No Retreat, No Surrender

Do not ignore this movie. There might be a dozen movies with Van Damme on the cover putting his right foot in and flexing all about, but do not be fooled, this is not a Van Damme vehicle. This is nobody’s vehicle.

Lionheart (1990) PosterBloodsport (1988) PosterDeath Warrant (1990) Poster                                                                                 The Hokey Movie Pokey

In only his fifth appearance (coming off three uncredited roles and a performance as Gay Karate Man) Van Damme is non-existent for much of the film, bookending the movie with two dialogue-free fight sequences as the mob’s Russian mystery muscle. Not that that would keep ol’ JCVD from cock’n around the set like a godsend, and this time with good reason: only one other material character has more experience, Tai Chung Kim, who once again reprises his role as a Bruce Lee double (see Game of Death I and II). If it weren’t for the fact that our lead was a baby/prop on General Hospital at the age of one, this would be everyone’s introduction to acting. It shows. Freshly plurped from the doe in a viscous pink gush, these fawns pool on set, our director yells action, and they begin their awkwardly enthused bumble, collection, careen, and, ratcheting leg after leg in wild inertia, clod hop across the screen streaming afterbirth and shaking their top hats. All things considered, a doctorate for effort.

So now we have our slick-haired villain in Van Damme, and our newborn pawns from the Talladega High Drama Club, but what’s the game? Good luck keeping up with this Inception-Matrix – the mob is collecting the best local dojos in the land as a cover for their illegal activities, and if (god forbid) you resist, they’ll schedule a karate exhibition at your local municipal building, split the 50/50 raffle with the chamber of commerce, crush your spirit beneath their padded iron fist, and show you what’s in store for rebels – K.O.!

I know that is pretty dense so don’t worry yourself if you couldn’t keep up. Most of the movie is about our young hero anyway, as he struggles to fit in in a new town. No, it’s not that he’s friendless: he makes a breakdancing best friend 12 seconds out of the car and has a girlfriend waiting for him without explanation. It’s that his father has yet to learn the necessary joy of violence. It’s that he is increasingly losing his grasp on reality, talking to and interacting with the voice in his head: a tactless, overbearing, jargon fanatic he believes to be Bruce Lee. It’s that his overweight neighbor wants him to suffer.

If ’80s movies have taught me anything it’s that fat people are inexplicably evil. This time I understand why. If I had been curbside listening to our well-quaffed hero meet R.J., I would have gone tandem to make sure his stay in Seattle wasn’t all pleated pants and roundhouse kicks. Just watch this asshole fall in love with a garage! Of course, once I had discovered his corpse-side coffee talks with long-dead karate champs I would have backed away from his gloriously unmedicated delusions, all the way to my Atari, and called it a day.

Mental health and bullying are no cause for laughter. The former is not a motivating factor, as much as this movie would like you to believe, and the latter leads to savage retribution. Kent Lipham may not have actually been a bully in real life, only playing one in movies, and look at what our supposed hero, Jason Stillwell, wrote for Lipham’s IMDB bio.

Kent Lipham was born to Jimmy and Nancy Lipham in 1961. He has a younger brother named Jamie. Around the age of sixteen, fearing he was becoming agoraphobic, his mother insisted Kent join a club. Not being very smart, athletic, or crafty the drama club seemed perfect for him. The roar of the grease paint and the smell of the crowd thrilled Kent. Finally he went to his mother and said “I’m going to be an actor and it’s all your fault!” After graduating from Talladega High School in 1980, Mom and Pop shipped Kent off to University where he studied Communication Arts (mostly theatre). His favorite subjects were puppetry and ballet, with modern jazz a close third. He received his B.F.A. from the University of Montevallo in 1984. He then packed his orange Malibu Classic and headed for Hollywood. He appeared in four films in the ’80s and early ’90s. Encouraged by fans visiting his message boards on IMDB he has recently decided to return to the business which had never really left his system to begin with.

Some wounds never heal.

This movie is full of meta life lessons for any revisionist- the retrograde performance of child actors; society’s continued ignorance of mental health; the complete lack of moderation on IMDB. But in reality (Mufasa!), No Retreat, No Surrender stands out for being enjoyable and free of graphic material. In awesomely-bad-movie land that’s like a WIC approval. Even the fight choreography is pretty good (though they sped it up in editing). Quit your job and watch this movie!

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