Van Damme is the Sloan Ranger
Sometime back at the start of the 90s I got my introduction to the movies of Jean-Claude Van Damme via "Kickboxer"; I was young, naive and loved it, I even loved the sequels as I lapped up various kick boxing movies. Now 20 years after I probably first watched "Kickboxer" I revisited it, not with fond memories as over the years I had come to realise that what I watched was not good, in fact my memories were of a cheesy movie. And to be frank having rewatched Van Damme and "Kickboxer" it was as bad as I had come to expect from acting which bordered on the terrible to what is one of the cheesiest scenes you will see in a martial arts movie. But rather ironically, whilst cringing at much of what went on I enjoyed it for the simple reason that whilst the fights and training montages are seriously staged they still deliver that sense of empowerment which you got from "Rocky" and there is nothing like a bit of underdog empowerment to put you in a positive mood.
Having followed his brother, U.S. kickboxing champion Eric Sloan (Dennis Alexio) to Thailand to work his corner, Kurt (Jean-Claude Van Damme - Inferno) witnesses him being beaten to a pulp by Thailand champion Tong Po (Michel Qissi) who deliberately puts Eric in a wheelchair with a paralysing blow. Determined for revenge Kurt finds a friend in American Winston Taylor (Haskell V. Anderson III) who takes him to see Xian Chow (Dennis Chan) who agrees to train the young American to fight Tong Po.
To sum "Kickboxer" up very quickly we have an underdog, we have some training and a fight to get vengeance on a wrong doing. There is no more to it than that and as such the majority of the movie focuses on Kurt Sloane being trained by a Myagi style character so that he can fight Tong Po and get revenge on him for putting his brother Eric in a wheelchair. Oh we get a semi romantic subplot and a variety of characters from good guys to generic bad guys but there is zero depth to any of it.
But to be honest you don't watch a movie like "Kickboxer" for story you watch it for the martial arts and the martial arts training. Now as already mentioned we have a Mr. Myagi style character in Xian Chow who agrees to train Kurt in his own unique and comical way. And as such we have the humour of Kurt questioning Xian's strange training methods to him becoming a supreme warrior after weeks of gruelling training. There isn't anything radically new to any of this with Kurt often coming off worse due to Xian's sage like ways and ability to out wit him but for those who enjoy those underdog training montages will enjoy all the martial arts training that Kurt does even though a leg stretching exercise looks excruciating.
But with this having this mischievous element as Xian does quirky things we do get what is both one of the worst scenes I have ever seen and the one you are most likely going to remember "Kickboxer" for. Yes I am on about the bar scene where we watch Van Damme strut his funky stuff, dancing with a couple of Thai girls whilst in a drunken stupor before defeating several hard men who take exception to him. This is a bad scene, no seriously this is a really bad scene and whilst I have watched Van Damme in a lot of bad scenes he even looks embarrassed as he dances.
Of course all of this training builds up to the big fight as Kurt gets to take on Tong Po who just to add an extra element to the story decides to fight in the way of the ancients, which means hands bound in cloth and glass shards, a scene wonderful spoofed in "Hot Shots! Part Deux". To be honest the final fight is so choreographed that whilst watching the punches and kicks is entertaining it's not really that exciting. And of course there are a couple of minor twists thrown in but the outcome is obvious before we even got to the fight.
As for the acting well the less said the better but basically wooden stereotypes covers every single character and performance. But again you don't really watch "Kickboxer" for the acting but for Van Damme showing off his physique and skills and that is what you get an abundance of. A lot of it is cheesy but when you watch Van Damme train, when he stretches his legs or throws a snappy punch you kind of forget all the rubbish which goes on in between.
What this all boils down to is that "Kickboxer" is a bad movie but one which is ironically entertaining. To be frank the only reason anyone should watch "Kickboxer" is for all the martial arts stuff and whilst a lot of it feels over choreographed it is still entertaining.