Even in the world of low-budget movies, this has a rather confusing provenance. Loren Avedon was in “No Retreat, No Surrender” parts 2, 3 and 4, although part 4 is aka “King of the Kickboxers”. Part 5, Avedon-less, is better known as “American Shaolin” but was also released on VHS in the USA as “King of the Kickboxers 2”. Then, a year or so later, the rights owners to a very low-budget Avedon movie called “Fighting Spirit” decided to just call their movie “King of the Kickboxers 2” as well, making part 4 a rare example of a movie with two different sequels that aren’t related to it or each other.
But enough of my constant frustration with the vagaries of movie titling! We’ve got a properly bizarre experience to get through, available in its entirety on Youtube. And I’d definitely recommend popping it on before you read this, you won’t regret it. Well, you might. Okay, you’ll probably regret it. From the very off, this gives us one of my favourite low-budget tricks – the “terrible dubbing”. Even though the actors are speaking English, they’re dubbed with accents that sound nothing like their real ones. How do I know this? Because in about half the scenes, they’re not dubbed at all, so there’s genuine confusion in long shots about who’s saying what. Well done, movie, you wanted to make sure we knew how weird you were right from the off.
Avedon is David, the wealthy son of a big CEO, but he’s not bothered about money, preferring to hang around with his friend Billy, a pro kickboxer. We know this thanks to Billy’s trainer, who was dubbed by an angry shouting guy with a poor command of English. Anyway, a big point is made of David not being able to fight, as him getting his ass kicked causes Billy to be late meeting his sister, which causes her to walk home alone and get raped and beaten half to death by a gang of…arms dealers maybe? The gang is led by two brothers who look completely different and have wildly dissimilar accents, just in case you thought you were starting to understand things.
The sister is taken to hospital, and this is the first time you’ll really notice perhaps the weirdest thing about this movie – the soundtrack. Accompanying her unconscious body being wheeled through a hospital is jaunty disco music; throughout, there’s a sound which resembles a finger being quickly moved down a single guitar string, and is played approximately 9000 times, to introduce most scenes and entrances or just when there’s a few seconds which doesn’t have any sound in it. The rest of the music resembles offcuts from outsider musician genius Jandek; so, like normal music but out of tune and not in the right time and creepily discordant.
Billy is given the money to pay for his sister’s operation by one of the brothers, and to pay him back has to compete for him in an underground fight league, at the same time as searching for the rapists with David. Oh, there’s a bar brawl where David is inexplicably brilliant at martial arts, way out of the timescale of the movie, but that’s not the weirdest thing that happens there – one of the bad guys is thrown through a window and lands in a hotel corridor. There’s zero attempt made to match the two sets, so I’ve got no idea at all what they were going for.
But we’re not even at the good bit of the movie yet! Billy twigs he’s working for the bad guys but they murder him, giving us this magnificent exchange:
BADDIE: “Any last words, Billy?”
BILLY: “Yeah, fuck you all!”
The Bard couldn’t have done better. Anyway, this movie’s real title comes into play now, as Billy’s ghost (!) tells David he needs to train to be an awesome fighter and take revenge on behalf of him; if you were expecting David to go undercover in the underground fighting league, just like the plot of about 20 movies we’ve reviewed recently, you’d be mistaken (as I was). He just trains with the guy who left the baddies in disgust, helps the sister around as she’s still got bandages over her eyes, and occasionally kicks a bit of ass.
If you’re even remotely trying to watch this like you would a normal film, then the sister is super-problematic. Her entire role in the film is to be either threatened with rape or raped, as she walks round, screaming for help with the gang cackling with evil glee at the things they’re going to do to her. She’s no-one’s love interest, she’s just a victim.
If, on the other hand, you’ve read this review and think “holy crap, this sounds absolutely insane! Sign me up!” then you’re going to have a hell of a time. As David storms the bad-guy mansion at the end, having been told where it is by the ghost of Billy, he meets some of the most embarrassingly bad martial artists ever captured on camera; and when he finally gets his hands on one of the brothers, it takes a minute before you figure it out because he just runs into shot the same way the rest of the cannon fodder have done.
Everything about this movie is cheap. There’s no real lighting anywhere, the hospital looks like the foyer of a hotel, the actors are embarrassing, the action is embarrassing and the plotline, were it not for the same actors appearing all the way through, could have been cobbled together from the outtakes of a hundred rotten low-budget martial arts movies. The more I think about it, the more difficult it is to comprehend, and I think it’s got to be up there in the so-bad-it’s-good stakes. People probably aren’t looking at a nothing martial arts film called “Fighting Spirit” from 1992 for their kicks, but every now and again you’ll find a diamond in the rough. Okay, this diamond might feel like it was made in the 70s by a crazy person, but a diamond it is nonetheless.
I’ve not really mentioned Loren Avedon yet. I’ve really liked him elsewhere, even when the film surrounding him hasn’t been great – he’s a truly gifted on-screen fighter, plus has natural comic timing and decent acting ability. He’d have made a superb lead in a light cop drama, and the only reason I can think of why his star waned while that of a scumbag like JCVD shone so bright is that he was a fairly slim guy and didn’t look like a ripped steroid-monster. Or perhaps he wasn’t interested in acting any more – it sounds like a pretty thankless profession. Anyway, he just doesn’t get much of a chance in this, but when he does he’s great – the way he fights with a triangle from a pool table is the best moment in the movie by miles.
Make sure you’ve got a strong drink by your side and a group of friends, but if you have then you’ll probably enjoy this. One to put in your bad movie night regular rotation, I think.
Rating: thumbs up