If you can get past the acting and dialogue, it’s not half bad
Jean-Claude Van Damme returns in this reboot of his 80s franchise but now the student has become the mentor.There have been so many remakes and reboots recently that one does begin to wonder if that’s all there is for cinema-goers these days. Some have been good and some, well, not so good. And with a remake or reboot it is always difficult not to compare the new with the old, as was the case with this latest in an already long list of remakes and reboots, not to mention sequels that are essentially both.1989 saw many excellent films released; See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Do The Right Thing, Uncle Buck, Driving Miss Daisy and of course Kickboxer. Now the latter has been remade by actor turned director John Stockwell and written by Jim McGrath and Dimitri Logothetis. Originally starring Jean-Claude Van Damme in the lead role, Kickboxer was funny, cheesy and awesome.
Kickboxer: Vengeance has decided that rather than follow on from any of the original films in the franchise, it will retell the story first told in 1989. Kurt Sloan (Alain Moussi) is trainer and manager to older brother Eric (Darren Shahlavi), a martial arts champion who believes that he is the fastest and the greatest. It’s only after Eric loses an underground, no-holds-barred battle to champion Tong Po (Dave Bautista) in Thailand that Kurt leaves his training days behind him and decides to get trained himself in order to exact revenge in his brother's name.
Realising that Tong Po, already a Master and champion of Muay Thai, is more than a match for him, Kurt enlists the help of Master Durand (Jean-Claude Van Damme) to help train him and get him ready for what could potentially be the last fight of his life. But things aren’t that straight forward, in the background determined to scupper any attempt of retribution is Liu (Sara Malakul Lane) an officer for the Thai police intent on ending the underground fights and Marcia (Gina Carano) a crooked fight promoter only out for herself and the vast amounts of money she can make by betting on the lives of Muay Thai fighters.
Much of the original story is told again in this reboot – you could even go as far as to say it’s an exact copy but with a Hollywood sheen and a hip hop sound track. Some scenes however were changed slightly and that in itself is a shame. The one thing that really did disappoint was the lack of multiple repeat action shots during the fight scenes! Stockwell and his crew tried to replicate it but not nearly with enough multi-angled shots, so it just looked flat and half hearted. The dialogue is unintentional comedy gold but if you can switch off and focus on the action, you could probably take the film a lot more seriously.
Kickboxer: Vengeance has all the action but only half the charm of the original film
Heading up this reboot is Moussi, who clearly worked out and trained hard for the role but I’m guessing all that hard work was to make up for his lack of acting ability and sincerity. Van Damme is funny as Master Durand, it worked and he had that 80s charm befitting of his character, Moussi however doesn't seem able to pull it off. When he was trying to be serious he was funny and when he was trying to be funny, he wasn’t. Van Damme on the other hand manages to maintain some of that charm he mustered up all those years ago, albeit in a slightly watered down form, and he isn't totally awful (that might be my affection for him though). Sporting sunglasses and a fedora hat most of the time, Van Damme is on good form and in good shape. However there are several questionable scenes that beg the question 'were the filmmakers seeing something completely different?’. As an example, a scene between Kurt and Durand as it starts to thunder and rain is simply hilarious.
Bautista is the only half-decent actor, aside from Van Damme, in the whole film and he doesn’t do much acting, relying instead on his physique and fighting skill to get him through. The two main women in the film Liu and Marcia were both frustrating. Liu is clearly desperate to prove she could hold her own as an officer of the law in a male dominated industry but lacks the goods to back it up and as for Marcia – she was the most unlikeable character in the whole film, which I suppose means that Carano played her part rather well. There's also an obligatory sex scene which, if I’m honest, felt as though it was only put in the film to compensate for all the male flesh on show – and probably could be discussed in greater depth when it comes to it’s psychological meaning within the film.
After seeing the film and talking about it, I’m still not quite sure how to react to it. It opened up with some picturesque overhead shots of Thailand that seemed to set up what could potentially be a good film. But it quickly devolved into something in between a comedy and a mocumentary-martial arts film. The 1989 film was a bit cheesy and knew not to take itself too seriously but this film didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be. There is plenty of action, and some of it is good, but at times it was almost as if it was trying to be like something from an old Jackie Chan comedy. It has all the elements that you could want and expect from a martial arts film: training montages, fight scenes, a love interest; but for the most part it was laughable, even in places where comedy clearly wasn’t the desired effect!
Kickboxer: Vengeance is amazing but for all the wrong reasons. It’s the sort of film you’d watch with a cold beer and a takeaway. It’s brilliant but only in the same way that all those cheesy kung fu movies are great and it’s clear the film is trying very hard to be seen as something far more serious. With Kickboxer Retaliation planned for next year, we can only hope that it gets better.
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