No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

After learning of the unfortunate death of Chester Bennington, here is something completely unrelated.

No Retreat No Surrender is a 1986 crossover movie from New World Pictures. I refer to the film as a crossover film because it is the US directorial debut of Corey Yuen (Ninja in the Dragon’s Den, Dance of the Drunk Mantis) and stars (in a supporting role) Jean-Claude Van Damme and Kurt McKinney. 

The blending of American suburban settings with Chinese style martial arts filmmaking and their obvious kinship in overdramatic takes and melodrama fits somehow well in this 80’s cult classic. 

From the opening scene straight out of the Karate Kid leading up to the initial transgression from our story’s smarmy slicked back villain and hilarious screaming take of our heroes father getting his knee-cap smashed in by Van Damme. All the way to the disgrace and seclusion and predictable alcoholism of said father. It has just enough cheese to whet your appetite for absurdity. There are even a few fat jokes at the expense of a chubby comedic foil thrown into the mix.

Our hero played by Kurt McKinney is the average introverted teenager who’s obsessed with Bruce Lee and even plays out Jeet Kun Do moves during his father’s orthodox Karate class.  He has little friends and is lacking in confidence; perfect casting of a handsome actor for the role [sarcasm]. A young man so lonely and looking for guidance and inspiration, that he routinely stalks the gravesite of the late martial artist and film star Bruce Lee, even engaging in conversation with the tombstone. He is constantly pushed to use his improvised yet amateurish fighting skills to defend other people at the disapproval of the new member of the town’s drunken population – his father.  Some of the funniest moments in the film is when he and his father are at odds. You can almost hear the huffing n puffing and “I can’t do nuttin!” coming from Jason’s temper tantrums building up to the straw that broke the camel’s back as his father has a meltdown over Jason’s repeated disobedience and rips his cherished Bruce Lee poster forcing Jason to run away from home and take refuge in a boarded up house where he is haunted by the ghost of Bruce Lee. Is it delusion caused by a mental snap or is it really the ghost of Bruce Lee as played by Tai Chung Kim. Who knows?

What comes next is the mother of all title theme songs/training montages. 

The main plot of the movie follows the takeover of all martial arts dojo’s in the country by a criminal syndicate of, well, four maybe three people. The head of this cabal is a little slick-backed weasel puffing on a cigar and thirsty for … more dojo’s and total domination. The true enforcer of the syndicate is Ivan the Russian played by action film star Jean-Claude Van Damme in one of his first roles, perhaps filmed before or after his attention grabbing performance in the Sho Kosugi film Black Eagle. 

The melodrama is entertaining often over the top and hysterical. From moonwalking gone wrong to uncomfortable basketball dribbling between friends during the first half of the film and to the awkward training montage, it has it all. The fight scenes are GREAT. The fight scenes are great; yes I know I said that twice; it’s true. RJ is the perfect 80’s B-movie black best friend and support system, imagine Stiles (Teen Wolf) had a kid with Turbo from Breakin’.

If I had to rate the film, I’d give it 3 out 5 six packs of Modelo Cheladas. And I really like Micheladas.

It’s fast paced mini-mall kung fu action. You can’t lose and you’d be sure to find yourself wanting to kick some ass and kick back into your lazy-boy chairs. So keep up the good fight. I’m back. Stay Retro. Stay cool and Keep your fingers on that rewind button. There is neither surrender nor retreating and spellcheck is never an option.