Here is some scandalous shit: the DVD cover for 1986’s NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER.
While yes, that is a screenshot from the actual movie, it is a gross exaggeration of JCVD’s actual participation in it. He has a five minute scene at the start, and is the “final boss” in the climactic martial arts tournament in the local high school gym. The introductory scene does give us a fresh-faced JC as a slick white-clad mob enforcer, so there’s that.
JCVD and his boss threaten an LA dojo owner to hand over the deed to the school to their nefarious organization. One assumes it’s for money laundering, but this is never explained. The noble dojo man refuses and handily kicks a henchman’s ass. But JCVD, the silent/deadly one, breaks the poor fellow’s leg. The dojo owner’s son Jason hears his father’s cries and rushes in to defend him, only to get his butt whupped by JC just as handily. Cue a mournful move to Seattle, as the disillusioned sensei denounces all violence. His son does not give up, however! He immediately converts the garage to a training area filled with Bruce Lee posters. He’s a big fan! He’s also kind of an asshole cuz he does this while his mom is still moving stuff from the car. Fuck a bed, I need my karate shit in order!
In comes RJ, the movie’s comic relief. Like, he literally comes into the garage as Jason’s setting it up. A friendly black kid, RJ enjoys jive-talkin’ and breakdancin’, both of which he immediately shows off. I’ll leave it up to you whether RJ has a jheri curl*.
Then there’s also Scott, a disgusting fat guy who hates RJ for no reason, so he hates Jason now as well. He’s constantly falling down and stuffing his face. I don’t know why this guy is a bully. But I think he’s rich or something, cuz he’s later seen buying a bunch of jocks and girls hamburgers, stating “stick by me, and you’ll never go hungry!” which gave me a nice little LION KING flashback. RJ happens to walk by the burger joint, so Scott orders his minions to attack that breakdancing nogoodnik for making him do pratfalls during comedy chases and spill all his hot dog toppings on his favorite pastel shirts. But luckily Jason also happens by and starts beating up on the jocks with his karate skills! But unluckily Jason’s dad also happens by and drags him out of it! Oooohhhh Scott’ll get that NEW KID next time!
Now, anyone who’s seen martial arts movies aimed at kids will be familiar with the moral that martial arts are to be used only in defense/helping others, and never for attack. Sensei Dad goes one step further; Jason is NEVER to fight under any circumstances because LOOK WHERE THAT GOT US!! He even goes so far as to wreck Jason’s home dojo and rip the Bruce Lee posters off his wall because of his WILD IDEAS about helping others and protecting himself. Seriously, the kid’s an earnest dope throughout the entire movie, never really getting angry or out of control, and his dad just LOSES HIS SHIT constantly in a total Randy Marsh manner.
Jason wants to enroll in a local karate class owned by champion Ian Reilly. Little does he know that the dreaded Scott also goes there, and tells douchebro sensei Dean he overheard Jason say “LA karate wipes the floor with Seattle karate.” OH YEAH??? We’ll see about that! So he sets the kid up for a demonstration match with his best fighter, causing Jason and RJ to flee the scene under a barrage of scornful laughter.
Owner Ian, meanwhile, gets threatened by the same greasy mobsters that took Sensei Dad’s dojo! Unfortunately, they didn’t bring JCVD with them, opting for the easier-to-stage threat by gun.
Did I mention Ian has a cute sister named Kelly that Jason is dating? No? Well, neither has the movie. It just goes to “Kelly’s birthday” where, in the movie’s money shot, Jason gives her a live baby bunny. Because she wanted it at the pet store. But there was no scene at any pet store. Who is this girl? She’s very popular, as both Jason and Sensei Dean vie for her affections. In an unprecedented move for 80s movies, Kelly never really acknowledges douchebag Dean as a real candidate and constantly rebuffs him. In retaliation, Dean and his goons (among which Scott, yay for coalescing storylines) beat up Jason.
At his lowest point, Jason runs away from home with all his fighting/Bruce Lee stuff in a big box and settles a random abandoned house (!!). Now, here comes the point most people will probably sell this movie as a lulzfest with. As Jason falls asleep, the ghost of Bruce Lee (looking nothing like Bruce Lee) appears and aids him in a training montage. I realize “American kid learns to fight from the ghost of Bruce Lee to defeat JCVD” is a good logline, but there’s just so much more crazy shit going on here I felt bad reducing it to that. But, you know, due mention. The most hilarious thing to me was the fact that Jason doesn’t actually do Jeet Kun Do, Lee’s famous style. He does karate! Which is, you know, Japanese. Also, he keeps on referring to Bruce as Sensei Lee. Normally I’d just write this off as a quick cash-in 80s karatesploitation movie that didn’t do the barest of research, but the fact that it’s directed by Corey Yuen who actually worked with Lee is just baffling.
Oh, and you know that old 80s action standby of the love interest just being there to deflect allegations of homoerotic tension between any male leads? And the fact that “Kelly” is introduced so haphazardly that WHU is the only reaction? Let me add the fact that Jason and RJ never have any conflict, are best buds from the outset, compliment each other on something in every scene (often multiple times) and this:
I wish it were a gif. It’s absolutely delightful. It’s the best blatant 80s Action Stereotype since “Love Interest Dies” in DEATH WISH 3, where the love interest is exploded mere minutes after having sex with Bronson.
Now, Ian’s dojo is under threat from the mob too! Only it turns out that they’re just evil dojo-owners? Who want… the monopoly on dojos? In America? I don’t know! But since they didn’t take JCVD with them that time, Ian couldn’t be scared off, so the evil dojo owners (from NOO YAWK) organize a tournament between JCVD and all their fighters. It’s a rather low-key affair in a school gym, and not at all the clash of nations one poster promised:
Yes, JCVD’s character is nominally Russian, but not only does he not embody communism in any way (in fact, his affiliation with the evil NY dojo owners and their greedy goals makes him more of a capitalist expatriate than anything else), JC doesn’t even put on any accent but his own charming Bruxellois for the ten lines he has. The movie can’t even decide what he’s called, since characters refer to him as Kraschinsky the Russian in the film itself, whereas the credits list him as “Karl Brezdin.”
There’s not really much to defend the movie for, besides adequate fight scenes, though they are far too few in number and may actually be eclipsed by breakdancing scenes. But it’s a good-natured piece of crap that does something retarded every ten minutes to keep you on your toes, like a labrador with Tourettes.