Despite this having no retreating or surrendering in it, finally, it’s better known as “King of the Kickboxers”. As if the filmmakers wanted to ensure the title was still nice and misleading, there’s no tournament to crown anyone, and if we’re being brutally honest, not a lot of actual kickboxing.
This was the last of Loren Avedon’s three-movie deal with the Yuen brothers; despite headlining movies as late as 2003, this was about as bright as his star got. Keeping the series tradition, he plays yet another different character, either Jack or Jake depending on who’s talking, and in a scene we’ve seen a heck of a lot of times before, his older brother – a kickboxing champion – is killed on his way back from his championship-winning bout in Bangkok by the super-evil Khan (Billy Blanks), setting off a revenge plot of sorts.
Blanks and the big brother (Michael Depasquale Jr) are such spectacularly bad actors that I wondered if it was on purpose, but it would appear not, and we sadly don’t get much time with the brother. Blanks, though, treats us to his alien-reading-English-for-the-first-time line readings on a regular basis throughout and is truly one of a kind.
Fast forward a bunch of years, and Jake is back in the USA, an undercover cop who lives on the edge and just can’t play by your rules! Avedon is naturally charismatic and can crack a good joke, so I liked this bit; his amazing martial arts abilities make him a natural for an undercover mission to Thailand to infiltrate a ring making snuff martial arts movies. Jake’s not into it, until he watches one of the tapes (most of which is the opening scene from the last No Retreat, No Surrender movie, which AVEDON WAS IN) and notices the guy doing the killing is his old enemy Khan. This is merely the first of many huge coincidences in this movie.
Ignoring the fact that if the murderer’s face is on camera, and he’s a moderately famous former kickboxer, and he’s a massive black fella in Thailand, he’d be fairly easy to track down and arrest, Jake is on his undercover way. He decides to make waves in Bangkok to get himself noticed by the snuff-makers, doing stuff like walking into the middle of a Thai kickboxing academy and beating the crap out of all their fighters. Huge coincidence 2 is when he rescues a woman from a group of assailants, and it’s Molly (Sherrie Rose), a sort-of prostitute who ran away from the snuff guys after Billy wanted her for his very own. She has an amazingly luxurious apartment, too, enough that it was close to being a “hey, why not be a Thai hooker?” promotional video.
If the word “Kickboxer” in the title wasn’t enough, this is almost a straight ripoff of the JCVD masterpiece of a few years previously – Jake has to go to a mysterious super-powerful hermit who’s the only person to nearly beat Khan, because he realises his skills aren’t enough. He gets trained in real thai kickboxing until he finally gets hired by the film company to be Khan’s next victim – they pick him kind of by accident, really, which is coincidence no.3. Molly just drives round Bangkok a bit, which seems a risky move when a psychotic murderer and his enormous gang of thugs are after you, but whatever.
There’s a lot to like about this movie, which is really quite surprising. The relationship between Jake and trainer Prang is more bickering brothers than master and student, which is a funny way to play things; there’s still lots of little montages showing him knuckling under and becoming even more badass than before, though. It’s one of those films where there’s enough weird stuff to push it over the edge into so-bad-its-good territory – Blanks first and foremost, a uniquely terrible actor in a field of terrible actors; the complete ripping off of a plot from a film from 2 years ago, including the “mystical” scenes filmed at what may be the same Buddhist temple; the series of coincidences that stands for a plot; and the idea that producing snuff films is a sustainable business model.
On the other hand, almost despite itself this movie has actually good bits in it. The final fight between Jake and Khan is a masterpiece of editing and choreography, performed at breakneck speed, and they built a hell of a set for it. There’s real humour, and very unusually for a martial arts movie of this sort, they reference other martial arts movies and stars a lot (including JCVD, whose big break was the first film in this franchise). Avedon knows when to take it seriously and when to relax, and it’s a shame he never really went on to too much (although judging by the “trivia” section of IMDB, he was a pretty tough guy to work with).
This movie has a small but vocal fanbase who believe it’s up there with the classics of the genre. Not sure I’d go that far, but it’s super-entertaining and has a lot to like. Pop this on and have a good time.
Rating: thumbs up