Thursday, May 13, 2010


Somebody once told me that that if I ever wind up in prison, the best tactic to avoid being raped by other inmates is to act completely fucking insane. Shit your pants a lot. Mutter obscenities at a box of Girl Scout cookies while grabbing your crotch. Get a Dead Moon tattoo on your cheek. Also, get heavy into Devil worship. And I don’t mean that intellectualized LaVey brand of Satanism. I’m talking about the real shit, where you soak your bass strings in the blood of a virgin while listening to "Haunting in the Chapel." That way, NO ONE will fuck with you.

I’m starting to suspect that low budget film makers operate under a similar pretense, too. When your funds and opportunities are limited it forces you to think outside the box and get a little crazy. You have to make a complete spectacle out of what little you have to ensure that you do not go unnoticed. Instead of going out with a whimper you want to go out with the roar of a urine soaked bum riding the city bus.

That said, I’m sure the ratio of failed low budget movies versus the number of guys who try to act crazy in prison and still get raped is probably proportionate to one another. Going back to what epitomizes true camp, I’d also guess that the majority of successful and seemingly crazy low budget features which do successfully capture people’s attention are probably done by people who have deep mental or emotional problems. I don’t mean that in a bad way. They often say the line between genius and madness practically nonexistent.

And this brings me to 80s mainstream feel-good action film “No Retreat, No Surrender.” I’m always baffled when a fan of the film describes the plot as if they were king sociopath Dennis Rader. Like all the details of the film are completely normal, if not totally humdrum. Well, that’s bullshit, because this movie is fucking insane!

The first thing I really have to go into is the villains. They never quite explain who they are or what they want, but they SEEM to want to absorb other martial arts schools into their “organization.” It's all very shadowy, but in a bad, nonsensical way. The film begins with these Mafioso assholes strutting into Tom Silwell’s karate dojo. He refuses to sign a contract, prompting Jean Claude Van Damme, who plays a motherfucking RUSSIAN, to cripple the guy. So of course, Tom closes his school and leaves town like a pussy. I guess he played into their trap? I don’t really know. Maybe if they had explained things to Tom a little more clearly he would have signed. They were probably offering him health benefits.

This sets the rest of the story in motion, as Tom and his son Jason move to Seattle. Upon arrival he quickly befriends some black asshole with a Jheri curl in a Beat It jacket who moonwalks and raps, because all black people rap and moonwalk. Pretty soon, things go awry for poor Jason, who finds himself the target of bullies. However, he deals with his internal frustrations like a real man by demonstrating a propensity for domestic violence by shoving the girl he has a crush on. Jason, who is always dick riding Bruce Lee, goes and cries all over Bruce’s grave like a sissy, which somehow summons the GHOST OF BRUCE LEE to come back from eternal peace to TEACH JASON JEET KUN DO! The film comes full circle as Jason finds himself fighting the martial arts mafia who put his dad out of business. I’m pretty sure this somehow must be a true story because you’d otherwise have to contract rabies to come up with a story this awesome!

This thing is so insane that I cannot believe it’s not Turkish. It is, however, a rare hybrid of American and Hong Kong cinema, directed by veteran jack-of-all-trades Corey Yuen and co-written by See-Yuen Ng, who went on to produce a lot of really great stuff, including the “Once Upon A Time In China” series.

What perplexes me most about this movie is that it’s a real production that was widely distributed. These people had the means to do better, and yet we got more mental illness out of this than you’ll find in your average Troma movie. However, a lot of this is probably attributable to the limited cultural perceptions of the film’s makers. This was the zeitgeist of that period according to a couple of Chinese guys. Can you just imagine them screaming at each other in broken Engrish while brain storming this mess? "BREAK DANCING! COLD WAR! HAMBURGER! BRUCE LEE!" This movie essentially one-ups the Karate Kid by infusing the story with some Electric Bugaloo.

JW Fails (irony!), who plays the Michael Jackson-obsessed Fetchit to Jason Stilwell’s Stepin in this movie is a compilation of everything horrible about the eighties rolled into a big ball of shit. His character is perhaps the film's strongest point of unintentional hilarity, even though he is actually played for laughs. Timothy Baker, who plays Jason’s dad, is amazingly bad here, too. In fact, he is so bad I wish the entire movie had ditched his kid and focused on him kicking ass at his bar. They could have given him a spinoff, and called it "Shitty Walking Tall."

And of course, an honorable mention must go to the very memorable Kent Lipham, who played Scott, the burger-scarfing henchman. Sadly, Kent passed away in the last year.

The main reason this film stands out is due to the Bruceploitation factor. The ghost of Bruce was played by Tai Chung Kim, who was a stand in for Lee in "Game of Death", also appearing in the sequel as the lead character.

There are two different cuts of this film floating around between the US and the UK. Primary differences are the color of the credits at the beginning of the film, and different song selection. Most notably, the US version omits some homoerotic clips from the training montage. Wait til the 45-second mark. This is gold.

Hey. Guys just being guys. Am I right, fellas?

There were a handful of sequels, though none were directly linked to the original film in terms of story. “No Retreat, No Surrender 2” was actually intended to feature both the Jason Silwell and Ivan Kraschinsky characters. However, Van Damme, who was slated to reprise the role of Ivan, backed out at the last minute and talked Kurt McKinney into doing the same. As a result, the film had to be rewritten to exclude those characters.

FUN FACT OF THE WEEK: did you know Jean Claude Van Damme appears as an extra in the first “Breakin’” movie?

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