Cannon Film Distributors | Release Date: September 8, 1989
Generally favorable reviews based on 39 Ratings
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YorkManJan 11, 2016
This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Ah, the 80s..... When American martial arts films portrayed their heroes as being both invincible and without character flaw.
Of all the 'names' who started their martial arts movie career in Hollywood in the 80's, Jean-Claude Van Damme is probably the most famous. His early successes crossed over into the mainstream (although this site doesn't list many of those that did), before he too slipped into the 'straight to VHS/DVD' fare that his contemporaries had never managed to crawl away from.
Kickboxer is Van Damme's third leading role, and the first film on which he got a writing credit. It's worth pointing out that, in a very 'Jackie Chan-esque' maneouvre, he had two of his earlier films (No Retreat, No Surrender... And Black Eagle.... In both of which he played the main fighting villain) re-released with his name and image used to promote them.... Despite his screen time being very limited.

But this is a review of Kickboxer, JCVD's homage to the ancient Thai martial art.
The story is simple enough. Eric Sloane (Dennis Alexio) comfortably wins his heavyweight kickboxing match and remains undefeated. A reporter suggests he should go to Thailand, as that's where kickboxing is from (a concept Eric doesn't seem to understand), and prove his skills and abilities against them.
His younger brother Kurt (JCVD) travels with him, and Eric takes on the Thai champion Tong Po (Michel Qissi - although listed 'as himself' in the film's end credits). Tong Po destroys Eric, Eric again completely unaware of the Thai kickboxing rules, deeming it to be a 'street fight', resulting in Eric being paralysed from the waist down.
Weirdly, there are no Americans in attendance (despite there still apparently being quite a sizeable contingent of Americans in Bangkok at the time), nor are there any American sports networks in attendance either (despite this being a marquee match-up that would have interested a fair few American viewers), nor are there any paramedics on stand-by (despite both Eric and Kurt being in a position to hire someone, or at the very least make sure the medical support at the arena was adequate).

All this results in Kurt and Eric being driven to the hospital in Winston Taylor's (Haskell Anderson) blue, Mazda panel-van ('the fastest wheel's in Bangkok', apparently!), where the paralysis is diagnosed.
Kurt swears revenge, but Taylor warns him off. Not only because he is clearly a weaker fighter than Eric, but that Tong Po (and by extension many other local fighters) are all managed by local gang boss 'Freddy Li (Ka Ting Lee) who would have no qualms about shooting Kurt if he felt his livelihood threatened.

Kurt isn't convinced, and heads around the city looking for a decent Kickboxing school to train at, but he's just laughed out of the door. Luckily (for some reason that's never actually explained) Taylor happens to be chums with a venerable Kickboxing Master, who lives up in the hills.
Kurt goes there, and after explaining his predicament is taken on. The Master, Xian Chow (Dennis Chan) then effectively passes on a lifetime of skills, as well having Kurt master the physical elements of Muay Thai, in less time than it takes for Eric to be released from hospital (and we never see Kurt go and visit him once!).

Now a fully fledged Muay Thai master, he easily defeats (whilst inebriated) a motley crew of Freddy Li's up and coming fighters in a bar-room brawl. Chow convinces Li to match Kurt up against one of his established fighters and, in a very quick match, Kurt emerges as an easy victor. Li is then approached by Chow again, who suggests a match against Tong Po, now that the locals have seen the 'brother' of Po's defeated adversary. Li agrees, but suggests they fight 'old school'. Old school involves them fighting in very few clothes (as you do) but, more importantly requires them to dip their bound knuckles in resin and then into broken glass.

Li borrows a Million dollars from his 'boss', and bets on Po to win. He guarantees the victory by kidnapping Eric, and blackmailing Kurt to lose. The fight obviously doesn't go Kurt's way, until Eric arrives with Taylor and Chow. As soon as this happens, Po completely forgets everything he's ever learnt about Kickboxing, suddenly unable to punch, kick or block in any effective manner. Kurt defeats him (without being touched after Eric pops up), and the film comes to an end with Li being stopped from running away.

Oh, and there's a love interest character 'My Lee', played by Rochelle Ashana. An actress so atrocious she makes JCVD come across like Marlon Brando.

As an American martial arts film of the day, this is just distinctly average.
This is despite the obviously larger (than average) budget and pretty decent soundtrack. The fight scenes aren't great, but you can't really expect them to be. It's all about the spectacle.
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Wtw10000Apr 25, 2021
Still entertaining. You've seen this plot before. Still fun, not for the story.
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drlowdonAug 31, 2016
By all normal measures Kickboxer just isn't a very good film. The plot is lifted almost straight from Rocky V, the script and plot are about as subtle as a runaway freight train and far too much of the running time is taken up with, what areBy all normal measures Kickboxer just isn't a very good film. The plot is lifted almost straight from Rocky V, the script and plot are about as subtle as a runaway freight train and far too much of the running time is taken up with, what are supposed to be, spiritual training sequences.

Despite all this there is something about the Kickboxer, something that only these sort of 80's action films seem to have, that ensures they are still watchable and that by the end you'll be rooting for the good guy to win anyway.
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