Monday, 11 October 2010

No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

In 1984, the seminal coming of age martial arts film The Karate Kid was released and was a huge success, with it's combination of spirituality, nicely choreographed action and memorable performances, the film made over $90 Million worldwide, making it a massive success. Unsurprisingly, film makers were quick to cash in. In 1986 Seasonal Films, mostly known for producing Jackie Chan's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, released their own spin on The Karate Kid formula with No Retreat, No Surrender.

Kurt Mckinney plays Jake Stillwell, a Karate practitioner who idolises Bruce Lee and hopes one day to reach the same level as the Martial Arts legend. After his father is injured in a fight with some local criminals, they move to Seattle to start a new life. Jake ends up butting heads with some members of a local Karate Dojo, so he starts training intensively (With the spiritual guidance of Bruce Lee no less) in hopes of becoming a Karate Master.

So, yeah, the film pretty much follows the story of The Karate Kid almost beat for beat, so much so that's kind of distracting as I found myself comparing the two throughout. It goes without saying Karate Kid is definitely the better movie because quite frankly No Retreat, No Surrender is a bad movie, really bad in fact. That mostly has a lot to do with the acting which is just down right awful. This was lead actor's Kurt McKinney's first acting role and it shows, when he gets angry, he gets really angry, he screams and shouts and throws his arms around like a three year old throwing a tantrum and it's just too damn funny most of the time. It's obvious they were trying to go for drama but the awful dialogue and bad acting performances just turn the film into a completely unintentional comedy.

Funny thing is, the movie does try to throw some humour in now and again, this is given to us in the form of Jake's best friend the skateboarding, break dancing, rapping RJ played by played by J.W. Fails and boy does he live up to his name. He comes off as Philip Michael Thomas' talentless, annoying and slightly retarded younger brother who has the strange ability of turning into a short, floppy haired Chinese man whenever he does any acrobatic stunts, you can tell he's having fun being around and making the movie but it doesn't really help his acting ability.

Familiar plot lines and annoying supporting characters aside, the films does offer up some decent action. Directed by Corey Yuen and choreographed by Meng Hoi, the fighting is the typical stylised hyped up kick boxing style that had become popular in Hong Kong action movies of this period. What I love about Corey Yuen as both a director and a choreographer is that he has this natural talent of making anyone look good when they fight on screen. Even someone as stiff as Mckinney, who is an accomplished martial artist, comes off looking like a total bad ass in the finale against a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays the movie's main villain, Russian Kick-boxer Ivan. Rocky IV had been a massive box-office hit the year before and evil Russians had become the stock villain during the 80's due to the cold war so it was an obvious ploy in order to make the film appeal to the audience. I can honestly say I've never seen Van Damme look better when he's fighting. Even in his more well know movies such as Kickboxer and Bloodsport, he's fast, his kicks are solid and accurate and he looks deadly.

Now, let's move onto a section of the film which people often talk about. After having his ass handed to him by another Karate fighter, Jake pleads at the grave of Bruce Lee to help him become a better martial artist. Oddly enough, his prayers are answered when Bruce Lee's ghost appears and helps train Jake. Bruce is played by Kim Tai-Chung, who had portrayed Lee before in Game of Death and Game of Death 2. Kim's performance is decent, he has the mannerisms pretty much down and he looks good when he throws the odd kick but the whole sequence just comes of really odd and maybe just a exploitative of Lee's memory, especially when he's spouting a load of convoluted guff as if he's reciting a really badly put together cliff notes version of Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

No Retreat, No Surrender isn't a great film, what we have is just downright awful but for some really odd reason it was a decent hit at the box office. The film cost $400,000 to produce and would go on to gross $16,500,000 worldwide, so given it's success, a number of sequels would follow. All of which I am going to review over the next few weeks. Why have I decided to submit myself to such cinematic torture? I really don't know but this is first and foremost a martial arts movie blog so I'm willing to subject myself to hackneyed stories, embarrassing acting and cheesy dialogue all for the sake of reporting to you, my faithful readers, the martial arts action contained within.

Now if only I could find a way to get paid for this sort of thing.

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