I can never remember which one I saw first and Kickboxer was never a sequel to Bloodsport; but there’s much owing to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s major breakthrough of the previous year. Bloodsport basically paved the way for a string of martial art movies with this one being the more successful, spawning into it’s own franchise. Both films share much in common which proves, that if Bloodsport didn’t happen, it would have been highly unlikely that kickboxer would have followed; or be it a different movie all together; and here’s why.
Kickboxer’s Co-director Mark DiSalle produced Bloodsport, and upon seeing that’s success, he immediately went to work on financing Kickboxer and actually worked with Van Damme on writing the story. Bloodsport’s Cinematographer David Worth came on board to directed along side DiSalle, which would explain the very similar style the two movies share. Even the same composer, Paul Hertzog followed suit to make an almost recognisable score with some more Stan Bush for good measure. Not only that, but one other cast member from Bloodsport actually gets his big break here, though the studio, for unknown reasons deny his name to be in the credits. More on that shortly.
It’s obviously they wanted to use the same formula which is why you could be forgiven for getting the movies confused with each other. But is the story the same? Instead of Hong Kong, this film is based in Bangkok, Thailand and takes advantage of using some the country’s most famous landmarks, such as the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya Historical Park. And this is predominantly kickboxing, or Muay Thai to be precise, compared to Bloodsport’s Shotokan karate and mixed martial arts. This isn’t based on an alleged true story, but it does have a love interest and even has the same all-American pigheadedness, though, at least this story explains away Van Damme’s French accent.
Eric Sloane, played by real life, kickboxing world champion Dennis Alexio, is the current undefeated US Champion and is coerced to travel to Thailand, the birthplace of Kickboxing to fight their undefeated champion, Tong Po. Eric’s overwhelming confidence is quickly destroyed by Tong Po’s brutal and merciless assault, rendering him a paraplegic. All of this witnessed by Eric’s younger brother, Kurt (Van Damme) who instantly wants to seek revenge. But he’s no match for Tong Po and can’t do this alone. Lost in a foreign land, he gets help from retired US special forces veteran, Taylor, who delivers him to Xian to train him in the ancient way of Muay Thai. Xian coincidentally is played by Dennis Chan, younger brother of Philip Chan, who played the Hong Kong inspector in Bloodsport and provides some sweet comic relief to this movie as he puts Van Damme through his paces. The movie has been criticised for being much like The Karate Kid and the character of Xian isn’t far off being a Mr. Miyagi type. But who cares? Surely The Karate Kid doesn’t have the monopoly on wise old teachers imbuing their students with life altering wisdom.
Now Tong Po is arguably one of the most iconic martial art villains ever to walk the mat. Sadly his storyline beyond this movie does get a bit ropy but it’s the story behind the actor that plays him that is of most interest. Tong Po was played by Van Damme’s childhood friend, Michel (real name Mohammed) Qissi (pronounced kissy) who also had a smaller part in Bloodsport as fighter, Saun Paredes; the one who has his shin busted by Chong Li. Isn’t that surprising. But Qissi and Van Damme have actually been friends since he was seven years old (Van Damme being nearly two years older) both growing up together in Belgium. With Qissi learning boxing, kickboxing and Van Damme learning karate they would often trade skills. They both shared a dream of getting to Hollywood and they saved for a couple of years before eventually flying over to New York in 1982. According to Qissi, because Van Damme scared an elderly lady on the their flight, who was continually staring at their precious luggage - a black bag full of all your documents, audition papers and photos - they ended up getting interrogated by immigration and missed their connecting flight. Spending what little money they had left, they got the next flight to Los Angeles relying on an American contact they met back in Belgium. But he never answered his phone leaving them stranded with no money and no where to go. They tried to sleep on Venice beach but it was too cold in the night and instead slept into the afternoon as the day got warmer. They stole food from supermarkets and eventually got their first job by cleaning a gym that allowed them to crash overnight. They would spar, gaining attention from the other patrons, and then they started to train people themselves. This is Qissi’s legacy as much as it is Van Damme’s; and to be honest, I believe it more so coming from him and not from Van Damme himself. I heard this incredible backstory on Brendan Mitchell’s YouTube channel, where he got to meet Qissi in the flesh at a signing event for the Lionheart movie a couple of years ago.
Qissi was initially helping Van Damme with the fight choreography as they hadn’t casted Tong Po yet, being unable to find a menacing and large enough Asian actor to play him. So with a few hours of makeup, the part eventually went to him. But for those of you with the eagle eye and who watch the end credits, you might notice that Tong Po is credited as playing himself and not to Qissi. But this was due to the studio wanting to keep Tong Po’s real identity a secret, it’s unknown really as to why and this annoyed Qissi somewhat, and in a roundabout way, made him agree to starring in the sequel as that time round they would credit his name.
There’s an acceptable amount of action and the finale overall is smarter and glossier than Bloodsport, showing off more of Van Damme’s talents and capabilities as a martial artist. It certainly goes up a belt in brutality with what happens to Xian’s niece, Mylee, the love interest of Van Damme; and the final fight having fisted wrapped and dipped in broken glass. A fight that was successfully parodied in Hot Shot: Part Deux. The story is darker but it has it’s lighter moments; everyone who has seen this movie remembers the dance scene at the Thai bar. And as for the music, there’s more songs performed by Stan Bush, in particular the “Never Surrender” track. Hertzog’s score certainly has an eastern vibe whilst still pertaining those 80s synth sounds, but in addition of the oriental drums that are reminiscent of Yamashiro’s Akira.
I know, maybe I shouldn’t be comparing this to Bloodsport, but it’s hard not to when they both share so much in common. And, is it a better movie? The script and overall acting feels stronger, the action is on par if not a little smarter. It certainly feels like Van Damme had a lot more say in this movie which is quite something considering it’s his second major picture. Kings Road Entertainment and Cannon Group definitely had a lot of faith in his potential and it paid off; with this making nearly 8x at the box office than Bloodsport.
Overall, it’s another iconic film of not just 80’s action cinema but for the martial arts world and certainly secured Van Damme’s name among the other action stars like Schwarzenegger and Stallone. And whether this is considered better or worse than Bloodsport, this film would not have been the same if Bloodsport had not of happened.
Running Time: 6
The Cast: 6
Job Description: 7
Extra Bonus Points: 5