At long last an action movie that articulates why its climax is taking place at the old abandoned cement factory outside of town. Too often, it seems like everyone just magically teleports to the docks for a final shootout (lots of shipping containers can get blown up and bad guys can end up dramatically floating in the water) or mindlessly cruises over to a power plant because all the catwalks can provide a lot of suspenseful chasing (and bad guys falling to their deaths) and steam valves can get ruptured, filling the area with smoke (and burn bad guys in the face), but without any logical explanation why the action had to shift from where it was happening to these locales.
Here, as the operator of a terrorist training camp explains quite sensibly, their next job is take out a nuclear power plant, but they are fresh out of old nuclear plants to train at so they are going to use the old cement factory instead. However, while we can applaud the opportunities he provides his men to further their professional development, he really needs to invest in some walkie talkies because he is doing all this while back at his base, the elite Queen Cobras of the Thai army and even worse, kickboxing god Richard Norton, are murdering everything that moves and blowing up the stuff that doesn’t! And head bad guy seems completely oblivious to this!
Honestly though, if he was using some futuristic tech like walkie talkies to get real time updates, he’d just end up looking like a chump when Norton inevitably kicks some terrorist’s head off, seizes the walkie talkie and threatens him over the air with a smart ass comment for all his men to hear.
As it was, the best thing that happened to this guy was that no one was around to see how Norton’s Major Cooper killed him. After Cooper gets the drop on him and he apparently surrenders, Cooper turns his back and starts to walk away, giving bad guy a chance to shoot Cooper. I take that back – he had no chance! Because without breaking his stride or even looking back, Cooper just points his gun behind him and shoots the guy dead!
Not to belabor the obvious but Return of the Kickfighter is the total Richard Norton movie package! Norton isn’t weighed down here with any lame personal demons or storylines that can only serve to get in the way of him snapping necks and punching crotches. He’s just the marine that the evil Colonel Ryan has assigned to investigate who has been killing Ryan’s team that fought together in Vietnam.
And Cooper’s qualifications? Quantico? Scotland Yard? Exceptionally nosy? Ryan rattles off the usual babble about Cooper’s illustrious military career, but he ends with Cooper’s most important qualification for the job, snarling that Cooper is “a fucking killing machine!” So there’s probably not going be a lot of tagging evidence and dusting for prints in this investigation.
We already know why Ryan’s team is being eliminated thanks to the too long and dull prologue (Norton does not appear in this sequence, no doubt causing all the restlessness the viewer experiences during it) that shows he and his soldiers back in Vietnam stealing some gold. The gold was stolen from a Viet Cong soldier who has also learned the ways of the ninja. His brother is the scout for Ryan’s team and also knows the way of the ninja because as children, they pulled a Japanese sensai out of the ocean who taught them all this. It sounds a bit silly, but we have to remember this was back in the 1970s before the only thing you’d be pulling out of the ocean from Japan was radioactive debris from the Fukushima disaster.
Ryan doesn’t know exactly who is killing everyone, but he knows the reason and doesn’t want Cooper to know. After another soldier turns up dead with the name of the village hung around his neck, Cooper says he’s going to find out what’s happening and Ryan kicks him off the case! Next stop for clues is obvious: the local strip club! I don’t know that he found out much but he did get to beat up a bunch of Ryan’s thugs.
After good brother finds out that bad brother tried to kill sensai, he finally seeks out Cooper for his help after having previously turned down Cooper’s request for information and they locate the terrorist camp where sensai found bad brother teaching terrorists how to be ninjas. (It really seemed like the only ninja stuff he taught was how to dress in black because other than a bit of routine karate, all they did was shoot stuff.)
After a quick recon mission of the camp, Cooper enlists his buddy in the Thai Army to assist in laying waste to the countryside. The remaining 30 minutes of the movie keeps things surprisingly simple with a series of action scenes of Cooper shooting, stabbing, and kicking people, delivering exactly what you wanted when you signed on to Cooper’s mission.
The violence never lets up and if there is any question as to whether it’s Richard Norton or Bruce Lee clone Bruce Le as the good brother we are here to see, it’s answered when Cooper has to go after bad brother and finish him off after good brother can’t get the job done. And Norton finishes him off in classic fashion, all business as he first cuts the guy’s throat and then gives him a spinning kick to the head before finally walking away nonchalantly like he heard the director yell “cut” and was ready for lunch.
I couldn’t help but think as I watched Return of the Kick Fighter with its Filipino locations, its strip club scene, Norton’s thankfully frequent disdain for wearing a shirt and his killing hundreds of people with all the interest you or I might have in spraying the backyard to get rid of mosquitoes that I had surely seen most of all this before in some other Norton film like Not Another Mistake, Kick Fighter or Deathfight and how generic this one was with its minimalist story involving Cooper (he has nothing to do with the stolen gold or the sensai stuff – he literally is just around to inflict mayhem).
Then I realized as I sat spellbound while Cooper rode a zipline while shooting people, jumping into a river behind a boat while shooting people until it exploded and running away while some structure that had the audacity to be built near him blew up like his very sweat was flammable, it was in fact the most routine Richard Norton experience imaginable and that’s precisely what made it such a great low budget 1980s action movie!
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