ABOVE: Sara Malakul Lane speaks at a press conference this morning for ‘Kickboxer: Vengeance.’ Photo: Alden Nusser
The word “iconic” was used a lot at this morning’s press conference for “Kickboxer: Vengeance.”
The people remaking the cult classic, which helped define ‘80s action cinema and popularize Muay Thai internationally, frequently referred to the source material for their inspiration, while emphasizing fidelity to its athleticism.
“I think it’s time for us to go back to authentic martial arts,” producer Dimitri Logothetis said. “When you’re watching a film, outside the fact that we’re creating a story for you, you need to see the athleticism behind somebody who is really a martial artist.”
To support their boast, the filmmakers brought UFC champion Georges St-Pierre, who appears in the film, onto the stage at the Dusit Thani hotel to make their point.
He spoke about his worship of Van Damme and the original film. So did Alain Moussi, who plays American Kurt Sloane 2.0 and bears a certain resemblance to the 28-or-so Van Damme of 1989, sans pleated Dockers. (He passed our worthiness test by nailing the infamous dance.)
Striking the ‘iconic’ kickboxer pose, cast members (from the left) Sam Medina, SML, Alain Moussi and GSP.
“It’s a privilege and an honor,” Moussi said. “Jean-Claude was my childhood hero. That’s why I started to train in martial arts to begin with. To be shooting some scenes, including awesome action scenes. It’s a dream come true.”
The film features a roster of fighters and stunt performers-turned-actors such as Sam Medina (Olympus has Fallen), MMA fighter Gina Carano (Fast & Furious 6) and WWE performer Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Universe) as “Tong Po.”
Of course they eschewed the word “remake,” preferring the 21st century update of “reboot.”
Imagine our great disappointment when it was announced Jean-Claude “JCVD” Van Damme would not be attending as billed. We can only imagine what kind of Van Dammage he got up to in Bangkok last night and dream of seeing it in a fast-cut montage set to breathless rock vocals.
The only woman on stage was former lakorn star Sara Malakul Lane, who about six years back exported herself to Hollywood and plays Sloane’s romantic interest.
The character is a departure from the original’s “Mylee,” who serves as little more than a vessel for male fantasies, and whose defining character moment is being raped to further the motivations of her male counterparts.
“What I like about it is that she’s a very strong woman,” Sara said. “She’s not just the eye candy, the love interest. She’s a cop, and she’s very much a part of the storyline. There’s one scene where I get to beat [Moussi] up really bad.”
From the left, Sam Medina, SML and producer Dimitri Logothetis. 98% of the press corps was only there to see one of them.
As openly biased fans, we’re thrilled to see her in a movie without “vs.” in the title. Her casting recalls her international breakthrough role in 2003’s “Belly of the Beast” alongside another fondly remembered action fossil, Steven Seagal.
“I’m just a huge fan. I’m really proud to be Thai today and have the movie shooting in Thailand. I feel like I’ve come full circle.”
Not many details were shared about the film beyond it will have a lot of real fighting and has returned to film in Ayutthaya.
“Whenever you see [Moussi] flip, kick, jump. That’s him doing everything,” Logothetis said.
Coming at a time the United States still suffered collective PTSD over its war in Vietnam, the original film held a subtext about arrogant adventurism in Southeast Asia. Van Damme’s Kurt Sloane follows his champion fighter bro to Bangkok to watch him fight Muay Thai master “Tong Po” in a fight which leaves his ego and spine shattered.
In the finest tradition of Kung Fu cinema, Kurt embarks on a quest for revenge that involves relearning what he knows and high-kicking a lot of stuff while training to become a Muay Thai master. And along the way he falls for Mylee.
Without being able to put the question to JCVD, Alain Moussi shows he is a worthy successor by nailing the ‘iconic’ dance.
Kickboxer: Vengeance is shooting for 15 days in Ayutthaya, where ancient Khmer temples provided the setting where Kurt trains in “Stone City” in the original.
Apart from that it’s unclear how Thailand will be represented. Hollywood usually fails miserably at capturing locations in favor of Generic Asian tropes that are easy for American audiences to digest while muttering excuses about “dramatic license” and “story-crafting.”
They can range anywhere between the insulting and unrecognizable Bangkok of “Hangover 2” and the deeply felt, if David Lynchian-bizarro, Bangkok of “God Only Forgives.”
So where in that spectrum will the remake fall?
We asked Logothetis and were left unconvinced by his response, but he did point to Sara’s casting.
Having her in the cast is a 100 percent improvement over the original, which featured a total of zero Thai performers in billed speaking roles.
Most the Asian roles were played by Hong Kong actors, a Moroccan-Belgian played Tong Po, and love interest Mylee was played by a Filipina-American actress.
It wasn’t quite Mickey Rooney’s “Mr. Yunioshi,” but three decades have passed since the original Kickboxer and it seems like we could see more Thai talent on the screen. (Tony Jaa was approached but was unavailable.)
However Thai-American celebrity chef Tommy Tang, who along with expat filmmaker Gary Wood helped bring the production to Thailand, expressed confidence it will represent the kingdom well.
“As a person who was born here, bringing this movie in Thailand is a very good thing,” Tang said. “All the films previously shot in Thailand never showed the true beauty of the country, but in this one, we will see the beauty from the moment their plane lands.”
Finally, the question on most minds: Will “Kickboxer: Vengeance” suck? Too soon to tell.
But it goes back to the “iconic” thing. Icons occupy and time and space, and “Kickboxer” was definitely a product of its times. And most attempts to repackage and resell a product with nostalgic appeal don’t fare so well.
But then again Sara is in it, so the box office can already count on our tickets.
And, yes, we totally blew our chance to service our obsession and bask in the SML-ness because we became totally entranced by SML-MOM, who was there to support her daughter and be awesome.
Kickboxer: Vengeance is in production and is expected to hit theaters some time next year.
Additional reporting: Prae Sakaowan.
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