No Retreat, No Surrender (1985) Movie Review

The ’80s was a magical period in American filmmaking. How else can you explain the daily visitations of awful tripe like “No Retreat, No Surrender” to your local Cineplex? Nowadays, a film as bad as “Retreat” is relegated to Bad Action B-Movie status and dumped directly to video store shelves without preamble. But way back in the ’80s, movies like “Retreat”, with its low-grade acting, horrendous scripting, poor directing, and just plain bad moviemaking in general, graced movie screens on a regular basis. (The movie would go on to launch a franchise, with 5 installments to its name at last count.)

“No Retreat, No Surrender” will probably be most known for offering up an early work by the Muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme (“Maximum Risk”), who plays an evil Russian fighter name Ivan. (Take a look at the updated movie poster.) The actual star of “Retreat” is Kurt McKinney, who plays Jason, a white kid obsessed with Bruce Lee. After Jason’s father, who runs a karate school, gets his leg broken by Ivan at the behest of the Russian mob, Jason and his family packs up and moves to Seattle. Here, Jason makes friends with Sassy Black Guy R.J. (J.W. Fails) and runs afoul of a really evil fat kid. After getting beaten numerous times by numerous people (usually because of the evil fat kid), Jason is visited by the spirit of Bruce Lee, who teaches the kid kung fu.

Basically 90 minutes of everything the ’80s was known for, including: bad hair, bad clothes, bad synthesizer music, bad acting, and a boom mike that refuses to stay out of frame, “Retreat” is nothing more than a guilty pleasure. Martial arts fans may also notice that the director is none other than Corey Yuen (“The Transporter”), who despite having very little to work with in terms of script, budget, and actors, actually manages some decent fight scenes. The best, of course, is the final fight between the Muscles from Brussels and what seems like the whole city of Seattle.

“No Retreat, No Surrender” is one of those movies that just begs to be ridiculed. It certainly has its share of goofs, including (but certainly not limited to): Jason’s father, who after getting his leg broken, becomes a big wimp; R.J., who is supposed to be black and thus “groovy”, but has a white stunt double every time he is supposedly “getting down”; and how about the fact that the guy playing the spirit of Bruce Lee looks nothing like the real Bruce Lee. Actually, the better question is: has the Russian mob gotten so lame that they now spend all their time going around the country taking over karate dojos?

If I haven’t made it clear, “Retreat” is a really, really bad movie. The synthesizer music is what suicide attempts are made of, and the acting is downright atrocious. The script is illogical, as well as the evil fat kid (whose name I can’t remember) who keeps appearing to do, er, evil stuff to our hero. But then again, asking a movie like “No Retreat, No Surrender” to conform to good taste is just asking for trouble.

I give “Retreat” a bad grade for being a really bad movie, but a good grade for being incredibly entertaining, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Hey, it’s the ’80s. Deal with it or avoid it.

Corey Yuen (director) / Corey Yuen, See-Yuen Ng, Keith W. Strandberg (screenplay)
CAST: Kurt McKinney …. Jason Stillwell
Jean-Claude Van Damme …. Ivan
J.W. Fails …. R.J. Madison
Kathie Sileno …. Kelly Reilly

Buy No Retreat No Surrender on DVD