Saturday, August 6, 2011


Being fundamentally superior does not necessarily make something the best in its realm. Previously, “Kickboxer 3” made several remarkable upgrades in terms of film score and acting. It’s better than it has any right to be. While I’ll totally cop to the fact that it is probably the best of the series, it’s certainly not my favorite entry. Best in terms of quality does not necessarily always translate into entertainment value. Comparatively, “Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor” is a total piece of shit. It looks cheap. It sounds cheap. It feels absolutely cheap. But it is obnoxious, loud, and fast in the best possible senses of these terms. The previous entry’s most redeeming quality was its momentary excursion into “Deathwish” style urban revenge. However, the weirdness is snugly book ended by business as usual. Albert Pyun's fourth "Kickboxer" film is a high flatline on the EKG when it comes to weird! There is no apprehensive moment at the tip of the diving board. This movie starts IN the deep end. At the beginning, we are violently THRUSTED into the cervix of the bizarre. There is no origin rooted in the ordinary world. There isn't even a brief gasp of normalcy. It’s like opening your eyes first thing in the morning to a freeze frame of a fist laying into your face. In fact, it feels more like a beautiful dream than a movie.

Director Albert Pyun holds nobody’s hand. He defies you to just figure it out, which is what makes a lot of his films so enjoyable. Most of Pyun’s movies feel more like a fight to make sense rather than simple entertainment. The perfect metaphor for his films is like playing that annoying fucking Milton Bradley game, Perfection, where you only have a limited amount of time to fit the pieces into their corresponding slots before it all blows up in your face. This is not because Pyun is a bad filmmaker. In fact, Pyun is a total genius. Pyun seems to be a guy who is rarely blessed with an easy task. Anybody who knows the history of his productions knows that he often works with soul crushing budgets and meddling producers who should have been more accurately credited as saboteurs. If someone gave James Cameron Auschwitz and told him to turn it into Disneyland, he’d probably walk out of that internment camp utterly defeated. Put Pyun in that same situation and you probably won’t get Disneyland, but he’ll at least give you Action Park, which is still a miracle in its own right. The point I am trying to make is that yes, Albert Pyun is a much better director than James Cameron or even Michael Bay. Those guys make shitty movies in spite of the fact that they have 300 million dollar budgets. Albert Pyun could make an entertaining movies in spite of the fact that he doesn’t even have 3 million. Do the fucking math.

Sasha Mitchell is back one last time as David Sloan, and once again he’s playing a completely different character, which is logical given his character’s circumstances. Some undisclosed amount of time down the road, we join David in a federal penitentiary, where he’s been rotting for several years after being framed for a crime he didn’t commit BY MEXICAN DRUG LORD TONG PO!

Holy shit, yes. I feel this.

The film starts right off with a badass flashback as David writes his wife a letter briefing her on the history of Tong Po. Po crippled his brother Eric Sloan. Kurt Sloan trained in Muay Thai to avenge his brother. Kurt Sloan kicked Po’s ass. Disgraced, Po went and shot Eric and Kurt to death, and then later came after David for a match so that he could avenge his loss to Kurt. David totally beat his ass though, and Po ran away with his pony tail between his legs to MEXICO, where he apparently became the most badass drug dealer ever! And I guess David started working undercover for the DEA and Po framed him for a crime that’s never really fully disclosed. Shortly after, they show Tong Po abducting and raping David’s wife.

Before going any further I must take some time out to tell you all that Tong Po—er, excuse me, MEXICAN DRUG DEALER TONG PO, is the best thing about this entire movie. Here, Po is played by Kamel Krifa, a long time friend of Jean Claude Van Damme’s. Interestingly, Krifa’s background closely resembles that of Michel Qissi, the man who’d previously played Tong Po in both “Kickboxer” 1 and 2. Both Krifa and Qissi trained with Van Damme early on and went on to routinely appear in his films. Both men are also phenomenal in their portrayal of the same character. While Qissi played the previous incarnations of the mysterious Tong Po to animalistic perfection, here Pyun has expanded the character to resemble a hyper sadistic Bond villain. He has gone from 100% black to over-saturated color. Within the confines of his Calexico compound, Po lives out his delusion of godhood to utter completion. When introduced to his public, his announced credits include “philanthropist, “psychotherapist,” and “award winning record producer.” One hilarious moment features Po playing the loot terribly, which he concludes by boasting "so you see, I have musical talent as well." Krifa is absolutely brilliant here, bringing charm and humor to a character that verges on farce, but still playing him as realistically as possible. While Po is over the top and at times hilarious, he is intended to be a satirical figure. Unfortunately, the film is otherwise populated with laughably bad acting, so Krifa's show stealing performance tends to go unappreciated. In fact, it's unfairly lumped in with all the other shit going on.

After several years of wrongful incarceration, the government approaches David Sloan behind bars with a proposal that really doesn’t make much sense. Tong Po is holding a lethal million dollar tournament at his compound in Mexico, and they want Sloan to infiltrate it. Not sure exactly what he’s supposed to ascertain or even do once he's there, but whatever. Sloan accepts the challenge. Hilariously, when the agent stresses that it’s very important that Sloan not be recognized, David responds by saying, “it’s been years since he’s seen me. I doubt he’ll recognize me.” Okay, hold on. We’re talking about the dude who killed your two brothers, framed you for a crime you did not commit, kidnapped your wife, and whose loss to you in “Kickboxer 2” brought him so much shame that he ran away to Mexico. And you think after a couple of years he probably just forgot what you look like? If they'd had Mitchell dye his hair, grow a badass mustache, or given him a diamond studded eye patch -- if they'd somehow given him a character to slip into, it would have made this whole story a lot easier to swallow.

Sloan is released and immediately enters into a qualifier for the tournament, which he wins. His victory scores him an invite to Tong Po’s pleasure fuck palace, and makes way for the border. On his way, he enters a roadside diner and gets into a fight while defending the annoying Michele Krasnoo. It is here that an action sequence so stupid it is amazing takes place: Sloan kicks a dude out of the front window in bar room brawl tradition. The dude gets up, and is HIT by a van that’s pulling up, which knocks him through ANOTHER window and back into the bar. Awesome.

The rest of the plot is mostly ripped off from “Enter The Dragon,” with Sloan showing up at this grand tournament with a bunch of other fighters, and then sneaking around the compound after dark in search of his blown out wife. Po's reaction to the blood sport is absolutely hilarious, as he sits on his thrown, jangling his legs like an excited kid on Christmas.

Eventually, Sloan is captured much to Po’s delight. The film ends with the fighters revolting and taking on Po’s personal army, while Sloan has his own show down with his old arch nemesis.

Throughout the film, Po is depicted as a megalomaniac and rapist with an insatiable appetite for underage girls. However, for some strange reason, Pyun decided to give the character a tender side, which almost leans toward redemption. Before the finale, we learn that Sloan was part of a raid on Tong Po's compound that resulted in the death of his wife, whom the tournament is named after. I can't decide if this is stupid or awesome, but it certainly gives Po both purpose and a reason to hate Sloan even more. Not that he needed more reasons, but it's a more noble reason I guess. As I've said before, it sure is a shame we never got a movie that squarely focused on Tong Po, as it certainly almost seems like Pyun laid some ground work for one here. It's not too late, Albert!

The one thing that sets this particular film apart from the others is that there’s tons of nudity and an extremely gratuitous soft core sex scene. The various fight scenes throughout this film might also be amongst the best out of the entire series. Of importance to me is also the fact that Pyun-favorite Thom Mathews (“Friday The 13th 6,” “Return of the Living Dead”) stars as Tong Po’s disheveled, satin-shirt wearing henchman replete with horrible neck tattoo. Mathews plays the part of total sleaze to perfection here, delivering perhaps one of the more memorable quotes during this film. As Po begins to force himself upon Sloan’s weird looking wife, Mathews mutters with a smirk, “go Po,” as he exits the room.

Overall, this movie is totally over the top, and the entertainment value far exceeds its budgetary constraints. This would have been an incredibly high note to go out on, but unfortunately someone had to fuck it up. Few people even know that there’s a fifty entry, but those who’ve seen it regret the experience. A year after this film was released, “Redemption: Kickboxer 5” was released. The film starred Mark Dacascos ("Iron Chef"), and we learn that David Sloan was killed off by some greedy corporation trying to monopolize champion kickboxers. Fucking stupid. The movie was directed by a woman. Go figure.

I couldn't find a trailer, so instead I will leave you with a brief selection of Tong Po whipping some goofy white boy's ass. GO PO!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


The third installment of the “Kickboxer” series, subtitled “The Art of War,” is an odd duck in the best possible way. A lot of fans consider this to be the weakest entry in the franchise. However, I happen to think it may be the best, as director Rick King ("Prayer of the Roller Boys") actually gets his own things right for the first, and sadly, last time in the series. In what has become tradition, this story takes place in a completely different locale than previously seen. We’ve gone from Thailand to Los Angeles, and here we’re taken away to Rio de Janeiro. The exotic location does much to inflate the film’s sense of bigness. In fact, this may be the largest feeling entry of the entire series. Perhaps the most important component in making this film feel bigger than the others, though, would be the contribution of composer Harry Manfredini. By this point, the prolific Manfredini had racked up a distinguished resume, sprucing up countless horror flicks with his distinctive cues. Most notably, Manfredini is the guy responsible for bringing most of the dread and tension to the "Friday the 13th" films. No matter how much money you spend on something, you can easily junk it up with a cheap synth score, and that was certainly the case in the previous two “Kickboxer” entries. Some say it’s impossible to class up a film of this nature, but Manfredini’s music absolutely gives this film a bigger feel.

Sasha Mitchell and Dennis Chan return as David Sloan and Xian, and it seems like someone threw their chemistry in a reactor, because it’s freakishly strong here. So natural are these two here that this feels like it could have been their fifth outing together. A lot of that might have something to do with the fact that Mitchell isn’t struggling inside the Van Damme mold in this movie. Rather, he seems far more comfortable in his own skin. Not only does he bring his own personality to the David Sloan role, but Mitchell’s physical performance is miles better than anything demonstrated the in “Kickboxer 2.” Mitchell does not possess the balletic grace of Van Damme, and it was very apparent that Pyun tried hard to work around that. Here, King embraces Mitchell’s physical merits and plays him up as a powerhouse that really beats the hell out of people with spinning knees and elbows. On all levels, Mitchell has really grown beyond where he was just a year before. About the only bad thing about Mitchell I can say here is that his wardrobe is fucking awful. Red Cross Colour overalls with no shirt? Yeah, that’s tough alright.

While this movie is far from perfect, this is what a good sequel should be. By comparison, “Kickboxer 2” is just a formality; it establishes some characters and reintroduces some old ones, and builds some relationships. This movie takes those characters and introduces them to new situations and environments instead of simply rehashing scenarios. Simply re-enacting familiar situations and story lines is the greatest folly any sequel can make. Absent is Tong Po for once, and for the better in this instance, as it made way for new challenges, which expand the characters.

Not only is David Sloan once again a competitive fighter for some inexplicable reason (he retired in the last film), but he’s recognized as thee international kickboxing champion, which has brought him to Rio, where a brash new challenger awaits. After landing, David and Xian do a little sight seeing, during which we’re treated to some Travel channel bullshit about Capoeira. Why they bother demonstrating this unique style of Martial Arts, I have no idea, because they never encounter it again. While dining, some street tough kid played by Juanito from “Blood In, Blood Out” steals Xian’s camera, which leads to a chase. David kicks the shit out of Juanito’s Fagan and retrieves the camera. Xian demonstrates some sympathy for the street kid and his hot virgin sister, Isabelle, by buying them lunch. I’m totally sure Xian wants to bone her because he checks her out non stop. By the way, in case you were not aware, there are a shit ton of street kids in Brazil, most of whom live by their wits from day to day and are involved in some pretty dubious activities, such as prostitution and violent robbery. If you ever go to Brazil and run into a few of them, the last thing you should do is sit down to a meal with them, as they will most likely stab you and leave you with the check… unless you’re David Sloan of course.

The kids tag along with David and Xian to a Kickboxing exhibition. Despite the fact that it’s a charity event for street kids, David’s ragamuffin guests are pretty much treated like scum. The exhibition gets going, and we’re introduced to Martine (played by legit Kickboxing champ and familiar B-movie face Ian Jacklin), David’s opponent for the big championship fight, which is to take place the following week. Suffice to say things get out of hand and there’s a brief face off between David and Martine. Afterward, David is approached by Martine’s manager, Lane, who’s been eye fucking Isabelle all night. Lane apologizes for Martine’s brash behavior and invites him to a party. He even asks him to bring the kids.

There’s a party, blah, blah, blah. David kicks some fool’s ass. All this leads up to Lane’s men kidnapping Isabelle later on so he can add her to his roster of fine Brazilian jail bait, which he pimps out to high end clientele at top dollar. From here, the movie takes a surreal landslide as David and Xian hunt down Isabelle’s captors. Now, this is the portion of the movie that a lot of people seem to take issue with because our heroes basically just start blowing bad guys away. I personally think it’s what makes this movie amazing simply because it’s so weird. First of all, none of the actual gun play in this movie detracts from the kickboxing elements. It’s not like you signed up for a martial arts flick and all you got was Xian blowing dude’s heads off with a 357. That’s just an added bonus. Up to this point, David has still been kicking the living shit out of people. And as weird as it is, it’s completely logical and it plays into the film’s subtitle, which a lot of idiots don’t seem to understand. Basically, our heroes adapt to the task by picking up guns off the black market to fight organized criminals, which is realistic.

So, David and Xian go “Deathwish” and start blowing the fuck out of the kiddie peddling heavies in excessive Woo-like fashion. Better still, our protagonists dispense a tide of hot lead like it’s something they do all the time. In one particularly brutal scene, David snaps some dude's neck like he's scraping crud off of some dirty dishes! Since when is this guy a cold blooded killer that goes around soullessly snuffing his adversaries out? This bizarre sequence is mainly satisfying because it is so completely out of left field, however, it’s not well done. King commits an unforgivable faux pas by showing a guy getting chopped up by a machine gun in slow motion while the sounds of shots firing are in real time. Fuck that.

We go from insane to just plane stupid when David and Xian finally catch up to Lane and fall into a trap. Earlier Lane tried to talk David into taking a dive for Martine so he could clean up on some bets. You’d think since he has something that David wants he would be in a prime position to negotiate right? Well, instead of doing the logical thing, like torturing him, or blackmailing him, Lane decides to just do stuff that will make David REALLY TIRED before the fight, like going jogging with rocks in a backpack, digging holes, swimming really far, and water skiing without skis. No shit. AND THEN HE LETS HIM GO BACK TO THE HOTEL TO REST AFTERWARD!

However, Xian’s primitive Eastern methods rejuvenate David in time for the fight. The challenger, Martine, does get his ass handed to him here, though at one point he gathers his wits enough to mock David by doing the running man, which is easily the best part of the movie for me.

Eventually, they get Isabelle back. Lane, who bet his upscale whore farm on Martine goes belly up. The film concludes when David and Xian free the rest of the teenage harem, and Juanito winds up stabbing Lane to death, which isn’t as awesome as he thought it would be. Then, David, the guy who was snapping necks and emptying clips into fools, lectures “killing someone never makes you feel good.” What the fuck happened between parts 2 and 3? Did this motherfucker go to Iraq or something?

Like I’ve said, this movie does have its problems, but this is overall a very good sequel and the production value is SEEMINGLY several rungs above what we see in the other films, including the first. Mitchell reprises the David Sloan role one last time in the totally bat shit insane “Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor.” Sadly, this was Dennis Chan’s last turn as Xian.