For millions of martial arts lovers across the globe, 1989’s “Kickboxer” served as their entry point to the exotic art of Muay Thai. For the film’s 2016 reboot “Kickboxer: Vengeance“, the series’ original leading man, Jean-Claude Van Damme, stepped into the role of the mentor, while rising action star Alain Moussi assumed the role of the modern day Kurt Sloane, the film’s iron-willed “Nuk Soo Kow” (or “White Warrior”.)
For the upcoming sequel, “Kickboxer: Retaliation”, writer-producer Dimitri Logothetis, one of the main players in the revival of the “Kickboxer” franchise, assumes the role of director. An accomplished martial artist in his own right, Dimitri has had the great privilege of studying under such legends as Howard Jackson and Ed Parker, in addition to training alongside Elvis Presley himself and brings the sensibilities of both a veteran martial arts practitioner and a fan of the original “Kickboxer” to the role of directing the highly anticipated sequel.
Today, Dimitri sits down with KFK to share what’s involved behind the scenes in rebooting “Kickboxer” for the 21st century, along with a peek behind the curtain of making “Kickboxer: Retaliation” and some early tidbits of where the franchise will be headed with its third instalment, the forthcoming “Kickboxer: Armageddon”!
Hi Dimitri, thank you so much for the chance to speak today, hope you’re doing well?
Hi Brad, I’m doing great, thanks. Happy to be speaking with you!
Our pleasure! Well, let’s kick off with your beginnings as a martial artist. You’ve had the privilege of studying under such legends as Howard Jackson and Ed Parker. What interesting stories can you share about training under such renowned martial artists?
Well, I first started martial arts at about 19 years-old when a high school friend of mine introduced me to an ex-Marine he’d studied with who was one of the toughest guys I’d ever met. I started in Tang Soo Do with Howard Jackson when he first opened his school – he was recovering from a knee injury at the time – and I was probably one of his first twenty or so students. He wasn’t just one of the best martial artists but one of the best men I’d ever met in my life. I wasn’t really interested in competing at first, but he really talked me into it and he was just one of the most humble, disciplined, best guys I’ve ever known. Later on, I was very fortunate to study Kenpo with Master Ed Parker. There was one day where I was stretching and getting ready to train in his school, and in comes Elvis Presley – this was about two years before he died – and I got to train a lot of defensive techniques against a stick and a knife with him that day and again the following week.
Incredible, how many people can say they’ve done that! So, what can you share about how you first got started in the film industry? What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
I actually started out as an actor, and I’d been in Martin Scorsese’s movie “New York, New York”. I was a junior in college at the time, and Martin had seen me doing some writing on the set; he told me I was good storyteller and said that I should think about going to film school, which was a completely new thing at the time. He wrote me a letter of recommendation and I ended up going to Loyola Marymount University on a full ride, and I earned a Master’s Degree in Film and Television Directing.
As far as what advice I’d give to aspiring filmmakers, this is a constantly evolving business and I think the main thing is to learn how to tell a story in a unique way, from your own perspective. I don’t think the outside world perceives our business as a profession as much as we do, and like anything, it takes time to master.
Well said. Looking ahead, what can you share about how the “Kickboxer” reboot series first got started?
My good friend Peter Meyer had told me that the company Kings Road Entertainment was up for purchase, and they had a number of titles in their library, including “Kickboxer”, which was a film I grew up loving. So, after my lawyer looked into it, we bought up Kings Road and over the course of the next few years, I started developing a reboot of “Kickboxer”. Eventually, I got together with Ted Field, who was the executive producer for “The Last Samurai”, and that was really the beginning of “Kickboxer: Vengeance”.
So, coming from a martial arts background yourself, how has that influenced the approach you’ve taken to the Kickboxer films?
Well, I think you need to start from a place of authenticity. You really benefit from having a true martial artist whose extremely talented, and I was fortunate to meet Alain Moussi, who’s 205lbs (93kg) but moves like he’s a 140lb (64kg) gymnast. I didn’t want to fall back on wires and visual effects, so everything you see Alain do on-screen he’s really doing, and I strove to reboot the “Kickboxer” franchise with that kind of authenticity.
“Kickboxer: Vengeance” was a difficult movie to mount, and independent films are full of their own challenges. I think we ended up with a really good final product, but I think that “Retaliation” is a much better, higher-octane film. We’ve done a lot of great stunts and one-shot fight sequences, called “oners” in the film that I’m very, very proud of. The first oner that you see in the film takes place in prison where Alain makes about seventeen hits and there isn’t a single cut – the stunt guys take some real hits there.
Sounds like an action moment to be proud of! So, what interesting stories can you tell us about making “Retaliation” with Alain Moussi and the original Kickboxer himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme?
They’re incredible to work with and having grown up as a fan of Jean-Claude’s, it’s such an amazing experience to be on set with him. I wrote into the film a sword fight sequence between Jean-Claude and Christopher Lambert as a little homage to Chris’ “Highlander” days, and we had a lot of fun doing that. As for Alain, what can I say about this guy? I shoot a twelve-hour day with him where he fights Hafthor Bjornsson, (Icelandic strongman from HBO TV series “Game of Thrones”) who outweighs him by 200lbs (91kg) and he’ll turn to me with full energy at the end of the day and say, “Okay, do we want to go again?”
Alain’s a true pro and a beast! Speaking of which, both “Vengeance” and “Retaliation” feature numerous real-life MMA fighters, including Georges St-Pierre, Roy Nelson, Fabricio Werdum, and Renato “Babalu” Sobral, and “Retaliation” also includes Mike Tyson in its cast. What’s it been like working with so many great real-life fighters?
It’s just been fantastic. Thailand, where we filmed “Vengeance” and “Retaliation”, is a popular destination for MMA fighters anyway, because there are so many great places in the country to train Muay Thai. So, they would come a few days early to train in some of the local Muay Thai camps in preparation for the film.
We tried to get Mike Tyson for “Vengeance”, but he wasn’t available at the time, but we were able to make it work for “Retaliation”. We actually filmed his part in Las Vegas. The thing about boxers is that they never really lose the power behind their punches, so I had to figure out how to show just how hard Mike’s character can hit. I got a camera called a Phantom that shoots at about five-hundred frames per second (the speed that rocket launches are filmed at) and I think it’ll really blow people away to see the kind of speed Mike has in his punches, caught on camera.
Superb! Speaking of heavies in “Retaliation”, Hafthor “Thor” Bjornsson also appears as the villain ‘Mongkut’. What interesting stories can you relate about making the film with him and filming his fight sequence with Alain?
My producing partner, Rob Hickman, was the one who had the idea of making the villain of “Retaliation” the strongest man in the world. I was a little resistant at first, because I wasn’t sure if he had a whole lot of agility, but I looked at some clips of Thor on YouTube, and saw that he can move really quick. He’s 6’10” (2.08m) and 405lbs (184kg) and there’s just a certain amount of awe and respect that you have in making a film with an athlete at his level.
Thor certainly earns his nickname! On that note, the “Kickboxer” reboot series also has a third instalment in the works, entitled “Kickboxer: Armageddon”. What can you reveal about the upcoming third film in the series?
I’ve already written the film, and it buttons up the series in a very cool but very dark and aggressive way, it really deals with what vengeance means and brings Kurt Sloane’s character full circle. We also have a television series in the works that we’ve already sold to about a third of the world, and it’s about the younger brother of Kurt and Eric Sloane who we haven’t met yet.
Can’t wait! Well, as we prepare to sign off here Dimitri, can you briefly tell us about the other project you have in the works with Alain Moussi titled “Jiu-Jitsu”?
“Jiu-jitsu” is a sci-fi martial arts franchise that I’m writing and developing right now. We go a little into the genesis of Jiu-Jitsu with it, it’s kind of a “James Bourne meets Predator” story.
Sounds like fun, we’ll definitely be watching out for it. Thank you so much for the pleasure of this interview, Dimitri. We look forward to the upcoming release of “Kickboxer: Retaliation”!
Thanks Brad, my pleasure to speak with Kung Fu Kingdom!
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