Kickboxer Blu-ray Review
June 10, 2009
When Kurt Sloane's (Van Damme) arrogant, kickboxing champion brother Eric (Dennis Alexio) is nearly beaten to death (and paralyzed) by a Thai fighter named Tong Po, Kurt takes it upon himself to seek vengeance. He finds a mysterious Thai master to train him, brushes up on his Muay Thai and takes on Tong Po.
And that's basically the story behind Jean-Claude Van Damme's boneheaded retread of Rocky IV and The Karate Kid, by way of dumb. The characters are moronic. The story is idiotic and everything in between is just embarrassing, including the finale where Van Damme fights in a thong. But, despite it all, Kickboxer is an exciting, energetic movie – just leave your brain at the door because you won't be needing it.
Admittedly, Jean-Claude Van Damme was never known for his classic movies – not like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. Van Damme doesn't have a Rocky franchise or a Terminator series to fall back on. His best film is probably Universal Soldier, but even that franchise faltered after the first round.
So, much like Bruce Lee, who left this Earth before he got a franchise himself, Van Damme is left with a handful of exciting, but ultimately weak movies, with maybe one or two solid cult classics in the mix -- my favorites are Blood Sport, Street Fighter (it's really dumb, but also kind of awesome) and Universal Soldier.
Jean-Claude Van Damme is pretty terrible here –laughable in most sequences, particularly a scene where he frolics with some Thai children (it's bad), or a scene where he dances in a club (it's worse). He plays the innocent (and oddly effeminate) French brother of American kickboxing champion, and all-around jerk weed, Eric (Dennis Alexio). Actor, and kickboxing champ, Alexio has decent chemistry with Van Damme, but the two look, act and sound nothing alike. Sure, there are a few lines of dialogue here and there offering a brief history as to why one brother is European and one is American, but when it all boils down, these two guys look nothing alike.
But who really cares about that, right? This is a big, dumb "man" movie about kickboxing, and the picture does provide a few contrived and wholly dumb scenarios (outside the actual matches) for Van Damme's swingin' leg to go a-kickin'. And most, but not all, of the action is pretty well staged, with Van Damme leading the show.
Michel Qissi is Tong Po, the emotionless Ivan Drago-like character of the picture. He's a pretty entertaining, formidable opponent for Van Damme – built like a machine, freakishly strong and intimidating. Sadly, he doesn't have much screen time and he's basically delegated to the role of cheap stock villain – the real villains of this picture are the mobsters controlling Tong Po.
Dennis Chan is Xian Chow, the mysterious man who trains Kurt. Chan seems to be enjoying himself here, but the role is basically a tired retread of Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid franchise. At least the Thai setting is quite breathtaking – the film's second best asset. Directors Mark Disalle and David Worth make good use of their location, particularly once Kurt starts training with Xian.
Kickboxer isn't a great movie, but it still spawned a garbled franchise with four DTV sequels under its belt and ongoing rumors of more in the pipe. It's a cult classic simply because it's one of Van Damme's earlier, and better, films that arrived in a time before his direct-to-video era. The film is mindless fun, silly, mock-worthy on many occasions and loaded with energetic, and occasionally jaw-dropping, kickboxing action. Don't expect much more beyond that and you're likely to find some enjoyment out of this illogical, dumb little movie.
Score: 5 out of 10
Video and Presentation
Kickboxer is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen using the AVC MPEG-4 codec on a single-layered BD525 disc consuming just 14.6 gigs of disc space. Like Lionsgate's other catalog releases (other than Terminator 2), this one is lacking. The print doesn't look all that great – merely ported to HD, but not restored or remastered. Dust, scratches, dirt and odd blue lines and white dots plague the transfer. The encode is soft and not very detailed, looking more like a top quality DVD than a real hi-def Blu-ray. Colors are flat and fleshtones look slightly faded. I didn't catch the DVD release, but I think it's safe to say that this release tops the previous releases. Unfortunately, it's hardly up to typical hi-def standards.
Score: 5 out of 10
Languages and Audio
Audio choices are English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with Spanish and English subtitles and English captions for the hearing impaired. This isn't a very active surround experience, but it's decent overall, with the film's score mostly filling surrounds. Bass is a subdued and only minor effects sneak into front and rear surrounds. Dialogue is clean though, never crackling or popping.
Score: 6 out of 10
Extras and Packaging
This single-disc BD comes in a blue elite case and features the film's yucky re-release artwork. Lionsgate doesn't provide any extras other than a bookmarking feature and trailers for other Lionsgate titles.
Score: 1 out of 10
The Bottom Line
Kickboxer isn't going to win any awards, but if you're a fan of Jean-Claude Van Damme, you'll likely enjoy what this film has to offer. Sadly, this BD is a disappointment. The A/V presentation is soft and dirty, and extras are nonexistent. But considering this title was basically designed for the bargain bin, I don't think fans should expect much more.
Jean-Claude Van Damme