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Film / Kickboxer

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Kickboxer is a 1989 martial arts film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

It focuses on two brothers, Kurt and Eric Sloane, who go to Bangkok to challenge Tong Po, Thailand's undefeated Kickboxing champion. After a brutal first round, Kurt realizes that the two are out of their league against this guy, and tries to convince his brother to stop the fight, but Eric is unwilling to give up and goes for a second round against him. Tong Po proceeds to hand Eric the worst beating of his life, culminating in paralyzing him from the waist down despite Kurt throwing in the towel in a bid to stop the fight. Kurt is mad as hell and vows to avenge his brother by defeating Tong Po.

Winston, Kurt's friend, is at first reluctant to help Kurt in his quest for revenge, but eventually tells him about a guy by the name of Xian Chow, a locally famous Muay Thai trainer, who might be able to train him in the martial art. Xian Chow puts Kurt through a hellish training sequence that hones his skills as a kickboxer. Along the way, he also meets Mylee, Xian's pretty niece who soon becomes his Love Interest, and makes an enemy of Freddy Li, a local Thai mobster whose men are continually threatening and stealing money from her. After Kurt proceeds to take down Freddy's men in a barroom brawl, Xian is able to arrange a match with Tong Po on Kurt's behalf, a match where both fighters will fight in the "ancient way" — both fighters wrap their hands in hemp rope, which is then coated in resin and dipped in broken glass to make them deadly weapons.

In the days leading up to the big fight, things go straight to hell for the people that Kurt loves. Mylee is viciously brutalized by Tong Po, and Eric is kidnapped by Freddy Li with the intent of blackmailing Kurt into Throwing the Fight. To save his brother's life, Kurt is instructed to go the distance with Po before losing the match. Kurt endures a torturous beating at Tong Po's hands, but Xian and Winston are able to find and rescue Eric before the fight can conclude. With Eric out of danger, Kurt is free to exact vengeance for Eric and Mylee and take down Tong Po once and for all.

Four sequels were released since the first film:

  • Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)
  • Kickboxer 3: The Art of War (1992)
  • Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor (1994)
  • Kickboxer 5: The Redemption (1995)

In 2016 the series was rebooted, with Alain Moussi in the Kurt Sloane role and Van Damme in a Remake Cameo as Master Durand. The films in this series were:

  • Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016)
  • Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018)

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Prologue: The movie begins with Kurt's brother Eric engaged in a kickboxing bout.
  • After Action Patch Up: As part of his training, Kurt is expected to kick a banana tree. In one scene, Xian questions Kurt's commitment which enrages him. He then proceeds to chop the tree down with his leg, but it opens up a large gash that Mylee must then treat, after the adrenaline wears off.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Eric at the beginning of the movie, Tong Po throughout.
  • Artistic License Martial Arts: Kurt's fighting style looks more like Karate than Muay Thai.
  • As Himself: Tong Po is mistakenly billed as playing himself (on the film's credits). He was in fact played by Michel Qissi.
  • Badass in Distress: Eric ends up becoming one.
  • Bar Brawl: Chow initiates one to test Kurt's progress.
  • Big Damn Heroes: This is what Winston and Xian become when they rescue Eric from Freddy Li's lair.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Played straight for an R rated movie. Kurt is basically a Nice Guy just trying to defend his brother's honor from the evil Tong Po and Freddy Li.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted; the only black dude, Winston, doesn't even get hurt.
  • Calling Your Attacks: As the final fight wears on, Tong Po starts getting cocky; At the opening of each round he indicates what limbs he plans to beat Kurt with. Kurt, having been coerced into throwing the fight, must endure the blatant showboating.
  • Casualty in the Ring: The plot is kicked off by the antagonist Tong Po beating Eric, the protagonist's brother, so badly that he's paralyzed from the waist down. Vengeance takes it further and has Eric dying at Tong Po's hands.
  • Caught in a Snare: Kurt when he first comes to visit Xian.
  • Creator Cameo: Directors David Worth and Mark Di Salle both appear early in the film as the ring announcer and the second American reporter.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Winston acts like a crazy wastrel for most of the film, and openly admits fearing Tong Po's boss Freddy Li. He's also a Vietnam veteran, and knows well how to use an assault rifle with an underslung grenade launcher.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Eric didn't stand a chance against Tong Po.
  • David Versus Goliath: Played straight. Kurt is the younger, weaker brother of the man who was nearly killed by the Big Bad Tong Po.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Franchise
    • Fighter wants to have a match after you paralyze his brother? Attack his trainer, rape his girlfriend, and kidnap said paralyzed brother in order to fix the match.
    • You lose that match? Have both brothers killed at the airport as they're leaving.
    • A kickboxer defeats your champ and then calls him a paper champ and you're organization crooked and abetting in doping? You sue him for defamation! Oh wait, you actually ally with the guy above and then burn down his gym with a student inside.
    • You lose to two brothers in kickboxing matches? You murder the surviving brother's wife and frame him for the crime.
  • Drama-Preserving Handicap: Kurt's brother Eric is kidnapped just before the fight, forcing Kurt to be Willfully Weak.
  • Dynamic Entry: Invoked when Winston comes in guns blazing to help Xian rescue Eric
  • Eccentric Mentor: Xian Chow is a recluse and kind of odd.
  • Fight Scene: About as plentiful as the training scenes.
  • Final Battle: Kurt vs. Tong Po.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Winston, who is unquestionably a good guy, is frequently seen with a cigar in his teeth.
  • Groin Attack: In the Final Battle.
  • A Handful for an Eye: JCVD gets a face full of salt.
  • Handicapped Badass: Eric.
  • Heroes Fight Bare Handed: Invoked when Kurt removes the ropes dipped in broken glass around his hands during his fight with Tong Po.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Kurt gets one after Eric shows up at the final fight.
  • Interesting Situation Duel: The location and rules of the fight between Kurt and Tong Po create this.
  • International Showdown by Proxy: Eric's fight against Tong Po in the beginning of the movie.
  • It's Personal: The basis of the movie. Kurt is driven by the need to avenge his brother.
  • Jerkass: Eric is one of these before he winds up paralyzed. Still, his jerkassness doesn't come close to Tong Po.
  • Job Title
  • Kiai: Not to be confused with Funny Bruce Lee Noises.
  • Karma Houdini: Tong Po never really faced any serious consequences for his actions and happens to be the only one to come out of the Kickboxer films alive.
    • Thankfully this trope becomes a subversion in the reboot films.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Tong Po commits two of these during the movie: paralyzing Eric from the waist down despite Kurt throwing in the towel, and beating and raping Mylee.
    • Later, some minions attack Eric, throw him from his wheelchair, and then literally stab Xian's dog.
  • Mighty Whitey: Jean-Claude Van Damme goes to Thailand and winds up learning Muay Thai well enough to beat the national champion. Played with, though: in stark contrast to Eric, Kurt shows nothing but respect for Muay Thai, and he has to show himself worthy of learning it entirely at the whim of his Thai master.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Winston smokes, drinks, chases skirts, and doesn't agree to help Kurt find Xian until he spends a night partying with him, but his second meeting with Kurt is helping Kurt take his brother to a hospital after the latter is unceremoniously dumped in the street after being seriously injured.
  • Old Master: Kurt goes to see Xian to train in Muay Thai.
  • One-Word Title: Kickboxer, obviously.
  • Post-Rape Taunt: Tong Po taunts Kurt during the big fight about how Mylee was a "good fuck."
  • Rape as Drama: Mylee is beaten and raped by Tong Po as the big fight approaches.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: After Mylee is raped she tells Winston, but doesn't tell Kurt because he must stay "focused for the fight." Clearly there's a reason she thought Kurt might lose focus and he was already convinced Tong Po was evil so...
  • Rated M for Manly: It's a revenge movie called Kickboxer starring the "Muscles from Brussels", featuring shirtless fights and fists dipped in broken glass.
  • Same Language Dub: Dennis Alexio (Eric) was dubbed. His natural voice can be heard in a deleted scene.
  • Shirtless Scene: Starring Van Damme's abs, as required with his films.
  • Slow Motion: Kicks and punches.
  • The So-Called Coward: Winston shows himself to be one of these after Kurt accuses him of being a Dirty Coward for not wanting to help rescue Eric. For his part, Winston initially believes Kurt is a Fearless Fool.
  • The Dragon: Despite being the Greater-Scope Villain, Freddy Li is the dragon, as it is him and his Mooks that have to be defeated in order to get to the climatic fight scene with the Big Bad Tong Po.
  • Throwing the Fight: Freddy tries to make Kurt do this by kidnapping his brother. Only after Eric is rescued can Kurt finally take down Tong Po.
  • Took a Level in Badass: It's required to beat Tong Po.
  • Training from Hell: What Kurt goes through when preparing to fight Tong Po.
  • Training Montage: It goes without saying.
  • White Male Lead: In a majority Asian cast, JCVD is the main guy.
  • Worthy Opponent: Averted at first but played straight to some extent. Tong Po shows no respect to Eric Sloane during their match and tears apart his belt after crippling him. However, in the fight against Kurt later on, he does show a sliver of respect towards Kurt's skills when Kurt does land a few blows on him despite taking a horrendous beatdown.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Tong Po would hit anyone.
  • Yellowface: The Thai Tong Po was played by Mohamed Qissi (credited as Michel Qissi), a martial artist and actor of full North African descent (from Morocco) who moved to Belgium.
  • Your Mom: During his training, Xian at one point goads an entire bar into attacking Kurt. After he kicks all their asses, Kurt asks what he told them.
    Xian: I tell them you say they no good fighters, and that their mother have sex with mules!
    • Which was famously censored in the Spanish dub, changing the last part of the sentence to "and that any mule could kick better than them" in order to remove the sexual reference.