It’s hard to believe it’s been over 30 years since martial artist and actor Michael Qissi burst onto the scene as the intimidating Muay Thai champion Tong Po in the cult classic Kickboxer. With his shaved head, muscular physique and menacing glare, Qissi left an indelible mark on fight film fans as the remorseless villain who viciously paralyzed his opponent.
So what exactly has the man behind Tong Po been up to lately?
A Fighter’s Beginnings
Born Mohammed Qissi on September 12, 1962, in Oujda, Morocco, Michel Qissi’s life has been a testament to the fighting spirit. Moving to Brussels with his brother at a young age, Qissi’s towering 6’2″ frame would later become a signature feature in his film roles. But before the cameras rolled, it was in the boxing rings of Belgium that Qissi first made his mark. An amateur boxing champion by 17, Qissi’s promising career was cut short by elbow problems, but not before he claimed the title of Belgium Champion.
His martial arts prowess didn’t end with boxing; Qissi also trained in Shōtōkan Karate, Muay Thai, and Kickboxing. It was this dedication to martial arts that forged a lifelong friendship with fellow martial artist and future movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme. The two shared dreams of cinematic glory, a bond that would eventually take them to Hollywood.
Rise to Cinematic Fame
Qissi’s film career began alongside Van Damme with an uncredited role in the 1984 film “Breakin'”. Their break came with “Bloodsport” (1988), after which Qissi’s most iconic role arrived: Tong Po in “Kickboxer”.
Despite a makeup-induced transformation to fit the character’s ethnicity, Qissi’s portrayal became legendary, though a mix-up in the credits left him mistakenly uncredited as himself.
Life After “Kickboxer”
While his career didn’t parallel the meteoric rise of Van Damme’s, Qissi continued to work in the industry, taking roles that showcased his martial arts skills and even stepping behind the camera.
His filmography includes working as a stunt coordinator on “Cyborg” and acting in “Lionheart”. Most recently, he appeared in the 2016 “Kickboxer” remake, “Kickboxer: Vengeance”, and has been involved in several projects, including “Out for Vengeance 2: Back to Revenge”, and “Fire to Kill”.
Where is Michel Qissi Now?
Today, Qissi resides in Morocco and he remains active in the film industry with several projects in the pipeline.
He is set to appear in “Out for Vengeance 2: Back to Revenge” as Tarik El-Yuzdi, a film currently in pre-production and slated for a 2024 release.
Qissi has completed work on “The Last Kumite” and “Killer Ex,” both of which are in post-production, indicating their release may be imminent.
He’s also a familiar face at pop-culture conventions, engaging with fans who remember his roles fondly.
Despite a 20-year hiatus in communication with Van Damme, the two have rekindled their friendship, appearing together in the “Kickboxer” remake and planning future collaborations.
Michel Qissi’s story is one of a dream realized, a friendship that endured the trials of fame, and a legacy cemented in the annals of action cinema. As he continues to work on new projects, his contributions to the genre remain as impactful as the kicks and punches he so expertly delivered on screen.