No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)
Director: Corey Yuen
Starring: Kurt McKinney, J.W. Fails, Ron Pohnel, Kathie Sileno, Peter Cunningham, Kent Lipham & Jean-Claude Van Damme
Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Unquestionably reminiscent of other more prominent teenage-geared martial arts pictures, No Retreat, No Surrender plays far more emphasis on its combat sequences as evidenced by its unoriginal narrative and charmingly cheesy performances. After a pack of threatening mobsters with plans of taking over every dojo in the country descends on his father’s establishment, Bruce Lee obsessed teen Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney, Guiding Light) and his family head to Seattle to start anew. Finding a pal in the break-dancing R.J. Madison (J.W. Fails, 21 Jump Street) and rekindling a romance with a former flame, Jason finds himself targeted by overweight bully Scott (Kent Lipham, Extreme Prejudice) and local karate hothead Dean Ramsay (Dale Jacoby, Ring of Fire) on the regular. Consistently outmatched by his peers and punished by his father for his improper use of fighting, Jason seeks solace at the gravesite of martial arts legend Bruce Lee. Training in an abandoned house with a shrine to his hero, Jason is stunned when the ghost of Lee returns to personally guide him on his path to becoming a prized fighter. Trouble strikes again when a local tournament is disrupted by the mobsters and their deadly enforcer Ivan “The Russian” Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kickboxer) who ravages the competition with only young Jason left to defend the community and his family’s name. An unsurprisingly first time effort for much of the principal talent, No Retreat, No Surrender is a ridiculous fight feature with hilarity to be had at the expense of the film’s goofy screenplay and unexpectedly silly plot device of Bruce Lee returning from the grave to play sensei. Adorned with amusing training montages, a feverishly high-powered theme song and a fast-paced final round bout between the American teen and oh-so-80s Russian villain, No Retreat, No Surrender can’t help but be a fun time, using its amateurish shortcomings to its full advantage.
KL Studio Classics presents No Retreat, No Surrender for the first time on high-definition with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Bearing surface scrapes and scratches throughout its runtime, colors are bold and exacting seen through the bright costume choices with sharp detail observed in facial closeups. Furthermore, skin tones are consummately natural with a solidly filmic presence left intact. Joined by a rather shoddy DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that struggles to make any definable distinctions, dialogue is serviceable while, music, roaring crowds and the clatter of punches being thrown fall flat and underwhelming. Although pops and other such anomalies are virtually absent, a large increase in volume during viewing is essential for the rather subdued track.
Containing both its recommend International (1:38:55) and U.S. Theatrical Cuts (1:24:01), additional special features include, an Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Keith W. Strandberg, Stand on Your Own with Kurt McKinney (17:12) where the film’s star recalls training in martial arts his entire life, landing the gig during an open casting call and the production spending more rehearsal time on fight choreography than the actual performances. In addition, McKinney delves into the rather shady circumstances that convinced both he and Van Damme to pass on the sequel. Lastly, Trailers for the International Cut of No Retreat, No Surrender (3:20), An Eye for an Eye (1:52), Enter the Ninja (2:53), Avenging Force (1:18), Revenge of the Ninja (1:41) and Steele Justice (1:36) are also on hand. Delightfully silly with respectable fight sequences featured, No Retreat, No Surrender may technically be a poorly made effort but, one that cult enthusiasts will revel in for all its dodgy issues and valiant efforts. Making its Blu-ray debut with both cuts included, KL Studio Classics delivers a roundhouse kick of satisfaction to fans anxiously awaiting for this Cold War of martial arts movies.