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Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // June 16, 2009
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted June 24, 2009 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

One of Jean-Claude's first hits, Kickboxer finds him cast as a dude named Kurt Sloane who is pretty tight with his brother, Eric (Dennis Alexio), who just so happens to be one of the best kickboxers in North America. When Eric wins his latest match, a journalist asks him if he'd consider going to Thailand to take on some of the real deal kickboxers that live there - before you know it, Kurt and Eric are on the next plane to Bangkok.

After tooling around in the city for a while, Eric finds himself throwing down with Thai champion Tong Po (Michel Qissi). Despite the fact that Kurt cautions his brother against getting into the ring with this killing machine (Kurt sees him kick out a support beam and figures that this guy will probably seriously hurt his brother), Eric knows what he must do, and what he must do is get his ass kicked hard. Just as Kurt submits, Tong Po gets in one last cheap shot and Eric finds himself paralyzed for life. Kurt gets pretty annoyed at this and so he decides to get revenge - the only problem is, he sucks at kickboxing. Thankfully, after hooking up with an older Marine in the area, Taylor (Haskell Anderson), Kurt meets a local kickboxing master, Xian Chow (Dennis Chan), who takes him under his wing and trains him in the fighting arts. A few months later, Kurt's master tells him he's ready, and so off he goes to track down Tong Po and make him pay for what he did to his brother...

A fairly simple tale (basically, Jean-Claude gets mad and then beats everyone up!) of a man avenging his fallen brother after doing a whole lot of training and uncomfortable looking groin stretches, Kickboxer is pretty entertaining stuff. Van Damme has made better films but this one is still a decent effort with a few stand out fight scenes and some good, strong, fast pacing. The final showdown with Tong Po has gone on to become pretty famous in its own right for going completely over the top with the yelps and howls that accompany the flying fists and high-kicking feet, with Van Damme doing his best Bruce Lee style squawks as he predictably lays the beat down on his opponent. As wild as it is, it's also hard not to giggle at the lunacy of it all, but you've gotta give the guy credit here, at this point in his career, he was ripped and he had some pretty impressive moves.

With that said, while Van Damme may have evolved into a sincerely good actor over the last five or six years, in 1989 he was still remarkably wooden. He's got charisma, he's got ridiculous facial expressions and he's got style but it's a little hard to take him or anyone else in this movie particularly seriously. Thankfully, we don't really have to as the plot is really only there to give Kurt a reason for training and then fighting. The storyline strings together the fights, which Van Damme helped to construct, quite effectively and corny or not, it all works.

The scenery is well shot and the fight choreography is quite strong even if it uses a few too many repeated shots during some of the bouts. The action is shot from far enough away that you can see and at times almost feel the impact when the blows are struck. These scenes are pretty tense and not surprisingly stand out as the high points of the picture. If the ending is somewhat retarded, well, sometimes that's the only way to end movies like these and action fans can let it slide. There's really little more to analyze here - for what this film sets out to be, it works. Not a classic by traditional movie standards, but regardless, it's a good, entertaining, popcorn film and a decent time waster.

The Video:

Kickboxer debuts on Blu-ray in a 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer by way of some AVC encoding. While that might sound like good news to the film's many fans (I believe that this transfer is Kickboxers' anamorphic widescreen debut, at least in North America), Lionsgate have screwed this one up and then some. While color reproduction is good, it's hard not to notice frequent specks and spots on top of some obvious banding issues. Skin tones tend to lean towards the pink side and often times look waxy. It looks like a fair bit of DVNR has been applied here, as while there is some noticeable print damage there's no grain whatsoever and the image often times look very fake. The image is, more often than not, soft and lacking in fine detail and what we're left with is a Blu-ray that is only a slight improvement over its DVD counterpart in terms of clarity and resolution. Some outdoor shots remind us that this is a Blu-ray transfer by showing off some foliage and urban grit but these are the exception and not the rule and this is a sub-par effort no matter how you look at it.

The Audio:

The sole audio option on this disc is a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, in English, with optional subtitles provided in English, English SDH and Spanish. The first thing you'll notice is that the levels are a bit off in some scenes, with sound effects and bits of the score coming through considerably louder than much of the dialogue. This isn't a constant problem but it is definitely noticeable and it gives the movie a pretty artificial feel. When the levels are right on the score, it has some nice punch to it and does a pretty effective job of helping to build some atmosphere, but it's inconsistent. Rear channel activity is minimal throughout and most of the effects and almost all of the dialogue comes from the front of the mix. This track is serviceable, but barely, and the inconsistencies present in the mix certainly don't help things at all.

The Extras:

Lionsgate has provided menus and chapter selection as well as trailers for Bangkok Dangerous, Crank and The Transporter 3 as well as a promotional advertisement for their recent Terminator 2: Judgment Day Blu-ray release. Aside from that, however, there's nothing here and not a single Kickboxer related supplement is anywhere to be found. Couldn't they have at least included the trailer for the feature?


Say what you will about the merits of Kickboxer but as goofy as it is, it's absolutely a fun and entertaining action film and it deserved better treatment than it has received on this Blu-ray release. Lionsgate's transfer is lame and the audio, while serviceable enough, fails to impress. Adding insult to injury is the fact that there are no Kickboxer related supplements included. This film has a loyal fanbase and it's hard not to consider this release an insult to them. Rent it if you have to see it in HD or pick it up if you're worried that there won't be an HD re-release down the road but unless you absolutely have to have it in your collection, skip it and hold out hope that the film will get better treatment on Blu-ray down the road.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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