Kickboxer (1989) Blu-ray Review

Kickboxer (1989)  blu-ray packshot
Title: Kickboxer
Genre: Action/Sports
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme,
Dennis Chan,
Certificate: US: R
UK: 18
Picture: 1080p
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English.
Runtime: 1 Hour 38 mins
Extras: N/A
Studio: Lionsgate
Release Date: USA: Jun 16 2009
UK: Jul 06 2015
See If You Like: Bloodsport,
The Karate Kid

Back in 1989 the soon-to-be action legend Jean-Claude Van Damme hadn’t yet reached his heyday; it was several years before the release of Timecop, Double Impact, Universal Soldier, and even Street Fighter; but following the success of Cyborg, 1989 would also see the release of one of Van Damme’s best, and most career defining, movies; Kickboxer.

Starring as Kurt Sloane, JCVD plays the brother of kickboxing champion Eric Sloane; who after defeating all the American opens thrown at him travels to Thailand to fight the best in the world, only to be quickly annihilated by the vicious local champion Tong Po, and wind up paralysed.

Understandably Van Damme Kurt’s unhappy (in part because he knew Tong Po was vicious, crazy, and out to cause as much damage as possible to his brother), and vows to get revenge on the fighter by stepping into the ring himself, and beating Tong Po at his own game; muay thai; the only problem is, Van Damme’s not even as good as his brother was.

One quick search for a mentor later he’s off into the Thai jungle, training with a local master, and building to not only become the best fighter ever and seek vengeance for his brother, but stop a local extortionist, get the girl, and defeat Tong Po in an epic and bloody showdown for the ages.

It’s a classic ’80s movie (complete with soundtrack, visuals, muscles, perms, and cheese to match), with a classic story (see Rocky IV – friend gets hurt in the ring, hero steps in and trains to defeat an unstoppable foreign opponent), yet it’s easy to see why Kickboxer became such a fan favourite in its day; the pacing is superb (to the point the 98 minute runtime flies by), the plot is simple and easy to get behind, and the with scenes are fantastic.

Van Damme himself both choreographed and directed the fight scenes; which, while now looking a little dated, are still fairly brutal, engaging, and prove to be extremely exciting watches. Unsurprisingly he also stars in the majority of them, and once again gives viewers an hour-and-a-half-long showcase of his martial arts prowess (and one-of-a-kind dancing skills) in the process.

In fact, a great deal of Kickboxer‘s success rests on the shoulders of Van Damme, as The Muscles From Brussels is not only the star of the film, the man with the unforgettable dance moves, the fella looking to do the splits at any given opportunity, and both the fight director and choreographer, he’s actually the guy behind the Kickboxer story (though screenplay credit belongs to Glenn A. Bruce, and director Mark DiSalle is also given a story credit), and the true driving force behind the film.

Acting-wise, you get a fairly standard Van Damme performance (it’s acceptable enough for this type of movie, but was never going to earn an Oscar nod), but needless to say he outdoes himself in both the training sequences, and within the ring; where his martial arts skills simply cannot be questioned; as he’s a fully believable contender, and clear master of his craft.

Though, while you’d be hard pushed to remember anyone else in the film (most of the actors have done next to nothing else of note), and most of the stars are fairly wooden; Kurt’s brother is a 2D, unlikeable, jerk played with all the charisma of a soggy frog by Dennis Alexio, and his new ex-army friend is a generic cut-out tough/funny guy trope who comes over as annoying more than anything (more down to writing than the performance of Haskell V. Anderson III); Dennis Chan (The Man With The Iron Fists) gives a decent showing as the funny and interesting master trainer/Mr. Miyagi type who takes Van Damme’s Kurt under his wing.

It’s by no means an original film, but not only is Kickboxer one of the best Van Damme movies ever made, it’s fantastically shot (Jon Kranhouse’s cinematography really is stunning), has a brilliant soundtrack (as well as the ’80s pop songs which are smile-inducingly fun, Paul Hertzog’s score is excellent), and an amazing display of martial arts.

Kickboxer gives fans a chance to see why/how Van Damme became such an action legend, and action movie success; as not only did he develop the story behind the film, star in it, choreograph and direct the fight scenes, he actually performs all of the fight moves/training exercises on show; and that’s more than worthy of high praise.

Not only is the action still engaging, brutal, and air-punchingly satisfying, it forms a key part of a simple yet basic film with ideas we can all get behind. At a blistering pace of only 98 minutes, Kickboxer delivers everything you could ask for of a movie in this vein. Sure, it looks a little dated now, but in some ways that only adds to the fun/satisfaction of viewing, and in more ways than not, even 26 years after release, Kickboxer holds up surprisingly well, and comes highly recommended.



If asked to describe the video quality of the Kickboxer Blu-ray release in one word, it would be ‘inconsistent.’ While this is likely the best Kickboxer has ever looked (with stunning colour in places, decent depth, and a fairly solid level of fine detail overall), the dips in quality (between shots, not just scenes) is truly startling; as some shots appear to look fairly good even for a modern release, whilst others are plagued with just about every anomaly and print error you could imagine.

Yes, much of the film is covered with scratches, blotches, horizontal and vertical lines, and while a good deal of those (especially the more minor instances) could be forgiven, they go hand-in-hand with the inconsistent grain levels; which range from non-existent noise, to overpowering; in highlighting the chalk-and-cheese elements of the transfer.

Fleshtones appear a touch warm, though you’d expect that even more a modern film made in Thailand, blacks are more grey than black, and there’s a softness to much of the image (especially where the grain is absent – possibly suggesting limited DNR) which suggests limited detail and makes certain shots appear flat.

Yet despite all the anomalies, scratches, banding, grain inconsistencies, softness, and poor black levels, this is still probably the best you’ve ever seen Kickboxer, and the best it’s going to look for a long time (at least until the new film proves such a success a re-release and new master is called for). Acceptable, though sadly coming to Blu-ray with more picture problems than you’d expect, even allowing for age and budget.


Likewise the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack awarded to the Kickboxer Blu-ray is less than stellar. Featuring ambient effects which often sound artificial, and a number of lip-sync issues (timings likely due to limitations/style of the day), it was never going to astound listeners, yet it’s successful in the low-end, and does a fantastic job of reproducing the classically ’80s soundtrack. In short, a neither excellent nor disheartening sound mix, Kickboxer‘s audio does the job, and little more.


Sadly, even with the film’s lasting fanbase, and the potential for renewed interest with the upcoming release of a Kickboxer remake (due next year, and placing Van Damme in the mentor’s role), there’s a clear and obvious lack of special features awarded to this release. There are no interviews, no audio commentaries, no making of (understandable for it’s age and budget), no retrospective features, nada. A woeful, and sadly disappointing non-effort.

The Bottom Line:

While sadly lacking in special features, having little above average audio, and a video transfer which leaves something to be desired, it’s difficult to recommend the Kickboxer Blu-ray on stats alone. However, while it may not be worth the upgrade from DVD, it’s undoubtedly the best the film has ever looked and sounded (even if it’s far less than perfect), and if you’ve never seen it there’s no reason not to buy; Kickboxer is a true action classic, one of Van Damme’s best, and a film which, while extremely dated, stills holds up surprisingly well today, is a great deal of fun, and contains some amazing displays of martial arts.

Matt Wheeldon@TheMattWheeldon.

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Matt Wheeldon is the Founder, and Editor in Chief of Good Film Guide. He still refers to the cinema as "the pictures", and has what some would describe as a misguided appreciation for Waterworld.