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
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
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.