No Retreat, No Surrender (Blu-ray)

Jason, a Bruce Lee fan, sees his karate instructor/dad beaten by martial art thugs. They move to Seattle where, after humiliations, he trains with Bruce Lee's ghost so he can defend himself and others against thugs.

July 15, 2022 6 Min Read

Review by: Matt Malouf

Plot: What’s it about?

If you go into No Retreat, No Surrender blindly, thinking it’s a flick giving Jean-Claude Van Damme lots of screen time, you’ll likely be disappointed. The star does have a big moment, but it is in the final moments of the film. He appears in an early opening scene, but mostly, he is vacant through the majority of the film. I came across the trailer and decided to give it a go. It is a pure slice of 80’s cheese, with the bad styles and bad acting as well as cheesy music. That may also be precisely why people might gravitate toward it. It is the type of film that knows exactly the audience it is trying to cater to. I have seen better films of this sort, but it gets the job done.

Tom (Timothy D. Baker) wants nothing to do with a criminal organization that is trying to take over his property. He is head of a karate school, and one day a trio walks in, which includes Ivan “The Russian Butcher” Kraschinsky (Van Damme) and the confrontation leaves Tom with a broken leg. His son, Jason (Kurt McKinney) is obviously very upset about this encounter, but his father tells him that violence isn’t the answer, and urges him to let it go. Jason is a Bruce Lee fan, and see his spirit one night and this plants the seed that he needs to train to defeat Ivan. This is also to avoid having the karate school taken over by the crime syndicate. Before we get to the big climax of the film, Jason has many obstacles standing in his way. There’s the conflict with his father, but also the bullies he encounters frequently. This includes a chubby nuisance named Scott (Kent Lipham) and Dean (Dale Jacoby) who also does karate. He does befriend R.J. (J.W. Fails) who is his new neighbor. There’s a romantic subplot as well with Kelly (Kathie Sileno) who Jason knows from L.A.

I will admit that I was going with the film, but it isn’t without some serious reservations. For starters, the acting is pretty bad. There were times where it looked as if the stars were going through the first reading of the script, and auditioning for the parts. It truly is that bad. It isn’t in the self-aware way, it’s just bad. Timothy Baker as the father and the chubby bully are the two worst offenders here. The big fight at the end, however, almost makes the rest more forgivable. Worth noting is that the film includes two cuts of the film. We get the shorter, 85-minute theatrical cut as well as the 94-minute international version. I did watch both cuts, and I find the international version works better. Some plot points seem to make more sense. With only 9 additional minutes, you can’t go wrong, but the inclusion of both versions is most welcome.

Video: How’s it look?

At the start of both versions, there are some serious flaws. It looked like a worn-out VHS copy. Thankfully, things do improve, but this is far from the best-looking transfer I have seen. We get a 1.85:1 ratio and this is passable, but they really could’ve done a better job cleaning this up.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The 2.0 DTS HD track serves its purpose, but it still lacks the impact I prefer. Overall, though, I had no issues hearing the vocals or things of that nature. A more extensive track would’ve been welcome, but this gets the job done at least.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • International Cut – We have the option of watching the 94-minute international cut.
  • Audio Commentary – On the U.S. Cut only we get a commentary with the screenwriter Keith W. Strandberg. It’s worth a listen.
  • Interview with Kurt McKinney – This is well worth checking out as he gives us details on how he landed the part, as well as other interesting tidbits. It’s especially interesting to learn why he didn’t return for the sequel.
  • Theatrical Trailer

The Bottom Line

Admittedly, this is something of a mixed bag for me. I was never bored with it, but the acting is pretty bad here, and it puts Van Damme on the front cover, when he is hardly in the film. Still, his scenes almost make up for the other stuff. It works in the cheesy 80’s kind of way. If that’s your thing, check it out. All others should probably avoid.

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