Plot: Eric (Dennis Alexio) has just won another kickboxing match and retained his world championship, when a reporter asks if he would defend his title in Thailand, home of the sport’s most fearsome warriors. To prove himself, Eric heads to Thailand and lines up a match against Tong Po (Michel Qissi), the area’s undefeated fighter who has conquered a parade of capable combatants. Eric’s brother Kurt (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is quite concerned, as Tong Po has injured numerous fighters and seems to have a sadistic side, but Eric brushes off those worries. But after a brutal beating, Eric winds up paralyzed and Tong Po shows no remorse over his actions. Kurt is devastated and wants to avenge his brother, but he will need to learn new techniques to stand a chance. Can he find someone willing to train him to challenge Tong Po and even if so, does he have a chance against the champion’s dangerous skills?
Entertainment Value: Kickboxer doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but it does offer a fun, well crafted martial arts experience. The narrative is one we have seen countless times, as vengeance drives a student to train and challenge an imposing rival, but it works well here, even if it isn’t an original premise. The action is focused on martial arts bouts, so there aren’t wild chases, explosions, and shootouts, but the fights are a lot of fun and have a fun 80s slant. In other words, a lot of slow motion and Van Damme yelling as his eyes bulge, which is always a good time. I wouldn’t have minded more fight scenes, especially in the build to Kurt’s clash with Tong Po, but the ones we get are fun, so it is hard to complain. The pace is brisk and the training process is interesting, so despite a moderate amount of action, Kickboxer never loses steam. The final showdown more than delivers as well, with taped fists covered in broken glass in an epic last battle to close out the movie. If you’re a fan of martial arts, action movies, or Van Damme, you’ll want to see this one.
Jean-Claude Van Damme made Kickboxer fresh off his martial arts cult classic Bloodsport and this is more of the same, as he unleashes his fury on someone who took out someone he cared about. This is a good performance and in line with Van Damme’s usual work, so he excels in the action scenes and when things get more dramatic, he tends to struggle but it is still fun to watch. I don’t think Van Damme’s verbal skills are why he built a fan base, but I always have fun with his stilted methods, as it adds some b movie vibes to the experience. A good action hero needs that good villain, so here we have Michel Qissi who nails the role of the brutal Tong Po. The action scenes highlight his sadistic style, while he exudes a sense of menace that drives the role. The cast also includes Dennis Alexio, Rochelle Ashana, and Dennis Chan.