(Original Publication Date: January 28th, 2018) By: John M Jerva
Review: KICKBOXER: RETALIATION
Starring Alain Moussi, Sara Malakul Lane, Christopher Lambert, Jessica Jann, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson with Mike Tyson and Jean-Claude Van Damme
Directed By: Dimitri Logothetis
The Plot: One year after successfully defeating the villainous Tong Po in Thailand, Kurt Sloane (Moussi) has put the past behind him and has married his true love Liu and is now a victorious MMA fighter competing on the circuit. After a recent victory, Kurt is ambushed by two thugs posing as agents and is sedated and forced back to Thailand. You see, when you not only defeat but kill the supreme money maker in the Thai fight game, it tends to piss a lot of people off. One individual is ruthless promoter Thomas Moore (Lambert) who wants Sloane to compete in one more fight to the death. The only problem is the man he wants him to fight is a 6 foot 10 specimen of modern science named Mongkut who is the new champion. Where Tong Po was a mountain of a man, Mongkut is a man who can move mountains. Do this and he can go free. Moore throws Sloane into a brutal Thai prison where he must fight for his life on a daily basis until he agrees to Moore’s terms. Sloane befriends one of the prisoners in the jail named Briggs (Tyson) who helps him train for the fight. Sloane is also reunited with Master Durand (Van Damme) who was blinded by the bad guys for his involvement in the Po fight but Durand is just as dangerous as he ever was. Moore kidnaps Liu and forces Sloane to take on his terms and the heroic kickboxer must now face his most deadly challenge yet. A challenge where, once again, only one man will walk away from.
The Review: After cutting his teeth as a professional stuntman for many years, martial artist turned actor Alain Moussi arrived in the leading role in 2016’s Kickboxer: Vengeance. The role shot Moussi into the action spotlight and with the sequel Kickboxer: Retaliation, Moussi cements his status as an action star. Moussi’s skills as a martial artist are top notch and he can perform with the best of them. In my review for Kickboxer: Vengeance, I labeled him the Tony Jaa of the West and I stand by that statement. Moussi’s aerial arsenal is a site to behold as he flawlessly executes one death defying combat move after another. He truly is one of the most exciting performers to watch in action films today and where the first film introduced us to his skills, the sequel cements the fact that he is one in a million. Moussi has a bright and shining future in the genre and the sky is literally the limit.
The cast in Retaliation is top tier as we have action icon Jean-Claude Van Damme (who played the role of Kurt Sloane in the original) back as Master Durand, Kurt’s mentor and trainer. Durand is the Xian of this generation and with Van Damme’s participation in the reboot series, he is putting his stamp of approval on Moussi as the next heir. Van Damme also gets to show us that he still has the moves and while he might be a supporting player, he leaves his mark. The Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert, is awesome as always as the slimy, ruthless Moore. Lambert always brings a high level of gravitas to any film and this is no exception. You know that Moore is a bad guy but you can’t help but think that he is still dignified in a socipathic kind of way. As the main enemy of the sequel, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson is truly a wonder of the Earth. The man is just plain huge and if you thought that Dave Bautista was imposing in the first one, then you haven’t seen anything yet. Where Bautista’s Tong Po was a lethal and dangerous adveary, Björnsson’s Mongkut is the human incarnation of Godzilla. Boxing icon Mike Tyson (who is getting into the action genre with roles in Ip Man 3 and more) is great as Briggs, the prison inmate that reluctantly agrees to help train Kurt. Tyson brings a sense of authenticity to the training scenes and when he talks, people listen. Once you meet his character, you know that he is a man that is respected in the prison and for good reason. Sara Lalakul Lane is back as Kurt’s love Liu and her character is the foundation of what drives Kurt in the film.
Director Dimitri Logothetis, who was a producer on the first film, takes over in the director’s chair from John Stockwell who helmed the previous installment and he knows what the fans want. Logothetis doesn’t bog things down with subplots and what not, he just gives us 1 hour and 50 minutes of ass kicking. I wasn’t really aware of his work before this film but I am now. He shoots the action in the best way possible and he understands what it takes to make a great fight sequence. I will sign up to watch any other action film that he makes in the future because with Retaliation, he earned my trust. Job well done and a tip of the hat to you Sir.
The locales in the film are nothing but extraordinary and they take on a life of their own. From Las Vegas to Thailand, the cinematography is breathtaking especially when the film goes to Thailand. The city is just the perfect venue for a martial arts epic and you cannot help but get swept up in the visuals. From the city streets to the old temples of centuries long past, Thailand is its own character in the film.
Now lets talk about the action because lets face it, that’s what this movie is all about. I noted in my review for Vengeance that what separated it from Van Damme’s classic is that it had more fisticuffs. The original pretty much only had a few brief scenes followed by the training montages and then the climatic fight. Where Vengeance increased the action, Retaliation supercharges it with fighting galore. It feels like there isn’t a few moments that go by between fight scenes and they are all the stuff of legends. From an opening sequence on top of a moving train in the rain to the climatic 25 minute epic at the end, Retaliation delivers and delivers in spades. We get not one but two single shot fight scenes (which are my favorite by the way) with the extended prison fight scene being the highlight of the first half of the film. The camera follows Sloane up and down as he takes on a gauntlet of prisoners and the scene never edits or looks away for a second. All you see is Sloane gloriously kicking the snot out of all that gets in his way. I think I rewound the scene twice before I continued on.
The final battle in the film is an instant classic and it clocks in at over 25 minutes in length which is unheard of for a Western martial arts fight film. The first film did the same thing but the sequel’s beatdown roundhouse kicks the original in the face and knocks it on its ass. Just like Vengeance, this battle is 3 rounds of death and destruction and when I say death, I mean it. SPOILER ALERT! Sloane dies in the fight! He is pronounced dead by the doctor and just when you think all is lost, Liu grabs one of the syringes that the bad guys use for Mongkut and slams it into Kurt’s heart! Sloan then becomes a bone crunching, fist and feet flying energizer bunny who pummels Mongkut into submission in a barrage of unarmed carnage. It is here that we are treated to Moussi’s acrobatic moves of mayhem and when you see them in slow motion, your jaw will drop. Quick, somebody team this man up with Scott Adkins in an action film…STAT! I watched the film twice just to make sure that it was as awesome as I thought it was. It was!
To sum it all up. Kickboxer: Retaliation is one of those rare sequels that is far superior than the first film and I loved the first one! It fixes anything that was wrong with the original and it gives us fans the exhilarating, blood soaked action that we crave. The stunts in the film are top tier and are equal to any Hong Kong classic out there. Alain Moussi arrived with Kickboxer: Vengeance but with Kickboxer: Retaliation, he has officially cemented his place among action stars. He can throw down with the best of them, smile and say is that all you got. He is the new generation of action star and with the third film in the trilogy, Kickboxer: Armaggedon, in the works, I have officially started my countdown clock and will be waiting impatiently for the next adventure of Kurt Sloane. Bring it on! Nuk Soo Kow! Nuk Soo Kow! Nuk Soo Kow!
VERDICT: ACTION-FLIX APPROVED X 100!!!!!