The first half hours of martial arts movies are littered with corpses. Brothers and best friends who went to compete in the big tournament but met the almost invulnerable champion; wives shot because the star won’t work for the villain; teachers beaten to death by their old student. These and other corpses are the driving force behind an entire genre, and “Kickboxer 5” is no different.
It also has a surprisingly regular variant on this – the off-screen death of the previous installment’s star. After JCVD’s death at the beginning of part 2, we get Sasha Mitchell’s at the beginning of this, but done in silhouette which made me think it was the weird opening to a James Bond movie. Also, it would appear villain Tong Po, after sneaking off the set at the end of part 4, decided to get into a less deadly line of work, and does not return. But luckily we have an excellent replacement in this movie, in the shape of Mark Dacascos (last seen by us in “Double Dragon”).
Because they thought no-one would notice, perhaps, the filmmakers also rip off the plot of part 2 – the “evil martial arts tournament” plot, where in this instance Mr. Negaal (James Ryan, “KIll And Kill Again”) is building up an international smuggling empire at the same time as organising a kickboxing league. As a disgraced former competitor, he wants to crush the World Kickboxing Council so he invites all the world’s champions to join his organisation – if they don’t sign, he has them killed.
Now, they sort of pay lip service to how ludicrous this plan is, by having him be in South Africa and the American police not be able to touch him, but come on! How’s he going to do shows in other places? And if you were a famous kickboxer, would you want to go and work for the world’s biggest and most psychotic criminal? Still, it’s sort of fun in how over the top it all is. Well played, Mr Negaal! He gets better the more unhinged he becomes, as his lieutenants start to doubt their career choices.
Matt Reeves (Dacascos) is a trainer who sees his student killed by Negaal’s goons and decides to go to South Africa and exact some revenge. On the way he picks up Paul, sent by Negaal to kill him but ending up joining him; and the two of them kickbox a swathe of destruction through South Africa. There are a couple of pretty spectacular fights – the airport and factory scenes are brilliant, with multiple guys and levels and it’s all handled really well.
The South African locations give an interesting visual flavour to proceedings, and all in all it’s a good looking, tightly shot, fun film. Dacascos is another martial arts guy with a great talent for comedy, and as he doesn’t have Albert Pyun’s insane directorial choices weighing him down he’s able to look like he’s enjoying himself. Talking of directors, this is a rare example of a martial arts film directed by a woman – Kristine Peterson – and it’s a shame she didn’t go on to bigger things. It’s a good looking movie.
Okay, so review over, really. I’ve been a fan of actual kickboxing and mixed martial arts for many years, and there’s a couple of points I wanted to make about the world these movies exist in. First up is the “association with criminal elements” thing. Pride, a hugely famous MMA organisation in Japan, was brought to its knees almost immediately when it was revealed that there were Yakuza ties to some of the top people. Now, that wasn’t any evidence of wrongdoing, you understand, just ties, and they lost their TV deal and top sponsors pretty much overnight. And Negaal thinks he can just form a fight league?
Most importantly, perhaps, and this has been bugging me a little for five films, is that this isn’t really what kickboxing looks like. By the time of this movie, K-1 in Japan had been enormously popular for years, and had put on shows round the world. Here’s a classic fight from 1995, Peter Aerts v. Ernesto Hoost:
Kickboxing is a great deal more like boxing than it is karate, and while I’m not sure what style it is these people are working in, I know for sure what it isn’t. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun (and part 5 especially was loads of fun) but…the title!
Anyway, it’s been a good series, by and large. Albert Pyun’s movies were hard to get through, but overall not bad.
Rating: thumbs up