Bullet Points: No Retreat, No Surrender
There are two things that I really enjoy: Jean-Claude Van Damme movies; Bruce Lee Movies; and lists that don’t make sense. I didn’t know the duo had ever worked together until the editors at Bulletproofaction.com tasked me with reviewing 1986’s No Retreat, No Surrender for The Best Van Damme Week Ever 2. The fact that I would get to see two of my action heroes together was enough to get my Bullet Points juices flowing, but the hefty fee I get for writing said reviews didn’t hurt either. Once I started to watch this incredibly enjoyable film, I realized that it is not specifically a JCVD film or a Bruce Lee film, but rather No Retreat, No Surrender is a Kurt McKinney vehicle. Messieurs Van Damme and Lee are influences on competing sides of Kurt McKinney’s characters journey.
- Editor’s note: Bruce Lee was not in No Retreat, No Surrender and was dead for 13 years by the time the movie was released. The ghost of Bruce Lee was a character in the film played by Tae-jeong Kim. Tae-jong Kim did work with Bruce Lee as his stand-in, most notably in Game of Death.
No Retreat, No Surrender is the story of Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney) a karate enthusiast and Bruce Lee devotee. Jason’s father, Tom Stillwell (Timothy D. Baker) is a sad sack of a karate instructor in Sherman Oaks, CA. While he has the karate chops (get it?), he only believes in using karate for self-defense. While this is the correct position, it definitely should have been used to stop a New York crime syndicate (a crime syndicate that is never really explained) from taking over the LA karate scene. One of the thugs for the NY syndicate, a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, is a man of few words who dresses in an all-white suite with slick backed hair. He is Frank Nitti and in a heartbreaking scene he shoots Jim Malone in his apartment. Tom surrenders and retreats with his family all the way to Seattle, WA.
- Editor’s note: JCVD plays Ivan ‘The Russian’ Kraschinsky. Frank Nitti was a character played by Billy Drago a year after No Retreat, No Surrender in The Untouchables. The characters are almost identical looking, but have nothing to do with each other. Ivan does break Tom Stillwell’s leg forcing him to limp with his tail between his legs all the way to Seattle.
Life in Seattle is difficult for Jason because he runs afoul of some member of the local dojo because he is new and Jason’s girlfriend Kelly (Kathie Sileno) has the eye of one of the members. Jason’s father also disapproves of Jason’s fighting because of his belief of only using karate for self-defense. Jason does have RJ, his bike riding, rapping, dancing friend. After Tom rips apart Jason’s karate practice garage for getting into a fight, RJ helps Jason find an abandoned house to practice in. That is a great way to repurpose abandoned and derelict housing. Stopping urban blight starts with you.
- Editor’s note: Do NOT break into abandoned houses to create your own practice karate studio or for any other reason. Bulletproofaction.com also does not recommend lighting your entire practice karate studio with candles like Jason because one misplaced kick can start a conflagration.
The one thing that Seattle has besides the Space Needle is Bruce Lee. The Jeet Kune Do creator appears as a mentor to help Jason with his physical and mental training. You better believe there is a training montage with a killer 80s theme that says the name of the movie in the song. Stop the presses! I just got a call from my editors and was told that Bruce Lee the actor is not in No Retreat, No Surrender, just the character of Bruce Lee’s ghost played by a different actor. Like all good writers I don’t proofread, censor, or edit my work so there will be no changes to the Bullet Points. It kind of makes sense because Jason visits the Seattle cemetery with Bruce Lee’s gravestone. I wondered why Bruce Lee would allow his character to be dead, but now I guess that it is because he is actually dead. RIP Sensei Lee. It is amazing how glorious that picture on Bruce Lee’s gravestone used to be with the glasses and I’ll never know why they changed it. That is how I choose to remember him, kind of like the big picture of him when I went to his funeral.
- Editor’s note: Matt Spector was not at Bruce Lee’s funeral, but he recently watched Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and it moved him so much that he has been confusing fiction and reality. He is such a damn fine writer that we didn’t have the heart to tell him right away.
The NY crime syndicate finds its way to Seattle, the last stop in taking over the US karate game. There are millions to be made on local karate competitions that take place in half filled high school gymnasiums. The Seattle Sidekicks are set to take on the Manhattan Maulers, but there is a twist with Ivan taking on all of the Sidekicks. This provides non-stop karate action and shows all of JCVD’s skills. He mauls the Sidekicks and of course does the splits while balancing on the ropes! When he goes a tad bit crazy and tries to kill one of the Sidekicks the crowd gets mildly upset and starts to boo, but the fight continues until Ivan grabs Kelly’s hair. Jason has had enough and the final showdown is set with an epic mano a mano battle.
- Editor’s note: The editors can relate to Jason because we are all for full contact fighting to the death, but if someone would ever touch the magnificent hair of Michael Dudikoff, the full force and might of Bulletproofaction.com would be used to bring that person down.
I need to talk a little about the man who has an entire week named after him at Bulletproofaction.com, Jean-Claude Van Damme. No Retreat, No Surrender was one of Van Damme’s first credited works and he was legit. How legit was he you ask? During Jackson ‘Rock’ Pickney’s lawsuit against Van Damme for losing his eye from a prop knife during Cyborg filming, two cast members from No Retreat, No Surrender testified that Van Damme was dangerous to work with. There are complaints that he was actually hitting people instead of acting or striking them in the face instead of the chest. Personally, I don’t see a problem because karate is a full contact sport. If you want to make a movie without getting kicked in the face, go make a sequel to Terms of Endearment.
- Editor’s note: There IS a sequel to Terms of Endearment and it is called The Evening Star, but even though it has Shirley MacLaine again, it can’t hold a candle to the masterpiece that is Terms of Endearment.
Three Round Bullet Points
- Tree’s Company: – I have only been to Seattle twenty-six times so it is possible I missed them but I have never seen the type of palm trees in the movie that claims to be Seattle, but look suspiciously identical to the palm trees claiming to be Los Angeles at the beginning of the movie. There are a lot of scenes actually filmed in Seattle, but is seems to bounce between the two metropolises pretending to be one.
- Five Questions: No Retreat, No Surrender has a slight family friendly high school aged vibe, sort of like Iron Eagle with the focus on the high school aged son and a dad in trouble. Why then would RJ wear a Playboy t-shirt to the karate finale? Was this product placement and did Playboy pay for that advertisement? Was it just from the actor’s personal wardrobe? Is the movie not supposed to be geared to a young adult audience? Is it always this hard for Chris the Brain to come up with his 5 Questions?
- Sequel Saturday: Since I don’t read any reviews that aren’t written by me, I had no idea there was a No Retreat, No Surrender 2, but now that I know Loren Avedon is in it, I will pass. I prefer my Avedon’s in the Richard variety because the man was a genius and it is good to appreciate other forms of art besides ass-kicking.
- Editor’s note: We suggest reading all reviews and not just the gems written by Matt Spector, but No Retreat, No Surrender 2 featured neither Jean-Claude Van Damme nor Kurt McKinney which is not a good thing. Sequel Saturday, on the other hand, sounds like an excellent idea.