Teenage Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney) and his family have had to move from their home in Los Angeles up to Seattle, and here's why: his dad (Timothy D. Baker) is a karate expert, and he taught at his martial arts school until the local mob boss appeared one evening and demanded protection money. He refused, and the boss set his men on him; dad believed karate should only be used for peaceful means and was reluctant to fight back, which led to him getting his leg broken by the main heavy, Ivan the Russian (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Can his son do any better?
If you went to a video store in the eighties and someone had rented the last copy of The Karate Kid, there was only one thing to do: rent No Retreat, No Surrender instead. This was to all appearances inspired by the Ralph Macchio hit, but was a co-production between East and West, meaning in theory you'd imagine you would get the best of both worlds, although it didn't quite work out that way. McKinney was a genuine martial arts champ, looking to break into movies, but oddly finding most of his employment in daytime soaps after this auspicious debut, yet the man who gets the attention nowadays is his screen rival, Monsieur Van Damme.
That in spite of The Muscles from Brussels appearing for a couple of minutes at the beginning and then for the grand beat 'em up finale at the end where he shows what he's made of. In the meantime there's a narrative which plaintively depicts a young man trembling on the brink of adulthood (though McKinney was in his mid-twenties at the time) but finding that life just wanted to keep him down, even in Seattle where he has made his new home. He only has one friend there, who he meets outside his house, one R.J. (J.W. Fails where are you?) who within two minutes is breakdancing on the floor of Jason's garage - that's right, he's black, and upping the sass quotient significantly in spite of having a would-be nemesis in Scott (Kent Lipham), the overweight bully over the road.
Scott is part of the Seattle karate school which Jason tries to sign up with, but recognising he is a pal of R.J.'s, the petty intimidator sees to it that he's pitted against the establishment's best fighter to teach him a lesson. It's not Jase's day, as he ends up getting beaten up at the birthday party of his girlfriend Kelly (Kathie Sileno) and leaving home under a cloud for brawling thanks to pacifist (read: whiny wimp) dad's objections. Luckily he manages to find somewhere to squat and install his training equipment, and even more luckily gets taught by Bruce Lee. Wait, what? That's right, Mr Lee appears in ghostly form after a visit to his grave (so that's why we were in Seattle!), or rather his stand-in does, looking as if some random Chinese bloke has appeared to tutor our hero.
A random Chinese bloke dubbed to sound like Bruce, that was, which made this even more ridiculous, although nobody said Brucesploitation had to be sensible. With seasoned fight choreographer Corey Yuen at the helm, at least you could be guaranteed impressive combat, and it was true the action side of things was far more impressive than, well, just about anything else here. But that's not to say the chutzpah, crazed as it was, was not to be appreciated either, as with its soft rock soundtrack, Michael Jackson impersonation (from R.J., natch - check out the single glittery glove), skateboarding and so forth No Retreat, No Surrender was about as eighties as it was possible to get, even more so than its most obvious Hollywood influences. This could of course lead to gales of derisive laughter, and there were moments where you couldn't help but chuckle, but the sticking up for the underdog aspect was disarmingly sincere, and that last ten minutes of kicking and punching were worth waiting for. Music by Paul Gilreath.
In the nineties, he directed Jet Li in films like The Legend, The Defender and The Enforcer, which led to work as action choreographer on many of Li's Hollywood films, including The One, Kiss of the Dragon and Cradle 2 the Grave. Most recently, Yuen directed the Luc Besson-produced action hit The Transporter.