Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)

Kickboxer_2_FilmPoster

How do you know when Jean-Claude Van Damme has really annoyed the producers of a franchise? When they hire an unconvincing lookalike so they can have his character shot and killed by the guy he beat in the first movie (his brother and girlfriend don’t even get an onscreen death). A previously unmentioned brother gets called up from the bench, and on we go.

There are a number of signs this isn’t your average martial arts movie. A bad sign is the director, Albert Pyun; but good signs come thick and fast. We’ve got writer David S Goyer, waiting around for that big break that would take him to the very top of the A-list of screenwriters; plus some strong acting – Peter Boyle must have owed someone a favour, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa does “evil” like few other actors; Matthias Hues pops up for a rather odd little cameo too. Plus there’s the star, Sasha Mitchell.

We last saw Mitchell in “Slammed!”, the sadly not great wrestling comedy – he’s great at playing those “goofy jock” types, but it’s interesting to see him take on a completely dramatic role. He’s David Sloan, brother of Kurt and Eric from the first movie (his parental status is never mentioned, as those two were brothers from other mothers, perhaps Papa Sloan was married again), and he teaches at a tiny run-down gym where he not only trains top-level fighters, but gives the kids from the very poor neighbourhood something worthwhile to do. Basically, he’s a saint. When the UKA, a hot new kickboxing league, starts buying up gyms and booking all the good fighters, their boss (Boyle) and his moneyman (Tagawa) come into conflict with David.

d3117c29dd315373a6f021b393deb5cd

The plot is really predictable, like, more so than even your average straight-to-video kung fu film. You’ll be able to predict every success, roadblock and twist in the story from a mile away – the trainee who’s going to turn to the dark side; the “surprise” entrance of part 1 villain Tong Po; the tragedy that’s going to strike; and so on. It doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable, but if a dummy like me can call every major bit of your movie from the first ten minutes, then you might be in a bit of trouble.

So yes, Tong Po (Michel Qissi) is back, and the rather convoluted way they bring him and David together is all about honour, and restoring it. Reference is made to the national honour of Thailand, after Kurt took it away by winning at the end of part 1, so to defend their national honour they’ve sent a Japanese guy (Tagawa) and a Moroccan (Qissi), neither of whom look remotely Thai. Ah well! Tong Po is still invulnerable to everyone but the guy he fights at the end, which looks sillier and sillier the further martial arts cinema moves away from the “mystic powers” era and grounds itself, at least a little, in reality. Also, he’s really not that scary-looking. He’s not ripped, not particularly big or tall or fast, so it’s on the tough side to buy him as the monster he’s supposed to be.

kickboxer

There’s fun stuff in this movie, though. Zhin from part 1 comes over from Thailand to train David and help him recover from being shot, and he has fun adapting to American life (the training scenes are a clever spin on the same sequences from part 1); there are some magnificent sadness montages with the most hideous 80s soft rock imaginable over the top; and “Judo” Gene LeBell, the man “famous” for beating Steven Seagal (a good 25 years younger than him) so badly in a real fight he ended up shitting himself, pops up too. If you can accept that a large, commission-regulated, TV-broadcasting martial arts league could replace one side of their main event with an unlicenced Thai lunatic who murdered a bunch of people, then you’ll probably have a good time with this one.

There’s precious little evidence that this was written by the man who’d go on to pen the Christopher Nolan “Batman” movies, but quite a bit of evidence it’s directed by trash-master Pyun. Mitchell is fine, but he’s wasted doing a straight role when he’s so good at comedy…it’s an okay film, I guess?

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Advertisements

Demonic Toys (1991)

936full-demonic-toys-poster

This film gives you rich stuff to ponder right in the opening credits, and first is “based on an original idea by Charles Band”. The limit of the idea was a poster, apparently, and this sort of impresses me, that Band can get a poster turned into a film. Secondly is the screenwriting credit – David S Goyer! Goyer has written “Man Of Steel” and Christopher Nolan’s three Batman films, among many others, and this was his second script.

80s soap queen Tracy Scoggins is Judith, a cop, in this, and she and her partner are undercover, attempting to buy some guns from a couple of low-rent arms dealers. I don’t want to give the script too much credit, but the main characters are quickly and simply introduced – as well as this scene, we get a security guard at a toy warehouse and the guys at the fast-food chicken place he calls up, which boils down to Mark, the delivery guy who’s friends with the security guard. Oh, how I wish more films could do all that in as little time as this one does.

Judith’s partner (who’s also her boyfriend) gets shot just after he finds out he’s going to be a dad, and the film then moves entirely inside the toy warehouse. Her dreams of two kids playing a game of cards combines with the appearance of a very creepy kid, the personification of some demon or other who wants to hijack a pregnancy so he can be born and take over the world.

So far, so good and toy-free, right? Well, the demon is so weak all he can do is animate the toys found lying around the warehouse, and that’s when that good Full Moon flavour comes right on through. Charles Band must have had some very odd experience as a kid, and it’s burned itself right onto his brain and out through his films. He’s got Puppet Master, this series of films, something called “Blood Dolls” and a few others…without him, the world of films of tiny things attacking people would be greatly poorer. We’ve got Baby Oopsy Daisy, Grizzly Teddy, Jack Attack, and Mr. Static in this one, although Mr. Static sort of sucks.

demonic-toys

As a small aside, don’t try and understand the continuity of the Full Moon universe. We have this film, and then a couple of years later an unholy stew of the toys, Dollman and a character from “Bad Channels” called “Dollman v. Demonic Toys”; ten years after that comes “Puppet Master v. Demonic Toys”; then in 2010 “Demonic Toys 2”, which ignores the events of those two “versus” films. Oh, and a few of them pop up in the first “Evil Bong”. Ah, I give up.

Can Judith, Mark, the security guard, the woman they find in the air vents and the remaining arms dealer fight their way out of the warehouse before the demon can complete his ritual? Well, as we progress towards finding out, we also realise this is a surprisingly interesting film. The ebbs and flows are well laid out, the atmosphere is genuinely creepy at times, you understand where everyone is and why they’re doing what they’re doing and while it’s certainly not perfect (there are a lot of plotlines in this, and a few of them get dropped without a further mention; one of the baddies gets a quip off after being shot in the head; someone picks a handcuff lock with a knife, surely impossible) if you’re at all fond of the Full Moon-iverse, as I am, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

Rating: thumbs up