14th Dec2016

‘Kickboxer: Vengeance’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Dave Bautista, Alain Moussi, Gina Carano, John Claude Van Damme, Georges St-Pierre, Darren Shahlavi, Sara Malakul Lane, T.J. Storm, Matthew Ziff, Sam Medina, Hawn Tran | Written by Dimitri Logothetis, Jim McGrath | Directed by John Stockwell

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A remake of the film that turned Jean Claude Van Damme into an action-movie megastar, Kickboxer: Vengeance retreads the story of the brothers Sloan – the only difference here is that the the stakes are higher, the action is more brutal (the glass-on-gloves fight is certainly a LOT more bloody than in the original film) and this time round the bad guy is former WWE man-beast turned actor Dave Bautista and the Muay Thai expert that trains Kurt Sloan to face Tong Po is Van Damme!

For those unfamiliar with the plot, Kickboxer: Vengeance tells the story of Kurt Sloan, younger brother to medal-winning martial artist Eric Sloan. The younger of the two, Kurt has always been in his brother Eric’s shadow, and despite his talent has been told he lacks the instinct needed to become a champion. But when Kurt witnesses the merciless murder of his brother at the hands of Muay Thai champion Tong Po, he vows revenge. He trains with his brother’s mentor, Durant (Van Damme), for a fight to the death with Tong Po…

Interestingly, for fans of the Kickboxer franchise, the previous entries in this series – in particular the first and fourth films – echo throughout this remake. Whilst Tong Po was a silent killing machine in the original film, by part four (Kickboxer: The Aggressor) he was a gang-leading drug kingpin and it’s THAT Tong Po that Dave Bautista’s iteration of the character most resembles – with his training camp and army of trainees will to fight, and kill, for him.

Visually Kickboxer: Vengeance is a much dirtier, grittier film that the original – even if there are a number of scenes that are completely inspired by Mark DiSalle and David Worth’s original vision! Director John Stockwell really puts his own stamp on the film, giving it a similar look to his previous big-budget work, emphasising the heat and mugginess of Thailand through the use of a muted colour palette – reminding me very much of Jackie Chan’s later HK work (especially in the films prison break sequence). Stockwell also packs his film with real fighters, which only enhances the “real world” – as opposed to “reel” world – feel of his cinematography.

Thankfully Stockwell has also spent some time in the action genre prior to this so his fight sequences – so often edited to oblivion in mainstream cinema – are allowed to breathe on screen, with wider shots showcasing the casts actual fight skills, allowing them to sell the hard-hitting action as opposed to the editing and foley work.

Despite feeling cheapened slightly by the use of swords in the final fight between Kurt and Tong Po – which means Alain Moussi’s Kurt never feels as bad-ass as Van Damme’s -  Kickboxer: Vengeance is actually a great example of how to remake a film… Bring back your key cast (notice I say cast? There IS a reason!), harken back to the original film WITHOUT rehashing scenes shot-for-shot, and add a little extra to the story to make it just different enough (in this case it’s corrupt cops and Tong Po’s training camp/army). This film does all that and is, ultimately, a film worthy of carrying the Kickboxer moniker. Roll on the sequels!

Oh, One thing I should mention: stick around for the credits, where THAT famous bar scene from Van Damme’s youth returns to haunt him and the audience!

Kickboxer: Vengeance is out now on Digital Download, DVD and Blu-ray.

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