Director Dimitri Logothetis on Mike Tyson and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Epic New Fight Film
'Kickboxing: Retaliation' stars some of the biggest names in martial arts.
Dimitri Logothetis sat in the movie theater with several of his friends, anxious for Enter the Dragon to begin. He could recite every line of the popular 1973 flick that starred the incomparable martial artist Bruce Lee.
“We knew ‘never take your eyes off your opponent.’ The movie was goofy and silly, but it was fun,” said Logothetis, who was studying martial arts, filmmaking and directing at the time. “In the beginning of the movie, you could hear Bruce Lee scream ‘waaahhhhhhhh’ in the incredible score that was composed by Lalo Schifrin, and we would all scream it at the same time.”
It was that action film and that moment in Logothetis’ life that he held on to and stored in his memory as the years went by. “When I had the opportunity to get a hold of the remake rights of Kickboxer I thought to myself, ‘oh my god, I have to do this,’” he said.
Logothetis wanted to create the same fun and exciting action film that he had enjoyed years earlier. He has since created two – Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016) and this year’s sequel Kickboxer: Retaliation.
From the opening sequence, Kickboxer: Retaliation is chock-filled with action, exactly what Logothetis aimed to do. The movie takes place 18 months after Kurt Sloane (played by Alain Moussi) killed Tong Po and avenged the death of his brother Eric. Kurt suffers from nightmares where he and his wife are attacked on a train, his wife is abducted and he is thrown into the water. After he wakes, he’s confronted by two U.S. Marshals who taser him and return him to Thailand to be implicated in Tong Po’s death. Here he must either fight and defeat the massive 6’8” 400-lb. fighter Mongkut (played by HBO’s Game of Thrones’ Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) for $1 million or remain stuck in prison.
Kurt refuses the offer.
“It’s a David and Goliath story,” said Logothetis, who is now the President of Kings Road Entertainment. “I found Björnsson, a guy who is a human giant, six 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighs over 405 pounds and is currently competing for the World’s Strongest Man. Alain is 200 pounds, so Björnsson literally outweighs him by 200 pounds. When you start with that and go back and reflect on the Rocky movies, everybody always roots for the underdog. We fight so many battles in life that we have absolutely no chance of ever winning — I am never going to complete college or have enough money to buy a house – and they are completely overwhelming. Then you buckle down and do everything you’re supposed to do to figure it out. This film touches on that spirit.”
Forget the green screens and the computer-generated imagery that many action-packed blockbusters depend on. Logothetis is all about authenticity.
“The stuff that you see on screen my guys can really do,” said Logothetis, who is also a black belt martial artist. “I start out approaching it with Alain, an authentic martial artist, 6th-degree Jiu Jitsu master who is an acrobat and who has been doing this for 30 years.”
Logothetis always remembers the point of view of the audience as they watch his Kickboxer movies. “They are used to seeing Marvel or other $100 million and after about 10 minutes of watching my film they realize these guys are real,” he said. “Maybe the little boy or girl inside thinks if they were to train with that guy he would teach them to be a real-life superhero. I think that’s why people eat it up.”
His movies are action-packed, but they also focus on character development. “I think about what I want to see and what I would respond to and if I can embed a project with those kinds of emotions in my storytelling then the rest of the world will get it. What’s interesting is the fact that a lot of women who haven’t seen a martial arts film come to me and say they would never watch this film, but they did and got sucked into the story.”
(That’s exactly how I felt. I don’t watch martial arts movies, but I was sucked in early on.)
It takes him about six months to create a script. “The problem with doing a remake is you got a story to live with, but you also need to figure out how to modernize it and attack it in a completely different way that is significant to today,” he said. “With the second Kickboxer I was released and didn’t have to live to that story anymore. Now I could approach it any way I wanted, and I went off in all kinds of directions that I thought were just pure entertainment.”
The Kickboxer franchise wouldn’t be complete without Jean-Claude Van Damme, who played Kurt in the original 1989 Kickboxer movie. He returns as Master Durand in the reboot.
“He really knows the genre and came in with all kinds of really cool ideas in the first movie,” said Logothetis. “A lot of the training sequences are ideas that JC came up with. He had a lot of great ideas about the approach to working with Alain and the Kirk character. He’s got great instincts. It was his idea in the second one to come at it blind and to have been maimed. He really digs in and it’s much appreciated because I think that he stands out as a someone from the genre that blesses what we’re doing.”
Kickboxer: Retaliation also stars boxer Mike Tyson as Briggs, a fellow prisoner who trains Kurt. “I wrote this significant role for him,” said Logothetis. “He didn’t have to train any differently. Mike not only was a very powerful puncher, but he was one of the fastest flurry punchers to ever live and the biggest challenge for me was figuring out how to capture that on film.”
Logothetis rented a camera that shoots 500 frames a second. While that slowed down the punches on camera, it didn’t slow them down in real life. “Alain is very agile and quick, but he couldn’t get out of the way fast enough,” said Logothetis. “He accidentally got hit in the jaw by Mike. I asked him if he was okay and he said, ‘I just hit my bucket list because Mike Tyson slugged me in the face. I can knock that off the list.’”
Joking aside, Logothetis is passionate and serious about his work, which is exactly what he tells future filmmakers to be.
“You should go with your passion, not be driven off track, and stay focused on what you believe works,” he said. “You can’t tell a story by committee. You can talk to all kinds of people before you shoot your film and you should listen to people whose opinions you value. After time, you have to shut all that off and you have to go with what you think is right. It’s your point of view and don’t let anybody talk you out of your passions.”
Which is exactly what he’s done in his own career, winning awards for several of his works at various film festivals.
The Kickboxer franchise isn’t Logothetis’ first foray in film and television production. He is known for other productions such as Momo, the documentary on Chicago Mob boss Sam Giancana, as well as The Lost Angel, Dark Realm, Code Name Eternity, Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers, and the documentary Champions’ Forever.
He also got the acting bug when he was in college and had the opportunity to work with such legends as Liza Minnelli, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese. It was Scorsese, the director behind such legendary movies as Goodfellas, Taxi Drive, and The Age of Innocence, encouraged Logothetis to go to film school.
“I was doing some creative writing for one of my English classes and he was looking over my shoulder and said it was pretty good,” said Logothetis. “He wrote me a letter of recommendation and I decided to focus on film school.”
Logothetis is now working on Kickboxer: Armageddon. “If you liked Kickboxer: Retaliation, the kind of action sequences that I’m planning in Armageddon will blow your mind.”
For more information on Dimitri Logothetis, visit his website.
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