Billy Blanks vs Loren Avedon in King of the Kickboxers (1990)

Released in 1990, King of the Kickboxers follows the story of Jake Donahue, played by Loren Avedon who as a teenager had seen his older brother Sean brutally murdered at the hands of the villainous Khan (Billy Blanks) after the elder Donahue had beaten the Thai Kickboxing Champion in Bangkok to win the title. This apparently didn’t sit well with the powers that be and Khan is dispatched to take care of business, which he does with ruthless efficiency courtesy of an ambush as the Donahue’s made their way back to the hotel.

Loren Avedon as Jake Donahue

Ten years later we discover that Jake survived the ambush and is now living dream life of every action hero as an undercover rogue cop on the bad streets of New York. His penchant for breaking cover is reckless but apparently effective and after his latest bust (featuring a brief cameo from an impressively mulleted Jerry Trimble) he is assigned to break an underground snuff film ring based in Bangkok. The star of the films? You guessed it, Khan, the man who killed his brother a decade previously. Convenient? You betcha. But it gives Jake the perfect motive to return to Thailand to attempt to reap vengeance after some essential (and obligatory) tutelage from master Prang, played by legendary martial artist Keith Cooke.

More Than Just a Kickboxer Rip Off

At first glance, King of the Kickboxers could easily be derided as purely a rip off of Jean Claude Van Damme’s Kickboxer which was released just a year before and based solely on the story and setting alone there is more than a little weight to that claim. However, while the familiarity is there, King of the Kickboxers more than holds it own in terms of action as well as having its own take on the story.

Loren Avedon puts in a great shift here as the brash Jake Donahue and while he isn’t the most likable action hero ever, he more than makes up for it when the fight scenes hit, providing some of the fastest martial arts action outside of Hong Kong ever committed to screen. His portrayal of the character is quite off kilter too, choosing to forego the dark, brooding troubled young man you would expect by playing him as the over the top party guy that seemed to find their way into every eighties teen movie.

This leads to quite a few entertaining moments and some amusing interactions with those around him and separates him from Van Damme’s far softer Kurt Sloane in Kickboxer quite nicely.

Jerry Trimble and Keith Cooke

With King of the Kickboxers we also get one of the finest ensembles of genuine martial arts legends flexing their collective muscles in some wonderfully choreographed fight scenes. Both the aforementioned Jerry Trimble and Keith Cooke are in early onscreen roles here coming off of the back of successful legitimate fighting careers during which both held various world titles in a variety of disciplines.

As the nineties rolled on both would become prolific action stars and would continue well into the 21st century as both onscreen talent and behind the scenes with stunt and choreography work.

As well as Trimble and Cooke we also get an opening fight scene from famed Jiu-Jitsu practitioner Michael DePasquale Jr. who plays Jake’s doomed older brother Sean Donahue. DePasquale Jr. would go on to to become one of the judges in early UFC fights and despite a relatively sparse Hollywood career is still one of the most highly respected and decorated American martial artists around making his opening scene a real action movie gem.

UAMC Legend Billy Blanks

However, despite the stellar talent around him there is only one man who can be considered the scene stealer here, and that’s Billy Blanks. In what would become a rare villainous role for the inventor of Tae-Bo we find him in truly terrifying form in King of the Kickboxers and deserves to be considered one of the truly great villains in martial arts cinema based on this role alone.

His ethnically-ambiguous character Khan is a complete killing machine and obviously takes great pleasure in completing his murderous tasks. Far more than just being the ruthless fighter most martial arts villains are portrayed as, Khan demonstrates that there are very few lows he won’t stoop to when it comes to gaining his perverse pleasure which takes him another notch above his contemporaries.

Indeed, in keeping with the Kickboxer comparison, I would make a bold claim in saying that Khan is the more formidable foe when weighed up against Michel Qissi’s far more iconic Tong Po, but I’ll leave that for you to decide.

The True King of the Kickboxers

All in all there’s no getting past the similarities between Kickboxer and King of the Kickboxers, however King of the Kickboxers still manages to be an entertaining and well put together piece of direct to video martial arts fun which makes it a must see for fans of the genre. The dialogue and some of the acting is as cheesy as you would expect, however this is made up for with some truly brilliant fight scenes which surpass many of the martial arts movies of the era. The final fight in particular is a real rough diamond of a fight scene with one of the coolest settings of any final fight which alone makes this movie worth ninety minutes of your time. It is also worth noting that the movie was also released under the alternative title of No Retreat, No Surrender 4 (another Van Damme link). If you’re worried that you need to see the previous installments first, don’t be, all of the No Retreat… series are sequels in name only and hold no bearing over the other movies.

Article by Will Carter – B-Movie obsessive and record shop employee living in Yorkshire, England. Contributor to Retro Cool and The Gravel Crew and long suffering car enthusiast. Genuinely believes there’s never been a better contribution to movie history than Bloodsport. Let us know what you think in the comments!