The Kick Fighter (1989)
A/K/A The Fighter
Fight Choreographers- Richard Norton, Benny Urquidez & Glen Ruehland
Directed By- Anthony Maharaj
Starring- Richard Norton, Erica Van Wagener, Franco Guerrero, Glenn Ruehland, Nello Nayo, Benny The Jet Urquidez, Karim Karam,
Plot Synopsis- Streetwise tough guy Ryan Travers(Richard Norton), get's released after a five year stint in local a Thai jail. Only things are about to get worse, for the former street gambler and fighter. His parent’s business is torched by a local gang, when they refuse to comply with them. Travers parents don't survive the assault, and he must luck after his ill sister Katie(Erica Van Wagener). Paying for her expensive heart medication with what money h can earn honestly. With only poorly paid work available to him, will travers return to dangerous world of illegal fights and gambling?. In order to save the life of his sister?
"The war is over, but for those Americans, French and Australians who stayed behind, to make Thailand their home, another war continues, the war of survival"
The Fighter, was yet another late 80's production that was re-titled in some world markets. In order to cash in on the highly successful Kickboxer movie with Jean Claude-Van Damme. Re-titled The Kick Fighter in some areas, with a big emphasis on the Thai locations and use of Kickboxing. This is by no means a Kickboxer knock-off, and while it doesn’t reach classic heights. The Fighter is one of A.I.P Studios better late 80's productions. The film starts with a real serious tone to it, with the credits playing over shots, of a burning building. There are some plot holes the size of manhole cover, but it's got a lot of heart. Which allowed me to overlook a lot of the short comings. They were clearly trying to put together a movie, that was about more than just illegal fighting.
Actor and Martial Artist Richard Norton is on top form, as the obnoxious cocky street punk. Who spends a lot of his time telling people to F-Off, to the point it could be turned into a drinking game. After a turn in one of Thailand many hardcore prisons. He emerges looking like he's ready to appear on the cover of a Martial Arts magazine. They must have had a good canteen and gym in that prison. Just like Scott Adkins is often forced to put on accent, and be an American. Norton is often referred to as a Yank, even though he and his family are Australian?. How did his mum and dad become involved with the local crime gangs?. Are the gaps in the story from poor direction?, or did this indie film end up with many scenes on the cutting room floor?.
"Five year's in prison, is like a lifetime in hell"
Norton starts out being brash, with more bravado than Muhammed Ali. He slowly becomes a better person, with his character being shaped by the messy situation's he gets into. He's no supreme fighting machine, but still knows how to throw a decent right hook. The action direction, leans more towards a street brawling style. Instead of the refined screen combat we see Norton use in many of his 1980s Hong Kong movie roles. He staged the bust-ups with co-stars Benny Urquidez, and Glen Ruehland. Long term Australian stunt coordinator Ruehland, appears in the film as street fighting manager Zach. You know, the fast talking, hustling, Gweilo character who turns up in so many Asian set actioners. Glenn Ruehland would go onto work with Norton again, on Sword of Bushido(1990). Some of the blocks and hits don’t hit their mark, but I can’t help but feel this is how they wanted it to look. Street fights are never refined or precise, punches don't always hit their targets in real life. For some fans, this might just be too messy or dull.
The real strength of this movie, and of the big selling points when it got released. Is the presence of real life Kickboxing champion, Benny The Jet Urquidez. His Manila set fight with Norton is as you would imagine, the movies big highlight. Calling himself Jet, he is pretty much playing an exaggerated screen version of himself here. While this finale might look weak, in the post Undisputed movies era. It still holds up well in my opinion, featuring two top talents using nothing but their genuine physical skills. There's no use of computer's or CGI, to enhance the look of the moves. We just needed more Benny, to set up his character and just how bad-ass he is. During the extended ten-minute final fight, he delivers two headbutt's to Traver's face. That's in between a quick flurry of abdominal shots.
"His fights attract all the strange one's"
During the showdown there's a repetitive score, that's would be more at home during the Boss levels on Sega's Street of Rage series. Thing's get ramped up even more, when Traver's tells his manage to remove his gloves. Not to be outdone, The Jet quickly takes note and ditches his knuckle pads too. Adding to the Manilla connection, is boxing referee Carlos Padilla Jr. Who refereedd the famous and controversial 1975 Joe Frazier/Muhammed Ali fight.
Before we get to the biggest showdown, Traver's must fight his way up through the illegal fighting ranks. Giving up on his poorly paid, but legitimate job as a shipyard welder. Of all these encounters, one two stand out in particular. The first see's long time Australian actor/stuntman Steve Rackman(Crocodile Dundee, Turkey Shoot). Billed as Bodo, to fight Travers in a close quarters cage fight. It's not pretty, and at times it gets very brutal. With Norton character getting mangled for the most part. Bodo, looks gnarliar than a rusty knife blade. The, other fight, stands out more for the un-intentional laughs. Some random in a balaclava fights Norton in a club setting. It's a private bought, which features some solid move. However, due to the performance of the masked fighter. It will probably raise more laugh’s than eyebrows.
"Getting in aint a problem, it's getting out"
The journey from streetfighter to lean mean fighting machine, doesn’t happen over-night. During the chaos of an earlier chase scene, Traver's hears the something sound of flute playing in the backstreets. Wan the Beggar comes to play a much bigger role in the story. Later putting the protagonist through some killer training. Wan is played superbly by long time Asian actor Nella Nayo, who career spanned back to the early 1950's. This was to be his last screen role, if his IMDB filmography anything to go by?. There's a solid 80's style guitar driven montage. Where we see Travers go through his daily fight lessons. For the era, the training isn’t too far-fetched. You can actually believe he went through this. Rather than having him running from dogs, while having steaks attached to his body.
Sat in the director’s chair, is long time Richard Norton collaborator Anthony Maharaj. Who worked on a number of the actor movies, Mission Terminate(1988), Rage(1994). He also produced Norton’s 1984, Martial Arts flick, Final Mission. The director also co-wrote the script for The Fighter, with Noah Bough. Now Blough has only two writing credits to his name, with his main gig being a sound engineer. Add the fact that Maharaj wasn’t a big writer himself, and it becomes clear why the films story veers off at times. However, like I mentioned earlier. The writers appeared to trying, for to feature more heat, than just pure heading cracking. Ryan is out to fight, in order to safe his sister’s life. Rather than just being out for a bloody revenge.
"That's not a fight Jack, I’ts a private snuff match for high-stakes"
Yet to see Richard Norton look out of shape, in any movie role of his. Despite being filmed in the hot humid Thai conditions, he' still in great physical shape. In one chase sequence, he clearly uses some Jackie Chan style ways to evade the law. There's a sweet looking leap over a car, and jump through a tight, apartment window. Not to mention, he makes pretty easy work of scaling a wall. Sure some of the later shots of him scaling an actual building, were done by a stunt guy?. This performance might not be his finest display of Martial Arts on screen. Yet, he still manages to get in some decent boot-work peppered through-out the freestyle urban brawls. It seems his character, is totally un-effected by his multiple visit's, to the local Love hut. Which also allows the film-makers, to tick off another thing on their essentials list, topless nudity.
Actress Erica Van Wagener, puts on a solid performance as Katie Traver's. This would be just one of four productions, the actress was involved in. Special mention goes to spirited actor Franco Guerrero, from the Philippines. Who does a great job as Travers stoic, trusted friend and allie Chai Wat. Guerrero would late join his co-star, in 1994's Rage. By no means a must see, The Fighter has some clear flaws. Just how much money and time they had, to create this project, I'm not sure?. It was clearly guerrilla style, fly on the wall filmmaking. If you’re a Richard Norton fan, then you have to at least give this one a chance.