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Bad Movie Tuesday: Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018), adding the giant Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson to Van Damme’s Death Match franchise.

May 15, 2018

MY CALL:  Okay, folks. This is basically Kickboxer 6. It’s the first sequel of the reboot, the bad guys keep getting more physically monstrous, and the action scenes erupt over-the-top. You should know if this movie is for you or not–this is top notch Bad Movie-ness with great fun action.  MOVIES LIKE Kickboxer: Retaliation:  For your Bad Movie Tuesday feature you should try more Van Damme movies!  Especially Bloodsport (1988), Lionheart (1990), TimeCop (1994) and The Quest (1996). And let’s not dare forget Kickboxer (1989) and Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016). Want something a bit more “campy bad?” If that’s the case, try China O’Brien (1990), Outside the Law (2002), Night Vision (1997), Only the Strong (1993) or Mechanic: Resurrection (2016).

Writer (in part) and director Dimitri Logothetis (Slaughterhouse Rock, Body Shot, Wings of the Dragon)—who also produced Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016) and the upcoming Kickboxer: Armageddon—brings us a somehow even zanier sequel than we experienced with Vengeance. And I’m perfectly fine with that. This was a Bad Movie delight!

If you need to catch up on the latest Kickboxer sequel/reboot, check out Podcast Episode #79: JCVDVD, the unnecessary sequels Kickboxer: Vengeance and Hard Target 2 where we discuss Vengeance in detail.

This film is really trying to be good, but often feels like a videogame cliché scene we’d watch transitioning from the previous stage to the “big bad boss last guy.” We open with a dream sequence heavily stylized from its scoring to the tango—yep, I said tango. Before this sultry dance turns into an homage to The Matrix: Reloaded (2003), Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi; Kickboxer: Vengeance, Pompei, The Day) fantasizes that someone will take his beloved Liu (Sara Malakul Lane; Kickboxer: Vengeance, Beyond the Gates, Shark Lake) from him. And now one may wonder how on Earth a sequel to a Van Damme reboot could fall into The Matrix: Reloaded (2003) territory. Well, how about some slick, well-dressed Euro-bad guys attacking Sloane with big-bladed yet short-handled, snazzy-looking axes along with guns and a sunglasses-wearing, leather-clad saucy minx lady Agent kung fu-fighting her way through Sloane’s Neo-lific flurry of effortless parries before they take the fight to a stormy downpouring battle atop this sleek speeding “Merovingian” luxury train (much like the Reloaded highway scene on the truck trailer mixed with the Neo vs Smith deluge face-off) with no apparent fear of keeping their balance. Yeah, it’s out there. But, let’s be honest. I was giggling the whole time.

And the fights? The choreography is crisp and often “good” but never as great as it is entertaining… not that Kickboxer (1989) ever boasted great technical choreography (and still it is beloved). It was all credibly executed, fun to watch and it included some slow-motion crashes through the surrounding break-away set design much as we’d enjoy in 80s-90s Jackie Chan (e.g., Rumble in the Bronx, SuperCop) and early 2000s Tony Jaa (e.g., The Protector, Ong-Bak) choreography.

Among the most amusing aspects of Vengeance and Retaliation is that Van Damme plays Master Durand, a character that serves as a placeholder for Kickboxer 1-3’s (1989, 1991, 1992) Master Xian (Dennis Chan; The Man with the Iron Fists)—who continued the (very bad) storyline by training Kurt Sloane’s brother David Sloan (Sasha Mitchell; Class of 1999 II, Step by Step), a storyline that persisted to a part 4 (1994) before thankfully disappeared into the video ether of the 90s. So, Van Damme has morphed into his 1989 trainer, to train a new present-day Kurt Sloane having no connection to the JCVD-Sloane story arc… although it clearly parallels.

As if poeting a love letter to Van Damme’s early work, a pair of US Marshals (one older and white, the other younger and black—like in Bloodsport) taser-zap Sloane and bring him to the deliciously slimy crime lord Thomas Moore (Christopher Lambert; Highlander 1-4, The Hunted, Mortal Kombat, Fortress, Beowulf). As a bad movie villain, Moore is perfectly terrible down to his black-on-black suit as he blackmails Sloane in a Thai prison cell sitting in a chair (that his henchmen clearly brought in) in the shadows and with hot lady servants at either side (because, you never know when you’ll need them, right?). Moore wants Sloane to defend the Death Match title he left unspoken for after he killed Tong Po (Dave Bautista in Kickboxer: Vengeance) and left Thailand for his MMA career. So now he wants him to fight the new champion: the 6’8” 400-pounder Mongkut (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson; Game of Thrones, World’s Strongest Man).

This may feel a little familiar after seeing Tony Jaa fighting the giant Nathan Jones in The Protector (2005), Jet Li fighting Dolph Lundgren in The Expendables (2010), or Scott Adkins fighting Martyn Ford in Boyka: Undisputed IV (2016). But, I don’t care. It’s fun watching little martial arts aces zipping around their Mighty Kong foes. And speaking of big tough guys, what is Mike Tyson (Ip Man 3, The Hangover I-II) doing here!?!?!

The Sloane-Briggs (Mike Tyson) fight is the most fun and playful action sequence, and I really enjoyed it. Briggs becomes an ally to train Sloane in boxing, he messes with Strongman Brian Shaw to practice fighting really big guys, and the now blind Master Durand (Jean-Claude Van Damme; Kickboxer: Vengeance, TimeCop, Bloodsport, The Expendables 2, Universal Solder: Day of Reckoning, Assassination Games) teaches him blind-fighting. It’s funny because any of these three guys seem better suited to fight Mongkut than Sloane, but they all work together to make him better.

About now I’d like to pause and assess some additional ways that we know this is a bad movie (as if it wasn’t yet obvious):

  1. Was that tango meant to homage True Lies (1994)? It was really just weird, and it didn’t hold a candle to Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis.

  2. How did the lady Agent on the train get tougher when she costume-changed into a sexy Mortal Kombat (1995) outfit? I mean, I’m not complaining. Just asking.

  3. So, all the Thai inmates attack Sloane… apparently because he killed Tong Po… whom, I’m guessing, the Thai prisoners liked. But even if they loved Tong Po and now hate Sloane, they still know that he killed Tong Po! So why are these idiots attacking him with their bare average-Joe hands!?!?!

  4. Sloan steals a prison guard’s cell phone and makes the calmest call in the history of wrongful incarcerations to tell his wife “I’ve been kidnapped. I’m in a prison in Bangkok.” I feel like most folks would be a bit stressed out by this. But not out hero!

  5. I’m just gonna’ come out and say it. There are way too many big non-Asian dudes in this prison. As if it was illegal to be jacked and American in Thailand. And what was with the bodybuilding nunchuck guy?

  6. Blind Van Damme can beat Tyson’s boxing and Lambert’s swordplay. How the Hell did he get bested by Moore in the first place?

  7. Mongkut just hangs out in a Rocky IV (1985) steroids lab that doubles as his gym and training center. Apparently, he is “four times Tong Po” (whatever that means) and was “bred from generations of fighters…” which really only makes sense if Moore is a centuries-old vampire.

  8. Sloane saw one of Moore’s henchmen in a dream he had in the opening sequence… before he ever met Moore or this goon. And then he sees another goon from the dream later (the lady Agent Smith). And another guy on a train from his dream! WTF? This movie is has made Sloane a psychic member of the X-Men.

  9. When Durand and Sloane go back to the Bangkok underground fight club, how does Sloane’s opponent’s carefully-gelled hair never get messed up as he’s being punched and kicked in the face repeatedly? Aaaaaand Moore let Sloane, and Master Durand, and his Asian lady swordsmanship trainer leave the prison and go to Bangkok with only one goon to watch over them! So, of course, they escape. Stupid. Just stupid.

  10. I wonder if any movies have this many professional Strong Men and UFC fighters.

  11. There is a low-speed motorboat chase and the undisputedly worst green-screened train-top scene EVER! Need I say more?

  12. Moore’s sex den concubines are actually bethonged yakuza assassins with glow-in-the-dark tattoos and they lead him into an Enter the Dragon (1973) mirror lair! WTF is this room even in Moore’s house!?!?! WTF is with those tattoos!?!?!

  13. Mongkut should have won the final fight about ten times in Round 1. But you know how it goes. They could get the kill shot, but instead they throw their arms in the air and gloat to the crowd. Stupid… this is actually a death match! It’s like Chong Li-Jackson all over again.

  14. Nok Soo Kow… back in 1989 those words were inspiring. Here they fall pretty flat and they were basically just chanting it because, well, this is Kickboxer part 6! #NokSooKowFAIL

  15. From the arm twists to the nut-punching, the final fight glimmers of Bloodsport’s Dux-sumo fight. Of course, this fight was way better.

The final fight is long (the entire third act), ridiculous, and wonderfully exciting! Mongkut is getting adrenaline shots between rounds to fuel a Hulk-smashing good time, and Sloane suffers numerous injuries that would rupture the chest cavity of most humans. It’s awesome!

As I mentioned earlier, this film is trying so hard. In fact, there might be enough action scenes (and many of them quite weird) to populate TWO Bad Movie Tuesday features. And while the technical combat isn’t as wowing as watching Donnie Yen, the action is quite satisfying as we watch Sloane work through one big tough bruiser after another. Think of this as more of a Fast and Furious franchise action movie with a far lower budget and a focus on death matches, and that’s pretty much what you’re in for here. Enjoy!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2018 10:15 am

    Sloane’s wife steps in front of that punch…..

    • John Leavengood permalink
      May 15, 2018 10:17 am

      That punch would have probably killed me. Like… R-rated Anime cartoon hole through my chest!

      • May 15, 2018 10:19 am

        Everything in her chest would’ve turned into jello.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      May 15, 2018 10:57 am

      I feel like almost every time Mongkut hit someone square in the face or chest… they’d just die. Sloane is the Rocky to Mongkut’s Drago… “he is like a piece of iron.”

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