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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » No Retreat, No Surrender (Blu-ray)
No Retreat, No Surrender (Blu-ray)
Kino // PG // February 21, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted March 2, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Heads up! This review will contain some minor spoilers.

Tom Stillwell (Timothy D. Baker) runs a karate school in Los Angeles. One day, a group of thugs from New York City show up and when he refuses to sell his school to them, they have their thug Ivan Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme) break his leg. Tom's son, a hot head named Jason (Kurt McKinney), steps in to help his dad but it's no use, ‘The Russian' is too tough for them. Before you know it, the Stillwell's have packed up their station wagon and moved to Seattle and Tom is making a meager living slinging pints of Miller High Life to degenerates.

Jason, however, has made fast friends with R.J. (J. W. Fails), a fast talking, breakdancing, freestyle rapping skateboarder who for reasons never fully explained seems to be sworn enemies with an obnoxious fat guy named Scott (Kent Lipham). When Scott isn't blasting empty soda cans with a pressure washer and getting yelled at by his dad, he's smearing hamburgers all over his face or trying to beat the snot out of R.J.. And then Jason shows up. Jason worships at the altar of Bruce Lee and after R.J. takes him to lay flowers at his grave, they're inseparable. Jason's also tough enough to take down Scott and his pals. Things get complicated when it turns out that Jason wants to train at a local dojo owned by National Karate Champion Ian Reilly (Ron Pohnel). See, Scott's already enrolled there and when he sees Jason and R.J. show up for a free class, he tells stand-in instructor Dean Ramsey (Dale Jacoby) that Jason was talking smack about ‘Seattle Karate.' This doesn't sit well with Dean, who has his star pupil, Frank Peters (Peter Cunningham), challenge Jason to kumite! Jason gets his ass kicked and his dad tells him not to fight. The next day, Jason winds up at a birthday party for the girlfriend we never knew he had, Kelly (Kathie Sileno), who just so happens to be Ian Reilly's sister and the apple of Dean's eye. Scott gets his ass kicked again and then pleads with the spirit of Bruce Lee to make things right! Before you know it, Scott's left home and has setup a training dojo of his own in an abandoned house where the spirit of Bruce (Tae-jeong Kim), going under the name Lee Ga Dong or Sensei Lee depending on which version you watch, shows up to train him in Jeet Kune Do. Eventually those same Noo Yawk bad guys who made Tom's life Hell show up and try to take Reilly's business too, leading to a showdown involving Kraschinsky and pretty much everyone else from the movie (including Scott, who bites him on the leg and gets a head-butt for his troubles). But before it's all over there will be Michael Jackson impersonations, homoerotic work out montages and a lot of mediocre Bruce Lee aping.

Those hoping to see Van Damme (in his first starring role) play the lead in this one will be disappointed, as he's definitely more of a supporting player here but he does make quite an impression in the finale where he basically kicks the snot out of everyone until Jason gets in the ring with him. He's as cocky as he's ever been here, working the ropes and, of course, doing the splits at one point. He famously knocked out Cunningham twice during the shoot, and when Jackson 'Rock' Pinckney took JCVD to court for injuring his eye on the set of Cyborg a few years later, Timothy Baker testified against him in the court case. So yeah you'll get the Van Dammage you crave, but you'll have to wait for it.

As to the rest of the cast? Well, Kurt McKinney is decent here, he never embarrasses himself and he too handles himself impressively well in the action set pieces. The guy was in great shape and had some serious moves and director Cory Yuen (working in the United States for the first time after a lengthy career in Hong Kong) exploits this well. Tae-jeong Kim, clearly dubbed, doesn't look much like Bruce Lee but he has the mannerisms down well enough to work. Ron Pohnel and the rest of the guys from the Seattle dojo are fairly goofy in their demeanor but you wouldn't want to fight them, while every tie Kent Lipham shows up on screen you want to throw a rock through your TV. Kathie Sileno is pretty vacant, but that's more the fault of the fact that her character basically shows up out of nowhere and is poorly written. That leaves J.W. Fails to talk about. As R.J., this moonwalking maniac is the real star of the movie. If Jason is working out, R.J. is there to sit on his crotch and lick an ice cream cone. If is going to show off his martial arts skills, R.J. is going to rap and is Jason and Kelly are on the rocks, well he'll take Jason to a weird local bar and dance them back into one another's hearts. He's the best friend a guy could hope for. Not only does he know where Bruce Lee is buried but he knows all the best abandoned houses as well.

Yuen's direction is weird. He handles the martial arts action and fight choreography like the pro that he is, delivering some seriously hot fight scenes and a whole lot of hand to hand carnage. This is all shot expertly and edited in such a way as to maximize each and every landed blow. This is where the film excels. When it's time to fight, No Retreat, No Surrender fires on all cylinders. But then he mixes in some weird Hong Kong cinema style comedy tropes with Scott. Anytime this guy is on screen, he's eating and he's eating messily. He's constantly shoveling cake and burgers down his mouth and smearing condiments all over his face as he does it. It's goofy and crass and horribly dated, but so completely overdone that you can't help but laugh at it. At the same time, the hilariously overripe make bonding between R.J. and Jason is done with such sincerity that it never feels less than wholesome and entirely earnest. When R.J. yells out ‘No retreat, no surrender' during the big fight finish and Jason conjures up all that Bruce Lee's weird ghost taught him, you can't help but want the scrappy little guy to win the day and get the girl. By the time the crowd runs into the ring and hoists him up over their shoulders to celebrate, you're right there with him, pumping your fist in the air and fighting back tears of joy.

While a week's worth of shooting was done on location in Seattle, most of the movie was actually shot in California, McKinney confirms this in the extras on the disc and the palm trees that pop up often in the backgrounds are a dead giveaway. There are some neat locations here though, like the two dojos that are featured in the movie, the kooky dance bar that R.J. and Jason wind up at and the dive where Tom winds up working as a suds-slinger.

Note that this release contains the original U.S. theatrical cut (84:01) as well as the longer International cut (98:55) Oddly enough, the U.S. cut does a much better job of espousing how and why Kelly has a relationship with Jason in an important scene where he and R.J. come home and find her in the living room. This leads to a wonky montage of Jason and Kelly sightseeing in Seattle so that when Jason gets his ass handed to him at the party later in the movie, it at least makes a bit more sense. The International cut does, however, feature extensions to a few of the other scenes and some more bits and pieces put into the fight scenes. The main story remains the same, it's not like there's an alternate ending here or anything, but it's interesting to see both cuts here, a move that fans should appreciate.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

No Retreat, No Surrender arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray disc from Kino in its original 1.85.1 aspect ratio and in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The transfer here shows good detail and texture but it's clear that no cleanup or restorative work was done. As such, we get a picture that has a fairly constant run of minor print damage throughout. This is more obvious in the opening few minutes and it calms down a bit after the credits finish, but small specks and minor scratches are nearly constant. Having said that, color reproduction is decent as are black levels and there are no obvious instances of noise reduction or edge enhancement to complain about. The disc is also free of all but the most minor compression artifacts. Had this been cleaned up more it probably would have looked really good, but as it stands it's still a solid, if imperfect, picture.

Sound:

The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 track. The audio here is flat and it lacks punch but dialogue is at least clear most of the time and the levels are properly balanced. There aren't any problems with any major hiss but some minor distortion can be heard in a few spots. Optional English subtitles are provided.

Extras:

Extras kick off with a commentary track from screenwriter Keith W. Strandberg that makes for a pretty interesting listen. He talks about where some of the ideas for the storyline came from, his experiences working on the picture and his thoughts on the finished produced. He also offers up some insight into how his story was filmed and he provides some background information on how he came to be involved with the picture in the first place. There are some good stories here, this was a dicey shoot in a lot of ways!

Leading man Kurt McKinney shows up for a seventeen minute on-camera interview that starts off with him talking about how he got into martial arts as a kid and then eventually how he did some modelling and then some acting in commercials. Eventually he and a friend moved from Kentucky to Los Angeles and five months later, he was cast (at the last minute!) in the lead in this film, his first picture. He then talks about working with a primarily Chinese cast on location in the States, how he got along with Van Damme and why the two of them didn't show up in the second film (without spoiling it let's just say that it involves the threat of mobsters and forced sodomy!).

Aside from that we get a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Kino Studio Classics properties, menus and chapter selection.

Final Thoughts:

It's pretty much impossible to take No Retreat, No Surrender seriously, but as far as entertainment goes? This one delivers. Yeah fine, it's a goofy piece of ultra-eighties jingoistic nonsense but it's full of quirky, memorable characters, wonderfully preposterous situations and seriously solid fight choreography. Kino presents the movie in a good, but imperfect, transfer in two different cuts with a commentary, an interview and a trailer. You're damn right this one comes recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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