Kickboxer [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (16th July 2009).
The Film

I’ve often found that even though Jean-Claude Van Damme has become the butt of many a joke at this stage in his career, most haters will still fall into one of two categories: those who love “Kickboxer” (1989) and those who love “Bloodsport” (1988). Personally, I’ve been firmly rooted in the latter category for the better part of 15 years. I probably watched “Bloodsport” on TBS about 73 times during the 90’s, when they aired it ad infinitum. Odd, then, that I had never seen “Kickboxer” prior to writing this review. I seemed to recall minor bits and pieces, probably from passing it while channel surfing, but I was surprised I had never seen Van Damme’s other minor classic. It certainly was cool watching the man in his prime, doing what he does best, but I found the overall film pales in comparison to “Bloodsport”. Childhood nostalgic attachments not withstanding, this film is heavy on talk and training and doesn’t feature enough brawls to sustain itself, even at a tight 98 minutes.

World Champion Kickboxer Eric Sloane (Dennis Alexio) has beaten all of the best fighters the U.S. has to offer, so he and his brother, Kurt (Jean-Claude Van Damme), decide to try their luck in Thailand, the home of kickboxing. Eric’s match against the local champion, “Tiger” Tong Po (Michel Qissi), goes horribly wrong and Kurt vows revenge against Tong Po. A local ex-soldier, Winston (Haskell V. Anderson III), offers to take him to master Xian Chow (Dennis Chan), a local legend who is known to be a master of training. There, Kurt learns the skills he needs to defeat Tong Po, falls in love with Chow’s niece, Mylee (Rochelle Ashana) and gains the opportunity to take revenge for his brother.

This was Van Damme’s eight film role, though I didn’t know that because the guy still seemed a little green. Fighting skills aside, he doesn’t exactly ooze charisma in every scene. But that isn’t why anyone is watching these films, is it? He does a lot of kicking, punching, kneeing and, of course, his famous splits. I’ll tell you what, despite all of the sequences of people being beaten mercilessly in the ring, the most excruciating scene in the film is when he does a complete split. Ouch. The fight scenes are well done, though I wish there were a few more. Van Damme directed all of the fights, in addition to being the choreographer, so we get a great display of his range as a martial artist. Say what you want about his (lack of) acting, but the guy is in incredible shape and kicks a great deal of ass. His drunken bar fight is my favorite scene in the film.

Nobody else of note rounds out the supporting cast, though the actors here are all very good. I really liked Haskell Anderson’s character of Winston, the former soldier with a little information on everything in town. He’s a typical sidekick-that-can-do-everything character, but Anderson does a great job of making the role enjoyable with his humor. Michel Qissi, who plays the villainous Tong Po, was actually just a technical advisor on set before he wound up taking on the role. I hope the guy doesn’t look like that in real life, though, because Po wasn’t just a brutal fighter - he also looks scary as hell with that gnarled face...

The film was co-directed by Mark DiSalle & David Worth. IMDB lists this as DiSalle’s first directing gig (no kidding), while Worth had a couple of credits beforehand, but nothing of particular merit. Both manage to keep the film on the dull side, as even the fight scenes aren’t shot with any particular sense of tension or action; they just exist. It’s almost like they just set up the camera, walked away and told Jean-Claude to show off and kick people in the crotch. Sometimes I was sure whether I was watching a Muay Thai training film or an actual Hollywood production. Give me some sense of action, please.

Video

The 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer looks better than the standard definition release, but it definitely isn’t with its faults. Firstly, it appears that a healthy amount of DNR was applied here, resulting in a soft picture devoid of fine detail. At times some of the actors appear waxy, like they’re covered in a fine layer of glaze. There is noticeable print damage at times, something that should have been cleaned up. Black levels are inconsistent and weak, though I will say the colors aren’t too terrible. I’m not sure how much of an upgrade fans will find this over the DVD, but since it can be had for relatively cheap I think it’s worth the upgrade.

Audio

I was pleased for the most part with the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. Most of the film is spent in a jungle while Van Damme stretches his legs and has coconuts dropped on his chest, so there isn’t a heavy amount of activity for the surrounds to utilize. However, they do provide some ambient sounds to fill out the track when needed. The crowd during the fight scenes almost makes it seem like you were there. It isn’t a terrible track by any means; I found it be to serviceable for the film.
Subtitles are available in English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Sadly, we don’t get a single extra here aside from the usual bonus trailers for the following:

- “Bangkok Dangerous” runs for 2 minutes and 13 seconds.
- “Crank” runs for 1 minute and 57 seconds.
- “The Transporter 3” runs for 1 minute and 15 seconds.
- “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” Skynet Edition Blu-ray runs for 1 minute and 17 seconds.

At the least a trailer for the actual film would have been nice.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: B- Audio: B- Extras: F Overall: C+

 


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