No Retreat, No Surrender (1986) (Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray Review)
Directed By: Corey Yuen
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kurt McKinney
Rated: PG/Region: O/1:85/1080p/Number of disc: 1
Available from Umbrella Entertainment
Jason Stillwell, a Bruce Lee fan, is beaten numerous times and trains from the ghost of Lee. Jason then must use his newly acquired skills to save Seattle from a crime syndicate, whose top martial artist is the deadly Ivan.
No Retreat, No Surrender first came to my attention over on Instagram when brilliant artist, Tom Hodge, posted a pic of the three movies in the series on VHS. I know they say you aren’t supposed to judge stuff by the cover, but after seeing the cover I knew this was a movie I wanted to check-out. Yes, it is like some weird combo of The Karate Kid and Rocky IV, but it is fun and full of what made campy action movies as entertaining as they were in the 80s. Truth be told, this thing is probably a shade away from cartoon territory, but you gets lots of great action and a plot so cheesy you could almost eat it up with a cracker! The movie also has Jean-Claude Van Damme as the Russian Ivan. He’s the right-hand man for someone who is the right-hand man for someone who is going out of their way to strong-arm dojo owners out of their dojo. This method is what brings him at odds with our leading guy, Jason, who is played by Kurt McKinney. Jason is a bit of a hot head, who’s Dad is his trainer and is hurt by Ivan at the start of the film. This gives his Dad an anti-fighting stance but also leaves the door open for Jason to seek other ways of training after a few run-ins with some locals. The other ways come from the apparent ghost of Bruce Lee, who Jason idolizes. It should be noted that Jason’s sidekick, R.J., is about as stereotypical as you could get, but what do we really expect from 1986? There is also a love interest for Jason, but that is hardly touched on, even with Jason having to run to the aid of he brother at the end of the film, who is also a karate expert, but no match for Ivan.
The way this movie is presented you’d think our lead somehow died, went crazy or went into a coma near the end of the film and the rest is some crazy thing made up or just in his head. That’s how cheesy things get. I, however, love the cheesy factor here and having that mixed with the karate really makes the thing what it is, for better or worse. Van Damme might be featured on the covers for this thing nowadays, but he’s actually hardly in it. The movie belongs to Kurt McKinny and we shouldn’t let his later soap opera fame take away from the fact that he is awesome here in the role of Jason and is a whole lot of fun on screen. Jason and R.J. are a very effective comedic team when given the chance and their run-ins with the chubby, Scott, seems a little wacky, but make for a nice change of pace from the action from time to time. Not that those scenes don’t lead to other action scenes, but it just comes across different a bit and helps this fever dream of an action comedy become what it is to see it today. If you want some 80s fun, then, by all means, find a copy of this one and give it a watch. If you love stuff like Karate Kid, then you should have no problem at all loving this.
Quality of Transfer: 88%