The original Kickboxer has always been a favourite among Jean-Claude Van Damme fans and rightly so; it’s got lashings of cheese, THAT dancing scene, a fearsome nemesis in Tong Po (Michel Qissi) and most importantly a young JCVD’s martial arts skills.
Watching it now you could say that it is rather dated but I still enjoy every second of it.
2016 saw the anticipated reboot of the series entitled Kickboxer: Vengeance finally get released but how does it fare against the original beloved classic? Well, I’m glad you asked that imaginary friends so let’s discuss.
The Hero: Kurt Sloane
Jean-Claude Van Damme
This was one of JCVD’s earliest roles but was also one of his most likeable; like I said the dance scene is hilarious as is drunken JCVD which never ceases to entertain. There is a naiveté to Van Damme’s Sloane which makes the character so appealing. His brother Eric’s (Dennis Alexio) arrogance before fighting Tong Po is what puts him in the wheelchair but unlike the remake Eric isn’t killed so Kurt just wants to fight Tong Po rather than kill him.
I have to give props to Alain for stepping into JCVD’s shoes as it must have been pretty daunting but while watching Kickboxer: Vengeance I was impressed by his martial arts prowess which is more varied than JCVD’s. His interpretation of Kurt doesn’t have the same naiveté and is more hungry for revenge after his brother is killed in the ring by Tong Po (Dave Bautista) which is arguably a more believable but strangely less interesting character.
The Villain: Tong Po
It’s funny how in both Kickboxer movies Tong Po is never played by an actual Asian actor which always struck me as odd but even as a kid I found Miche Quissi’s (under heavy make-up) Tong Po utterly terrifying. Not only does he take pleasure in breaking Eric Sloane but he would later go on to rape Kurt’s girlfriend and then mock him for it during their fight. To this day Tong Po remains one of JCVD’s greatest adversaries.
At least with Bautista there are no prosthetics used to create Tong Po; they just use his sheer size and fighting skills which is intimidating enough. Personally I would have preferred to see Tony Jaa play the villain (even if it wasn’t Tong Po). I like the idea that he isn’t huge but is faster and more powerful so maybe in Kickboxer: Syndicate he could come to the series. Anyway, Dave Bautista is certainly intimidating but he is at least more honourable and I like how he says to Kurt that his brother was a warrior unlike Kurt who has come to face Tong Po armed with a gun. He also isn’t a rapist so therefore you don’t hate him quite as much. I thought Dave didn’t really have all that much to do though so we didn’t really get to truly hate him. After all Eric (Darren Shahlavi RIP) volunteered to fight him in the ring and knew what he was up against.
Winner: Michel Quissi
Xian Chow: Dennis Chan
Xian was such a loveable mentor who would help Kurt to become the ultimate fighter, good enough to face and defeat Tong Po in combat. Xian would show up in the Kickboxer sequels to help train David Sloan (Sasha Mitchell) to defeat his nemesis (also Tong Po). Xian would always be very controlled and calm but could kick ass when required, kinda like Yoda.
Master Durand: Jean-Claude Van Damme
In a rather inspired piece of casting JCVD returns to the Kickboxer series, this time as the master which is exactly how you should do a remake. Durand is slightly crazy with a bit of a manic and extrovert personality but Damme can he fight! This movie perfectly showcased that JCVD still has the moves but I still find it odd that they had to dub him.
Winner: Master Durand: Jean-Claude Van Damme
The original Kickboxer was impressive at the time but after movies like The Raid the fights are almost a little quaint without that same ferocity. Vengeance is a step in the right direction though and there are varied fight scenes literally every few minutes.
Winner: Kickboxer: Vengeance
After all this time I still think the original Kickboxer is the best; despite Vengeance having impressive fights and a great cast it hasn’t captured the imagination of the public the way the original did. I am looking forward to the sequels Retaliation and Syndicate as there won’t be the same pressure for the cast/crew as they aren’t remakes.