The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at] I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016)

This is one of those ones that came out while I was on hiatus, but knew I needed to look at. I remembered it being advertised as a theatrical release, but never made it out to see it, and when I looked it up on IMDb, discovered it barely crossed a quarter of a million dollars worldwide. With all that star power, plus Van Damme being attached to it, what happened? Well, let's see if we can dive in and find out?

Kickboxer: Vengeance is a reboot of the Van Damme original, this time with Alain Moussi playing the Kurt Sloan character. After his brother, played by the late Darren Shahlavi, is killed in the ring by Tong Po when shady fight promoter Gina Carano sets up the match, Moussi vows revenge. So he goes to Thailand, gets beaten up by Tong Po, gets arrested, and then gets trained by Van Damme so he can win. Also, he meets a love interest in local police office Sara Malaku Lane, who is investigating Tong Po for a criminal operation he might be running. The question is, can Van Damme train Moussi well enough to beat the seemingly unbeatable Tong Po?

What do you think happened? Paint-by-numbers doesn't begin to describe this, and I guess for what it was, it wasn't bad. I really liked Van Damme as the trainer, that was probably the major standout. Beyond that, I was left wondering why this was made at all, because it didn't attempt to cover any new territory from the original. On the other hand, at a compact 90 minutes, it is good for a standard DTV fight film--the thing is, you could have called it any number of titles and it would've stood out as a solid Van Damme flick. I think that may be why this didn't do so hot in the theater, people probably looked at it and thought "I don't know who this Moussi guy is, and I don't get why Bautista is Tong Po, and I have the original Kickboxer on DVD, why don't I just watch that and not pay the exorbitant theater prices?" Beyond the fact that it has names in it, there isn't much to distinguish it from the Sasha Mitchell/Albert Pyun sequels, which I don't think Van Damme was going for when he signed on for this.

Van Damme as our film's one Hall of Famer does show up in a big way as the trainer. This is the problem though that you have when introducing us to someone new: the established name tends to overshadow them. It seems like a great idea at the time--make Van Damme the trainer--but when he's killing it in every scene while Moussi's trying to establish himself, it's hard for the audience to not just say "why isn't Van Damme training to fight Bautista?" I guess too there's the issue that Van Damme's character was killed off in the Pyun part two, so maybe they were afraid we'd cry foul if they brought him back when he was supposed to be dead and make a Universal Soldier style sequel. The thing is though, the two John Hyams sequels after that one did cover new territory, especially the second one; and Scott Adkins was established enough to be able to carry it and not be overshadowed by another great Van Damme performance. I read in the IMDb trivia that Van Damme wasn't even the original choice, it was supposed to be Tony Jaa, which is even crazier. At least with Van Damme we can say "you've done so many martial arts movies, we're okay with you being the trainer," but with Jaa all we would've thought is "why aren't you fighting Tong Po?"

I think the thing that would have made this something better and different would have been casting Gina Carano in the lead instead. That's doing something new with it. Carano is trained in Muay Thai, so she'd fit, and casting a female in the lead, especially one with the established star power of Carano, would take this franchise into the 21st century. Not only that, but her name would've gotten people into the theaters to see this. I'm not saying I don't like Moussi, on the contrary I think he's great, but he's also safe, and this is what safe got you, a standard solid Van Damme DTV flick that made a quart-million worldwide. I don't know if you'd have Carano fight Bautista, but why did we need Bautista as Tong Po anyway? Michel Qissi was only 6'2", that's plenty tall enough--actually what if Moussi had played the baddie, he's also 6'2". Now you can introduce Moussi, he takes his lumps by losing to Carano, and everyone's happy. Van Damme really took a chance with JCVD, it's a shame the people making this didn't here.

That's the problem with the binary zero-sum way we have of looking at things, if I say Carano would have been a better choice for the lead because it would have done something to push the franchise forward, it sounds like I'm saying I don't like Moussi, and that's not true. I thought he was great, and think he could be a great up-and-comer in the DTV action realm. Add him to the list after Adkins, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Matt Mullins, Natalie Burn, Stu Bennett--and now it looks like Carano is doing more DTV stuff too. It's a big break for him to get this franchise, and I think it'll be interesting to see what he does from here.

Finally, it looks like this was the last feature film that Darren Shahlavi did before he passed in 2015. I said in the Pound of Flesh post that it was a shame, because he was starting to really break through. He has only a small part here, being the brother who's killed by Tong Po to spark Moussi's revenge quest. According to IMDb, Scott Adkins was originally offered this part, and he said no. The reality is, with what this turned out to be, Adkins was too big for a part like that, so it was good he turned it down; but for Shahlavi, someone still trying to get to where Adkins was, this was a step in the right direction, and it's a shame that we'll never see where the rest of the steps were going to take him. He may not have had the films or influence to merit entry into the DTVC Hall of Fame, but he is included in our Legends Who Have Left US page, so at least we've been able to honor him there.

On that note, let's wrap this up. This isn't horrible, it's good for a standard DTV fight film. It would have been nice if they did something new with it, especially since they're rebooting a franchise as iconic as Kickboxer, and the fact that they didn't has me wondering why they decided to reboot it at all; but take the name away and forget it's a reboot of something, and it works. Also, getting it on Netflix where I'm paying less per month to stream all their films as opposed to paying more than that for one movie ticket to see it in theater makes me a bit more forgiving.

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