Thursday, 2 February 2017
Jean-Claude Van Damme in the 1980s - No Retreat No Surrender
Whereas a film like The Karate Kid is interested in self-determination and how men at different stages in their life can have positive emotional impacts on each other, No Retreat No Surrender is literally about how cool it'd be if your Bruce Lee poster came to life and anointed you, some crummy white kid, to be his successor. Kurt McKinney plays Jason Stillwell, an LA import who spends his days in Seattle creeping around The Little Dragon's grave and rolling his eyes at his pacifist / coward father.
Director Corey Yuen, a Peking Opera School classmate of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, has fun undermining the staid drilling of Emerald City karate with the kind of fluid but punishing training regimens made famous by Shaw Brothers' The 36th Chamber of Shaolin or Seasonal Films stablemate Drunken Master. The not-too-subtle insinuation being that flexible China produces more complete fight forms than prissy old Japan. Although Yuen's raw, onscreen materials are slower and sloppier than his Hong Kong pals, the director assembles a few crisp exchanges, particularly towards the end of the film.
Predictably, Jean-Claude Van Damme is this (basically terrible) film's greatest asset, an allegedly Russian enforcer who chews up and spits out the film's irritating extended cast in a concluding martial arts tournament. Given about ten minutes of screentime, Van Damme is instantly able to communicate the defining characteristics of his star persona - an arrogance based in absolute ability. There's a real sense of pitilessness with Van Damme, you believe he loathes anyone he considers weaker than him. He's also exciting to watch, a wide-eyed lunatic with a hairstyle held with polyurethane, hurling out leg upon leg at the blubbering nothings who dare challenge him.