being against Van Damme himself but it felt underwhelming to say the least. There’s a middle of the street fight involving elephants and masked men but again, there was just something that made the whole thing feel slightly “eh,” and move on.
Overall it was a OK effort from director John Stockwell whose career blends between actor and director roles. The budget constraints are visible, the cast and crew work with what they had so I won’t be too harsh. On the plus side Thailand’s glorious forests and locales are captured magnificently which did make me want to visit.
Could have been better, maybe the upcoming sequel will fix and refine all the errors of this one.
While attempting to bring something new to a worn out genre by adding weight and bulk, that’s strangely enough where it all comes crashing down. One good thing this film did is make you realise how fun and good the original was. Last but not least taking out the famous dance sequence only to add it in the closing credits is a sin on itself.