The upcoming Kickboxer – a remake of the 1989 Jean-Claude Van Damme action vehicle of the same name – was previously reported to have lined up the Ong-bak trilogy’s martial arts star, Tony Jaa, for a pivotal role. However, Jaa has now dropped out of the project due to a scheduling conflict and, in an unexpected development, been replaced by Van Damme himself.

Kickboxer, based on the script by Dimitri Logothetis (The Lost Angel) and relative newcomer Jim McGrath, reportedly won’t stray far from the plot of the original movie. The protagonist role originated by Van Damme – young talented martial artist Kurt Sloane – will be handled by stunt man/actor Alain Moussi (Pacific Rim, X-Men: Days of Future Past); Van Damme will take on the mentor role of Master Chow, handled by Dennis Chan in the 1989 version.

Radar Films producer Ted Field commented on the casting news (via THR), saying the film’s producers are excited to have Van Damme “passing the torch to Alain, to have him lead the franchise to a new generation.” Production on the project begins in New Orleans this week, but it shall eventually move to Thailand; an official release date has not yet been set, but right now an early 2016 arrival for Kickboxer seems a strong possibility (what with 2015 already pretty jam-packed full).

Kickboxer is being co-directed by Stephen Fung (Tai Chi Zero) and John Stockwell (Blue Crush, In the Blood), and follows Moussi’s Sloane, a talented martial artist, as he travels to Thailand to learn the secrets of Muay Thai – as passed down by his brother’s old teacher (Van Damme) – and take revenge on a dangerous fighter, Tong Po, who is responsible for his sibling’s death. Guardians of the Galaxy‘s David Bautista is set to play the movie’s antagonist, while UFC champion and fellow Marvel Film vet Georges St. Pierre (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) is also part of the cast.

jean claude van damme expendables 2 Jean Claude Van Damme Set for Kickboxer Remake; Filming Begins This Week

Jean-Claude Van Damme in ‘The Expendables 2’

Van Damme’s 1989 Kickboxer movie is generally considered to be a cult classic action B-movie, and gave rise to a handful of sequels; if the 2015 version finds an audience, it could wind up rebooting the franchise moving forward. There’s also a Bloodsport remake (another JCVD vehicle remake) in development right now. Similar to the Kickboxer redo, it’s not clear yet how that film will “modernize” the tropes and action filmmaking of the original Van Damme movie; and thus, the possibility of it achieving similar cult status, is far from a given.

The decision to bring Van Damme aboard for the Kickboxer remake is a smart one, for certain; his recent movies have flown below the radar of your average filmgoer (with exceptions like Expendables 2), but Van Damme will be very much a draw for martial arts cinephiles. The same goes for having rising star Bautista onboard as the villain; rumor has it the Drax actor will be a henchman in the next James Bond movie, which will also help bring attention to his role in Kickboxer.

We’ll let you know when Kickboxer gets an official release date.

Source: THR

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