What do you get if you mix The Karate Kid with Rocky IV, add a few funky dance moves, and then risk the ire of Bruce Lee fans by having his ghost portrayed onscreen by . . . someone who looks quite Asian? You get No Retreat, No Surrender.
Jason (Kurt McKinney) is an eager karate student who sometimes gets carried away while fighting in his father's dojo. He idolises Bruce Lee and hopes to one day be on a par with the man. His father (Scott, played by Timothy D. Baker) is always trying to remind him that karate is a discipline, and not necessarily all about fighting like Bruce Lee, but that lesson is even harder for Jason to accept when his father is visited by mobsters and has a fair amount of damage inflicted upon him by a brutal and skilled Russian fighter named Ivan (Jean-Claude Van Damme). The family relocates to Seattle, Jason is befriended by a boy named R. J. Madison (J. W. Fails), and it's not too long until the ghost of Bruce Lee appears to teach Jason how to be a much better fighter, just in time for a grand finale that sees the mobsters, and Ivan, reappear.
If I spent this review listing the aspects of No Retreat, No Surrender that are absolutely ridiculous then you would end up reading an article of approximately 5000 words. Because it's nonsense from start to finish, and starts to get more nonsensical, and a lot more fun, once the main characters move into their new home. Whether it's R. J. busting out his breakdancing skills, interactions with a bully who rarely stops stuffing his face (Kent Lipham), or Jason working on his karate that he thinks is good enough until being shown how much he has to improve by "Bruce Lee", this is a film that at least ensures viewers are never bored.
McKinney, Baker, and Fails may not have gone on to become major stars but I hope they can be happy enough in the knowledge that they put the work in here to keep the likes of me and my friends happily entertained for many hours when we discovered, and shared, this on VHS.
The script, by Keith W. Strandberg (based on a story by Ng See-yuen and director Corey Yuen), is almost childishly simplistic in between the action moments. There are memorable characters throughout, even if they are amusing caricatures, but the villains really just seem to be there to motivate and develop our young lead, and the good guys are never as charismatic as evil, grimacing, Van Damme.
At least Yuen throws enough martial arts in the mix to please action fans, with every punch and kick accompanied by authentic sound effects (well . . . they would be authentic if everyone involved was made of wood). The fighting may be as silly, in many ways, as the rest of the film but at least it's enjoyably energetic and in line with a lot of other martial arts movie moments from this time.
This is the set to get.
American friends, get the blu here.