Thursday, January 26, 2017

RIP-OFF CINEMA: KICKBOXER VS. KING OF THE KICKBOXERS (KEVIN GEEKS OUT)


Due to unfortunate circumstances I wasn't able to participate in the most recent Kevin Geeks Out event which is a bummer because, for those of you that aren't familiar with my site or follow me on Twitter, the subject of this particular show is literally what I do. In fact - I like to think I'm somewhat of an expert on the subject.
When it comes to rip-offs, homages & influencing within cinema, things can get a little muggy, layered & complicated. Some filmmakers have no qualms when it comes to admitting to borrowing or flat out stealing from other filmmakers (usually their cinematic elders). Take Jim Jarmusch for example. He was once quoted saying:


Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: "It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to."


This shows the maturity of Jim Jarmusch given that so many other filmmakers try to act like they're above being influenced when they obviously are.

It's one thing to read that quote and take it at face value, but it's a whole 'nother thing to take his films and put them up against older films that more than likely were a source of influence or inspiration.

Not only was Jarmusch's underrated/misunderstood masterpiece Ghost Dog a loose adaptation of Jean Pierre Melville's Le Samourai...
Le Samourai/Ghost Dog
(and if those above images are too vague, the final sequences of Ghost Dog & Le Samourai are pretty identical)
The assassin intentionally empties his gun knowing he'll be gunned down


But Jarmusch also uses Ghost Dog to tip his hat to other films like Branded To Kill...


and, in my personal opinion, Takeshi Kitano's existential Yakuza film Sonatine...
Sonatine/Ghost Dog


And outside of Ghost Dog, Jim Jarmusch has borrowed from everyone from his friend Wim Wenders...
Mystery Train/Alice In The Cities
Stranger Than Paradise/Alice In The Cities

to his close personal friend Claire Denis...
Paterson/Beau Travail

who in turn has borrowed back from Jarmusch as well...
US Go Home/Stranger Than Paradise


Then there are cases that are completely coincidental. Look at these two scenes from Ninja 3 & Roman Polanski's Bitter Moon. Now...I'm willing to bet everything that Polanski doesn't even know Ninja 3 exists. But the similarities between these two crucial scenes are so polarizing that it should still be called out...
Ninja 3/Bitter Moon


Then there are questionable examples like in the case of Mad Max: Fury Road & The Passion Of Joan Of Arc...
The Passion Of Joan Of Arc/Mad Max: Fury Road

There is absolutely no way of knowing if George Miller watched The Passion Of Joan Of Arc and got inspired to pay (visual) homage to it in his Mad Max reboot but just look at the similarities. These frames aren't identical (and images don't have to be identical in order for something to be an homage or a copy), but between the shaved head, teary eyes and the tilts/angles of their heads - it does make you wonder (plus George Miller being familiar with Carl Theodore Dreyer's work isn't the most far-fetched thing someone could imagine).


But I'm not going to bore you all with talk about artsy arthouse filmmakers like Jarmusch, Melville & Dreyer. We're going to delve in to Kickboxer and it's unrecognized rip-off: King Of The Kickboxers.



Kickboxer is hardly the first movie to do what it did. There are plenty films about a novice/above average martial artist seeking out a grumpy older martial arts master to train them in order to get revenge on someone. But it is my belief that director Lucas Lowe bypassed all the films that went in to influencing all the direct-to-video underground fighting tournament movies that were so popular in the 80's & 90's, and he just took directly from Kickboxer.
King Of The Kickboxers isn't a rip-off like Mac & Me was to E.T. but it's still a rip-off. In fact, the plots to both films are so similar that I can easily talk about them interchangeably. Kickboxer/King Of The Kickboxers are about American expat novice martial artists living in Thailand looking to enter the underground kickboxing scene in order to earn a fight with the man responsible for the crippling (Kickboxer)/death (King Of The Kickboxers) of their older brother (Van Damme does maintain his Belgian accent but I think it's implied that he's still American).

Both movies have the same exact pacing, plot points and minor details....

both films start out similarly with the main characters celebrating in the ring with their younger brothers after a big win

Kickboxer/King Of The Kickboxers
But things eventually turn sour when they cross paths with the big bad villains

Notice how Billy Blanks uses the same exact move from Kickboxer (left) to take out the main character;s brother

the main characters are left holding their brothers and vowing revenge...

so they seek out training from an old martial arts master...

We eventually get our showdown...

note the visual similarities...

note the similar gut shots used to take out the villain...

and our heroes eventually come out victorious.


And I'm well aware you're going to have a lot of the same imagery in any fighting movie. Raising your fists in celebration after winning a fight is certainly nothing that Jean Claude Van Damme invented. However, we all know Van Damme is the KING of the splits. So when I see stuff like this (below) combined with the similar plot points & details I just showed you - a serious red flag goes up...



There's also a subconscious/borderline metta element to all of this because Billy Blanks (the man who plays the villain in King Of The Kickboxers) and Jean Claude Van Damme (the star of Kickboxer) worked together after both of their respective movies were released...

Lionheart

There's another layer of influence/rip-off/homage/whatever in that both Kickboxer & King Of The Kickboxers went on influence famous video game characters in Street Fighter...




which would eventually be adapted in to a live-action film starring Jean Claude Van Damme...



Now...I don't mean to take anything away from King Of The Kickboxers because it is an entertaining action movie. It's very goofy and kind of dumb but still entertaining nonetheless. The movie also stars legitimate martial artists which is something Kickboxer cant really say.
If you're in to fun mindless action movies then King Of The Kickboxers is right up your alley. And if you're a fan of vintage Van Damme movies then it isn't inconceivable that you couldn't enjoy a knock-off Van Damme movie.

So when you have some free time head on over to youtube (be sure to rent these so you get the better quality) and watch this is a double feature in the comfort of your home with a friend or two.