This weeks nostalgic look back at the rental movies from our youth brings me to the karate filled streets of…. Seattle! in No Retreat, No Surrender (1985)
Tagline – “Tonight, He either fights for his life or he’ll be running for the rest of it.“
Who’s our hero today?
No Retreat, No Surrender would be the debut film for our hero actor Kurt McKinney who plays Jason Stillwell. Kurt was straight out of Kentucky and at the young age of 21 was already a black belt in taekwondo and an amateur kickboxing champ.
Had I seen this one on VHS back in the day?
You know what I was positive I had! Remember the cassette case on the video store shelves. You’re talking more than 35 years ago and one hell of a lot of videos watched and rented but honestly I didn’t recall any scenes as I excitedly watched. This movie took me right back to those fun time, teenage years, of discovering random movies.
Quick plot run down.
Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney) trains under his father Tom (Timothy D Baker) at the family dojo in Los Angeles. His dad was an expert fighter and practiced the true and respectful way of the martial art. One fateful day the dojo is seized by an organized crime syndicate with the intention of taking over all the dojo’s in the country. Refusal meant a devastating beating from the gangsters prized fighters, one being Ivan Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme) a no remorse Russian killer. With lost pride, broken bones and fear for his family, Tom sells up and moves them all to Seattle for a peaceful new life!
Tom Stillwell – “I will not fight. Karate is not to be used aggressively but if I have no other choice. HiiYaaah“
Does the hero have a day job?
Jason was obsessed with karate. On moving to Seattle his first mission was to turn the garage into this training arena. He was a Bruce Lee fanatic and posters of the legend covered all the wall space. Punch bags hung from the rafters. Sat in the corner was his beloved Wing Chun dummy. The famous wooden training tool seen in many a martial arts movies training montage. Jason would happily just stay in the garage however he needed to go to school and hopefully make friends.
What’s our heroes special skills?
He is an accomplished fighter in his own right but doesn’t have the drive and focus to finely tune his craft. His special hero skills are taught to him from a very unlikely source!! All will be revealed further down the page…
Heroes weapon of choice?
Just his fists and legs and every bone in his body that he can smash down on his attacking enemy.
Heroes drink of choice?
If Jason was following in Bruce’s footsteps then maybe he’d try some Hennessy Cognac Big Boss style? Or maybe even come back from the dead and drink Johnnie Walker whisky in all it’s wrongness!!
Does hero have a sidekick?
He does and everybody needs a RJ (J.W Fails) in their life. Skateboarder, break dancer, BMX stunts, rapper, Michael Jackson impersonator, moonwalk specialist, fixer, comedy relief, training motivator and general all round best buddy you could ever dream of.
Hot girl? Damsel in distress or ass kicker?
Kelly Reilly (Kathie Sileno) is an old flame of Jason who’d also moved out to Seattle with her brother, the newly crowned US National Karate Champion Ian ‘Whirlwind’ Riley (Ron Pohnel). Her brother also runs the local dojo and has under his wing the arrogant pretty boy Dean ‘Shooting Star’ Ramsay (Dale Jacoby) who believes Kelly is his gal. She only has eyes for our Jason, especially, when he seals the deal with buying a bunny for her birthday. Infuriated, Dean decides to give Jason a beating and get back his love.
Who’s the main baddie?
Well, there’s the local chubby fat kid bully, Scott (Kent Lipham) who’s a right pain in the arse. Causing trouble where ever he can. He does get a few funny lines and is generally a laugh stock. But we all know who the real baddie is… The formidable fighting fortress of Ivan “The Russian” Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme). He also shocks the crowd with his wincing nut sack stretching trademark between the ropes splits. It’s a sight to bring tears to the most hardest of men.
Baddies special skills?
Being Russian with a Belgium accent?
Psycho baddies rating out of ten? 8.5/10
A killing machine of devastating power. He can and will fight all and everyone. He has no fear. A psycho in and out of the ring.
Heroes balls of steel and anger ratings out of ten? 8/10
Kurt McKinney does a grand job as our fighting hero Jason. You can see his trained skills shine through in certain scenes. Especially in the end arena showdown where all the fighters (all actual martial artists) get to show off their skills.
Surely it features a training montage scene?
OH MY!!! Surely it did feature a training montage and wow did it deliver. We get a Rocky style running with RJ on his BMX, upside down sit ups, weights, spring tension curls, hours on the wooden training dummy etc. But best of all the montages has to be having the ghost of Bruce Lee put Jason through some ridiculous training actions while delivering ancient eastern proverbs. Yep this film delivers on it’s, should be included in every 80s movie, montage promise
Will I be needing to pause the video player? AKA are there any boobies?
No nothing at all though bully Scott might of known what Jason was up to on his alone time? “Beat it, Brucey! Go home and play with your wooden dolly!”
No nothing at all. Though Jason and Kelly get to play tonsil tennis on the dance floor watched on by a giggling RJ and oddly, two of his robotic dancer friends.
Any good totally random surprise scenes?
One I never knew, I’d imagined they made it up for the plot of the film, but no, Bruce Lee’s grave is actually in Seattle and he’s buried next to his son Brandon Lee at the Lake View Cemetery. What is random in the film is Jason goes to his grave and prays for help. Later that evening the ghost of Bruce turns up, played by Tae-jeong Kim and puts Jason through a tough and strenuous training program with added words of wisdom.
Films body count? Low/Medium/High?
Low. There are no Mortal Kombat fatalities here.
Best death scene?
No death scene’s yet there’s a crazy stunt bit in the ring involving Ron Pohnel and JCVD. In the frantic fight Ron gets thrown through the ropes and spins round a few times tying him up as JCVD rains down kicks and punches from all angles whilst trying to strangle him!.
Explosion ratio? Low/Medium/High?
Low. No explosions in this movie review time.
How many stuntmen probably really died making this film?
Reading the trivia section of IMDB it is said that JCVD was tough to work with in the early days. With mention of his dangerous but spectacular fighting movements on set would often connect. It is said that cast member Peter “Sugarfoot” Cunningham (Frank Peters) was knocked out a few times with spinning kicks. A court case would raise such issues when filming Cyborg (1989) resulted in an actor, Jackson ‘Rock’ Pinckney losing an eye in an accident with JCVD during a scene. It has to be one of the dangers of trying to get martial arts film look realistic, especially on a budget back then. One things for certain is JCVD acting might be cheesy but when he starts to fight he looks savage.
RJ – “Hey, ain’t no shelves built to stop THIS dancin’ machine.“
No Retreat No Surrender is directed by Hong Kong action star Corey Yuen in his first American production. He’d starred in many Hong Kong action films before going into directing. He would also start doing action directing for fight scenes and choreography for big Hollywood films like Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) X-Men (2000) and Romeo Must Die (2000) and The Transporter (2002) to name a few.
The screenplay was written and created by Keith W Strandberg who would return to script two sequels. Neither sound like they have anything to do with the original. In No Retreat No Surrender II (1987) an American kickboxer has to go to Cambodia to rescue his girlfriend from Russian and Vietnamese troops. I’ve not seen it but I see Cynthia Rothrock gets to unleash her fighting powers. And in No Retreat No Surrender 3 Blood Brothers (1990) two feuding brothers, one a cop and the other a karate expert are forced to work together to revenge their fathers death. Actually if you wanted more of this crazy nonsense there’s also The King of the Kickboxers (1990) that might really be NRNS 4? Of course feel free to let me know if they are in fact really good fun.
Jean-Claude Van Damme might be splashed across the poster for the movie now but at the time this was his first big part film credit. He only pops in at the beginning however its the end fight that he really shines and shows why he got to become the JCVD we all loved or hated later on.
This is hard cheese I’d have to admit but of course that’s what makes it’s so much fun.
IMDB score rating – 5.7/10
Wolfman ACTION & FUN rating – 7.5/10
Wolfman over all film rating – 6.5/10
Big thanks to my brother Dan for giving me a nudge on this one after he enjoyed watching the cheese fighting fest. Seeing it was on Amazon Prime I had to join the fun. It’s The Karate Kid (1984) and Breakin (1984) influences are all to be seen and you can throw in some The Last Dragon (1985) alongside many kung-fu action films at the time. Ok the acting and plot might not be great but for a B-movie 80s action film, it’s a total blast and I’m sure you will have a great time with it.
Feel free to let me know your thoughts on the film if you want. But most importantly have fun with the movies.
Keep it filmy…. Mikey Wolf.