(Original Publication Date: September 27th, 2016) By: John M Jerva
REVIEW: KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE
STARRING: Alain Moussi, David Bautista, George St.-Pierre, Gina Carano and Jean-Claude Van Damme
DIRECTED BY: John Stockwell
What’s It About: Kickboxer: Vengeance opens with Kurt Sloan (Moussi) arriving in Thailand to train at the camp of the Thai champion Tong Po (Bautista). After going through a gauntlet of fighters to prove himself, Sloan is accepted to train there, but Sloan has a hidden agenda, and one night he breaks into Po’s room with intentions to kill him.
Flashback three months earlier and we find out why Sloan is on a mission of revenge. After winning the world kickboxing championship, Kurt’s brother Eric, played by Darren Shahlavi in his last screen role, accepts a huge payday to fight in Thailand against the Thai champion Tong Po. Kurt warns his brother not to go but Eric ignores him and goes. After receiving a letter and a plane ticket from his brother to come see him fight, Kurt flies off only to arrive just in time to see Po kill his brother in the ring.
Stricken with grief over the death of his brother, Kurt vows revenge and after the botched attempt at trying to kill Po, Kurt seeks out the man responsible for training Eric for the match, the elusive Master Durand (Van Damme). Kurt wants him to train him for a revenge match against Po and after initially saying no, Durand agrees to train Kurt in the ways of Muay Thai.
Now the stage is set for for an epic showdown as Kurt Sloan, trained by Durand, is ready to take on Tong Po in the ring for a climatic martial arts showdown where only one man will walk away.
The Review, Watch It Own It Or Forget It: To say that Kickboxer: Vengeance was highly anticipated would be a major understatement. The original Kickboxer starring Jean-Claude Van Damme is considered by many to be a classic in the martial arts genre. The original holds a special place in my heart because this film and Van Damme’s other classic Bloodsport is what got me into the martial arts. If you were a teenager back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, you watched these films over and over again. It opened my eyes to the martial arts and with 25 years of experience to this day, I owe it all to Kickboxer.
So when this film was announced, I, along with everyone else, was afraid that they would take a great memory such as Kickboxer and ruin it forever. Was I Right? Well I am here today to tell you that I couldn’t be any more wrong. Kickboxer: Vengeance takes the original and makes it it’s own. It builds on the legacy of that film and brings it to a new generation of martial arts lovers while at the same time entertaining the older action fan. Kickboxer: Vengeance is not a masterpiece but it’s an instant martial arts classic!
First off, let’s talk about the cast. Newcomer Alain Moussi, who is a martial artist and veteran stunt performer, heads up his first leading role as Kurt Sloan, the role originated by Van Damme. Moussi is a sight to behold when it comes to on screen fighting. He is the West’s answer to Tony Jaa. Moussi’s arsenal of skills are a joy to watch. His kicking abilities are awesome and when a fight breaks out, you know you are in for a treat. He defies gravity at every turn and elevates the fight scenes to a whole new level. I tip my hat to you sir. In the acting department, Moussi does an admirable job. Is there room for improvement? Of course, but Moussi does what he needs to do in the dramatic scenes and carries it off just fine.
The mystique of this film took on a whole new level, when Van Damme himself was cast in the trainer/mentor role of Master Durand. It confirmed that the filmmakers were taking the movie seriously. The role was first offered to Tony Jaa first but he declined and that’s the best thing that could ever of happened. When Van Damme was cast, it told the audience that this wasn’t your ordinary, everyday remake. This is Van Damme’s best role in years and you can tell he is having fun passing the torch to the younger Moussi. To the joy of this reviewer, Van Damme gets to fight a lot in the film. His fight with George St.-Pierre is worth the price of admission alone. It’s great to see Van Damme fighting again after years of teasing us with little bits here and there in direct to video action-thrillers. Van Damme is back!
The rest of the cast does a fine job. Gina Carano isn’t in the film much and for those who want to see her fight will be disappointed. Her role is more of an extended cameo. She plays the role of Marcia, the fight promoter with a quiet, sinister approach. Former wrestler Dave Bautista is menacing and ominous as Tong Po. Nothing against Michel Qiss who played the original but Bautista is far more scary and imposing in the villainous role. George St-Pierre is good as Kavi, the fighter who first works for Tong Po but ultimately helps Sloan train for his match. He offers some comic relief to the film as well as fighting. The one sad note is that this was Darren Shahlavi’s last film before his untimely death. He is only in a few scenes and I do wish we could have seen him fight more. The film does pay respect to him at the end.
Now let’s talk about the most important part….the fight scenes! This is where Vengeance really differs itself from the original. While I love the first film, there really is the only one big fight at the end. The new film gives Moussi a lot more situations in which he must take on multiple attackers. There is literally a fight every few minutes and they are all exciting to behold. Now of course that would all be a mute point if the climatic showdown between Sloan and Po was mishandled. I’m very pleased to say that it exceeded my every expectation. It clocks in at almost 20 minutes by itself and consists of three rounds. The first round is just hands and feet while the second round is when the put the broken glass on their hands. The last round consists of using weapons which I thought was a great touch. The fight is a spectacle and you will want to watch it over and over again. Moussi really shines in it and he gives us all the jump kicks and flips that we could want. Bautista knows how to fight and that shows as well. He doesn’t need to be flashy because he is a force to be reckoned with. The fight is destined to be a classic!
The one huge drawback is that for some reason, Van Damme’s voice was dubbed in some parts by someone trying to sound like him. I think that Van Damme was probably unavailable to go back for post production work and they has to go with what they got. It is very noticeable but in the end it’s minor.
To put it all together, Kickboxer: Vengeance is the fight film we have been waiting for! It is not a remake or reboot by definition. It takes the concept of the original and brings it into modern times and gives us a 90 minute barrage of fists and feet that will satisfy even the most skeptical of viewer. With his breakout role in Kickboxer: Vengeance, Alain Moussi proves to us that he is the new hero in martial arts action cinema! I cannot wait to see him in the next installment Kickboxer: Retaliation that will be out sometime next year.
One side note, make sure you watch the end credits as the filmmakers pay homage to the classic Van Damme dance scene. You will not be disappointed!
VERDICT: 4 Out Of 5 Stars and Action-Flix Approved!