Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor (1994)

Albert Pyun is back in the director's chair in Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor, which also introduces Tong Po (this time played by Van Damme regular Kamel Krifa) back into the Kickboxer-saga. This means several things - It was probably shot very, very fast, it features at least one of Pyun's "own" actors, this time Nicolas Guest and, as usual, an interesting musical score by Tony Riparetti. For us "pyunboys" this is good stuff, we want it to be this way. It's like meeting old friends once again, it's safe and we know what we're getting.

It has a good start, a typical Pyunginning. A voice-over, someone recollecting the past, it's dark and edgy compared to part 3 and in a nice montage from the first two movies we learn how David Sloan (good ol' Sasha!) now is in prison after being wrongfully accused of killing a drug lord (well, he DID killed a drug lord and tried to take the body from Mexico to the US, so maybe he's guilty anyway...). Now he gets a chance to get out with helping the cops to go undercover and once and for all take down Tong Po - who also happens to have kidnapped his wife! David must now enter an illegal tournament and kick some ass once again!

Pyun really tries hard with his meager budget to go back to the seriousness of the old movies and he almost succeeds! The first part is damn fine, with a good performance from Sasha Mitchell and some short but effective burst of violence. Tong Po is this time even more over-the-top (and with a less effective make-up), a comic book villain played with a sense of humour. Here another of Pyun's trademarks shows up: the quirky, off-beat comedy - which is an odd thing in a movie like this, but when the budget is so low and the shooting schedule probably was shorter than a normal working week, it just adds some odd charm to the story. The scene where Tong Po tries to play sitar is both fun and unexpected.

My biggest problem with Kickboxer 4 is the last half hour. I'm pretty sure it just wasn't time to choreograph and shoot a better fight, but even with Pyun's standard it's pretty weak - and sloppily made. After some slow-moving pre-fights in the main arena, the end fight is basically David and Tong Po stumbling around in the garden (and on a dinner-set long table) in a very not-so-impressive "fight". It just doesn't seemed to had been time for much rehearsals...  I'm a big fan of Pyun and very forgiving because I know under which circumstances he worked, but I know he can do better than this! The rest of the film is packed with stylish cinematography, some imaginative directing and a decent cast.

But what makes it interesting for us pyunboys is the atmosphere. The editing, the music, the noir-ish voice-over in the beginning. That special, almost surrealistic and poetic form of filmmaking that Pyun is unique for. I doubt others will see it, but we who have lived with the guy for our whole lives can smell it, sense it. That's what makes even a very generic kickboxing-film like this interesting.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)

Of course it didn't take long until there was a sequel out to the highly successful Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Kickboxer, but this time without JCVD and with a new director doing his job, the one and only Albert Pyun. Like all good exploitation sequels a new character is introduced, the unknown brother (well, he's never mentioned in the first movie) David Sloan, played with charming charisma by Sasha Mitchell. He's not Van Damme, but isn't bad at all. I entered this viewing experience with some hesitation. I love and respect Albert Pyun, I've been a fan of his work since my teens, but I never really heard any good stuff about Kickboxer 2: The Road Back. That's of course a fact about most movies from the "Pyuniverse", but as usual that's just a sign of the stupidity of mankind. Pyun is awesome and will always be awesome, no matter the budget. I might one of the few that absolutely adore Heatseeker for example. Where's the special edition, restored blu-ray release of that one?

Anyway. In Kickboxer 2 the last of the Sloan brothers continues his family's legacy by working at kickboxing club/gym he owns. One day the greedy Justin Maciah enters the gym and offers David to be a kickboxing superstar. He, of course, says no and instead his friend and student Brian (Vince Murdocco) signs up for fame and money - but it's all very sinister, because behind Maciah is the EVIL Thai (most Thai's in kickboxing-movie is very evil it seems) businessman Sangha, played by the awesome and cool Japanese actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (remember, in the US all Asians look the same!) and he wants to set up David against... Tong Po! Yeah, the ultra-mean bastard from the first movie (who also - we learn - killed the two other Sloan brothers since last time we saw him). Lucky for David, Xian (Dennis Chan) shows up very unexpected and learns him to be THE BEST KICKBOXER IN THE WORLD!!! Something like that.

Kickboxer 2 probably had a smaller budget than the first one and everything is shot in and around the gym and the arena, so don't expect jungles and explosions here. But this is also a good time to point out that Albert Pyun is THE best director to handle a sudden loss of budget, few locations and short of time to shoot the friggin' thing. He just knows that what the audience need is a lot of stylish camera work and better and bloodier fights. And he delivers. Everything is very similar to the first movie, but without the exotic locations, and even if it starts of quite slow it soon builds up to be a damn fine sequel - with the same amount of cheesy soft rock hits that populated the first film. The fights is brutal. Lots of slow-mo, feet crashing into faces, blood spurting all over the floor and the heaviest use of swollen make-up since Raging Bull.

Most people would never consider a movie like this a good movie, but hey... it delivers what you expect it to deliver. It's quick and dirty entertainment, made with talent and style and less money than what you probably earn during a year. I like it that way. Little money often boosts the creativity of the filmmakers and Pyun is one of those who always finds a solution. His movies has been fucked with his whole career, from the studios to the critics and audiences - but they sell and he's continuing to quirky stuff that no one else would do. This film belongs to the less quirky stuff, far from oddities like Hong Kong '97 and Radioactive Dreams, but is fine piece of silly action.

Kickboxer 2: The Road Back has so much cheese you can build a moon of it. Quote me if you want. I'll stand by my words.