Monday, 1 November 2010

King of the Kickboxers (1990)

So this here will be my final review in my month long retrospective of the cult favourite that is the No Retreat, No Surrender series. Last week I posted a somewhat underwhelming review of No Retreat, No Surrender 3. That's because with each movie they become harder to endure due to the diminishing quality of each entry. It is hard to get through a movie some times that has absolutely horrendous acting and even worse plot lines but I've endured this long simply to share my views on the martial arts action and that's what we're all here for right? okay, then!

This week I'm sharing my thoughts on the last of Loren Avedon's entries in the series with King of the Kickboxers and its like that old saying, you always save the best for last. Well, that certainly is the case we have here. The film opens in Thailand where we see a Thai boxing competition, although you wouldn't know it was supposed to be Thai boxing when the fighters are using Tae Kwon Do techniques but hey who can tell the difference right? except maybe Kung Fu Cinephiles like myself and many others who love the genre.

Anyway, one of the fighters is Sean Donahue played by martial artist Michael Depasquale Jr who wins the competition much to the delight of his hyperactive younger brother Jake. On the way back from the arena, I say Arena it was really just one of those sweaty Thai boxing gyms you always see in movies like this, they are attacked by knife wielding thugs. Sean leaps into action with all the precision and grace action director Tony Leung Siu-Hung can muster and before long the movie's main villain, Khan played by Billy Blanks, shows up.

Yes, that Billy Blanks, the creator of the Tai Bo workout technique. Of course this was before he had developed that and was trying to find his feet in the movie industry as an actor. As you'd expect Sean and Khan tangle but Sean is no match for the grimacing warrior and is killed after getting kicked several times in the throat. Jake tries to fight him but hilariously gets his ass whooped and is left traumatized and physically scarred. Cut to ten years later where Jake has transformed into Loren Avedon and is an undercover police officer for the NYPD. Here we see he's the typical renegade cop who does whatever it takes to get the job done and blows his cover during a drug bust. Next we are treated to a very snappy and well paced fight with fellow martial arts movie actor Jerry Trimble. It's always great to see a guy like Trimble in action, such a shame that people like Trimble and Avedon and a few others never get the credit they obviously deserve.

Understandably Jake's boss is pissed but rather then suspend him and recommend him for psychological evaluation like any normal police captain would do after hearing one of his officer's disobeyed orders and brutally assaulted the assailants, he does what movie police captains always do. Ignore the whole thing ever happened and recommend him to Interpol for an operation to take down a snuff film ring that recruits martial artists and murders them on film. At first Jake refuses, as the job involves going to Thailand and the memories of his brother's death are still painful but after viewing some of the tapes, Jake realises the one committing the murders is Khan. So, after letting out an anguished scream which looks like he'd caught his testicles in something, he flies to Thailand undercover.

Upon arrival Jake tries to get noticed by picking on a local Thai boxing school. He beats up a couple of their students only to have one of them retaliate later, telling him that he's not good enough to take Khan. The student then suggests he find a fighter but the name of Prang (Keith Cooke, the guy who shamefully played Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat Annihilation), the only man to almost beat Khan one on one and get some well needed training. At this point, the whole thing just became one huge rip off of the Van Damme movie Kickboxer. The only thing that really elevates this movie over that Van Damme one would be the action sequences. So, if you've seen Kickboxer then you can probably guess what the rest of the movie is going to be about.

Like the previous film, the action is choreographed by Tony Leung Siu-Hung, only instead of going for the hyper and gritty street fighting style, he's used a more exaggerated style that's very similar to Corey Yuen's work on the previous movies and suits the tone of the whole movie quite well. As I said Leung makes all the actors like fantastic when they start fighting. Avedon has never looked better, with each movie he got better and better as an action star and to this day Kickboxers has remained his magnum opus. To compliment Avedon, Blanks gets to show his stuff in the few fight scenes that he has. The finale set in a bamboo Thunderdome type arena shows two great fighters going against each other and just generally impressing the hell out this reviewer. It's funny, I've seen a couple other movies starring Blanks and Kickboxers is the only one were he's used effectively.

King of the Kickboxers, like the other entries in the series, is not a great movie when you talk about the plotting or the acting. What makes these movies stand out more then most are the fight scenes. Here you have guys like Corey Yuen and Tony Leung giving it their best and you would be hard pressed to find any other American martial arts movie of this period to top them all. If I had to choose one that was the overall best, then I definitely would have to go with number 3; Blood Brothers.

This is simply because I found the fighting to be better paced, tightly choreographed and excellently executed by the cast. So, there you have it, my retrospective is finally over. Now at this point, a few of you who might be reading this might be going "Aren't you missing something?" well, yeah, kind of.

You see, in 1991 a film made by the same crew was released called American Shaolin. Some view it as the fifth entry into the series and while I certainly wouldn't argue with that, I just simply don't have the stomach to watch Shaolin monks sing rock and roll and have the wherewithal to write a decent review about it. I may one day get round to it but for now my self inflicted torture that has been this retrospective will have to end so I can write about other movies, preferably Hong Kong action flicks which I'll be concentrating heavily on over the next few weeks. As well as working on new features for the blog itself, so rather then offer just review after review, I'll have other things on here that might interest my readers.