Last night kicked off the 20th anniversary of the almighty Fantasia Festival in Montreal. I’ve been lucky enough to go for the past three years and every year it gets wicked tough to decide which week to go. Not many fests have “weeks” you can pick from, but Fantasia does. It’s the third oldest genre festival in the world and day-by-day the LONGEST film festival in the world. Covering the whole thing seems impossible and I wound up picking the first week again since I’m moving at the end of the month. 20 years down the line, it’s bigger and badder than ever.
For their big 20th birthday kickoff, Fantasia opened with King Dave, a French thriller shot in one take. I really wanted to see it, but was tipped off it was playing without subtitles, so I wound up sitting that one out. It looks awesome, but my college French has faded over the past decade. Fortunately, the next movie more than made up for it: the world premiere of Kickboxer: Vengeance. For a ’90s kid, getting to see a Kickboxer film in a theater with 500 or so rowdy people was the perfect way to kick off the fest.
Van Damme returns, but not as Kurt Sloane. He plays Master Durand, a muy thai instructor who goes full Miyagi on Canadian Alain Moussi (a seasoned stuntman). Moussia stars as Eric Sloane, a top kickboxer who’s invited to fight the vicious, undefeated Tong Po, played by mixed martial artist turned actor Dave Bautista. The dude is a monster in this role and at times reminded me of Mortal Kombat’s Goro, the way he stomps around the ring. Kurt’s brother Eric takes Po on first and is killed in the process, so now Kurt’s fight turns into a path for revenge.
To prepare, he tracks down his brother’s old trainer, Master Durand. Donning a fedora and shades, JCVD hams it up to high hell from the get go. His training methods are “unconventional” (hence the Miyagi connection) and leads to a bunch of comedic moments. Much like the original film, the comedy and action isn’t always balanced well – at times Kickboxer: Vengeance seems like a straight up comedy. Despite this, the fights are truly visceral and slickly shot. Director John Stockwell (Turistas) does an excellent job modernizing the series and for fans of JCVD’s infamous dance sequence, prepare to revisit that glory.
The film played really well to the crowd and cameos by Montreal hometown fighter Georges St.-Pierre had everyone cheering. There’s much more coming from Fantasia, including a slew of horror films I’ll be checking out. Check back for more coverage out of Montreal!