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Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Sasha Mitchell, Peter Boyle, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Dennis Chan, Vince Murdocco, Michel Qissi

Written By: David S. Goyer Directed By: Albert Pyun

The Short Version

Forget Van Damme; why would he want a franchise, anyway?

The cast here’s actually pretty good, including Sasha Mitchell.

Unfortunately for them – and you – Albert Pyun is directing.

This movie will keep you at the edge of your sleep.

Despite having real potential at times, Kickboxer 2 is only for the die hards.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


A schoolyard snack that’s often stretched and torn beyond recognition.

Pairs Well With...


Available in convenient thirty packs for around ten bucks if you know where to shop.  Can’t imagine what made me think of that…

“I see no fat lady!  I hear no singing!  It’s not over yet!  The strongest weapon is the human mind!  Now kick his ass, and let’s go home!”

Somewhere deep inside of Kickboxer2: The Road Back, there is a good movie begging to crawl out and show itself for more than a few frames at a time.  Unfortunately, there’s a steaming pile of “what the hell am I watching?” getting in the way.

Savvy travelers of the all but forgotten world of video store rentals will understand the explanation: Albert Pyun strikes again.

Even before taking the infamous director’s contributions into account, however, there’s already one major thing going against Kickboxer 2 that even the most unfamiliar audience is bound to notice: a very pronounced lack of Jean-Claude Van Damme, whose name was the primary selling point of the original Kickboxer film.  Depending on who you ask, he either turned down this picture to work on another (Double Impact), or the producers froze him out from the start.  Whichever one is true, that doesn’t sound like a very promising beginning, does it?

The solution chosen by the production team and screenwriter David S. Goyer – yes, that David S. Goyer – is simultaneously both elegant and ham-handed.  [Fair warning: if you haven’t seen the first Kickboxer, I’m about to spoil some of it for you.]  They’ve simply decided that the villainous Tong Po (Michel Qissi, Bloodsport) couldn’t handle the shame of being beaten in the last film, and sometime between the ends credits of that picture and a year-ish prior to the world of this one, he shot all but one of the principal characters dead (including, of course, the one played by Van Damme).  Convenient, don’t you think?

Even more convenient is the newly discovered fact that there’s a third Sloan brother (Sasha Mitchell, Class of 1999 II: The Substitute) that no one bothered to mention during the first film, which means that our villain still has a chance to “regain his honor” in a Muay Thai match against a member of the family that shamed him.  But only after a setup so convoluted that even Rube Goldberg would be tempted to facepalm.  Finance a brand new Professional Kickboxing League from scratch just to set up a vengeance match, anyone?  Not that’s it’s even that simple, of course; no, this story’s just getting warmed up!

And by “getting warmed up” I mean “slow roasting over the course of an entire afternoon,” which is about how long Kickboxer 2 seems to go on despite the fact that its actual runtime is just under an hour and a half.  This is where the sad truth of Albert Pyun’s direction rears its ugly head.

For those unfamiliar with the man’s body of work, here’s a very condensed version.  Pyun is, without question, a visionary.  He truly strives to turn everything he does into some kind of art film.  Unfortunately, he tends to be hired to make action flicks, so the result is something akin to hiring the choreographer of the Bolshoi Ballet’s low-rent analog to coach the Pittsburgh Steelers.  If you’re Ang Lee, you can make this work anyway, but Albert Pyun is definitely not Ang Lee.  Instead, he ends up failing to meet the one simple demand of low budget action fans everywhere: we’ll let even the most ridiculous story slide if you make up for it with lots of ass kicking action.  Doesn’t seem hard, does it?

Alas, between the efforts of Pyun in the chair and Goyer with his pen (though to be fair, one can never be sure how much of what’s on the screen really belongs to the credited writer, even if that writer is also one of the credited producers), Kickboxer 2 casts aside the burden of being a tournament fighting sequel and instead wants to be an After School Special.  You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. 

Never mind fighting; there are only three real fights in the entire movie, and only the first one (which doesn’t happen until about twenty five hours – I mean minutes – in) actually plays like a fight.  (Hold that thought.)  Instead, the audience (which, remember, is here for the action) is treated to The World’s Nicest Man helping underprivileged kids by very calmly teaching them positive life lessons at his gym, which is, of course, two months away from shutting down because he doesn’t charge anyone nearly enough money to be able to keep the place up.  And did I mention the homeless tyke he lets stay in the basement?  It’d be one thing if this was just setup, but no; it’s the tone and the content of the entire film from start to finish, and even that might slide if it wasn’t so painfully plotted and questionably written.  (Don’t get too attached to that homeless kid.)  Or if the soundtrack didn’t sound like something salvaged from on old Colecovision cartridge.  Or if Albert Pyun knew how how to do anything other than put the audience to sleep.

Remember how I mentioned that there were technically three full-on fights in this movie?  I say “technically” because the last two are only fights inside the director’s mind.  See, when I think of fights, I think of things like fast attacks, reflexive reactions, tactical intensity, and forceful impacts.  Albert Pyun, on the other hands, thinks “action” equals “slow motion.”  I don’t mean the kind of slow motion that John Woo uses to punctuate key moments, either; I mean that Pyun presents two entire fights in slow motion from start to finish.  What a normal director would see as a time for action (this being an action movie and all), this one sees as a time to drink some Chamomile and bore the hell out of everyone while coincidentally padding the movie’s runtime.  There’s just no polite way to put it: these fight scenes suck.

And since the movie is called Kickboxer 2, as go the fight scenes, so goes the rest of the film.  Even the ice cream that everyone rushes to get when the credits roll isn’t going to make it better.  Yes, I said ice cream.  A movie called Kickboxer 2 ends with our hero and some kids skipping over to an ice cream truck.  Can you feel the excitement, ladies and gentlemen?  The thing is, had this actually been an After School Special – which it could easily be with a surprisingly small amount of editing  – it could have been a very good one.  (Remember to say “no” to steroids, kids!)  David Sloan is exactly the kind of martial arts instructor you hope your kids get in real life, and the saccharine that takes up so much screen time is fairly decent saccharine.  But this isn’t an After School Special.  It’s a low budget action flick, and taken as part of that category, Kickboxer 2 is rather dull tripe.

So why, then, would any sane person want to watch this dull tripe?  The best answer comes from the fact that by some miracle, Mr. Pyun has attracted himself a damn fine cast.  Our villains include the likes of Peter Boyle (The Shadow) and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Rising Sun), both of whom far outclass the material they’re given to work with.  The one good fight in the movie features Matthias Hues (Blackbelt), who’s no master thespian by any means, but whom genre fans will appreciate as a workhorse who can always be counted on to get the job done as A Scary Nordic Man Out To Pound The Crap Out Of People.  And then there’s the matter of our hero himself, Sasha Mitchell, whom very few people will have heard of, and who has the thankless task of trying to take over for Jean-Claude Van Damme.  As it turns out, he not only tries; he succeeds.  Mitchell does a great job here, taking what he’s given and running with it – not as throwaway cheese, but as a role to be treated with due respect.  His charisma brings to mind the likes of Michael Dudikoff, save for the fact that Mitchell’s a better actor.  One supposes that’s why he got a seven year run on a popular sitcom shortly after this.

Bottom line, to say that Kickboxer 2: The Road Back is not a good movie seems to fall into the category of phrases known as “we hold these truths to be self evident.”  The surprise is that it ever had a chance to be good at all… and yet, it did and does.  Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the cast, nothing can save this flick from a questionable plot and an even more questionable director, so in the end, this one’s for cheap Golden Age action flick die hards only.

Bad movie night, anyone?

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2013

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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