‘No Retreat, No Surrender’ marks three decades since Jean Claude Van Damme made a major split-kick impression. Now Kino-Lorber will be releasing the film on Blu-ray…
It’s very hard to believe, but this year marks the 30th Anniversary of the first time a certain Jean-Claude Van Damme split kicked his way across the screen with the release of Seasonal Films classic No Retreat No Surrender.
The film which combined various elements and plot points from The Karate Kid, Rocky IV, Breakdancing, Seasonal’s own Snake in the Eagles Shadow and threw in the ghost of Bruce Lee just to add the final ingredient to the mix… was given a limited theatrical release in the UK and North America, but did absolutely incredible business on video around the world.
The film hit the UK courtesy of Entertainment in Video and the film’s memorable trailer hit big, building some excitement and anticipation for the movie – showcasing some high impact action choreography courtesy of both director Corey Yuen (Yuen Kwai) and choreographer Mang Hoi. It introduced Kurt Mckinney as the high kicking hero but made it obvious who the real star of the movie was going to be, a scene stealing, jump kicking fellow who dropped into the slits with an ease that amazed us all, a certain Jean-Claude Van Damme. (The trailer promotes producer Ng See-yuen’s earlier work including breakout movies Snake in the Eagles Shadow & Drunken Master, by proclaiming the film comes “From the creator of Jackie Chan!”) The film was written by Keith Strandberg who would go on to write the rest of Seasonal’s English language output and also features Kickboxing legend Peter ‘Sugarfoot’ Cunningham (who would also be seen in Corey Yuen’s Above the Law where he battles Yuen Biao, and the late Kim Tai-chung from Game of Death 2) reprising his role as Bruce Lee… but this time as the spirit guide who mentors McKinney’s character.
Kino-Lorber will be releasing the film on Blu-ray later in the year, featuring both the ‘International Cut’ of the film, as well as New World’s American cut of the movie (with an alternate opening sequence and different soundtrack). The disc will also feature an interview with the film’s leading man Kurt McKinney… but sadly no sign of an interview with Jean-Claude or any other members of the cast and crew.
Former Seasonal Films producer Roy Horan (who battled Jackie Chan in Snake in the Eagles Shadow, and worked both in front and behind the camera on many a Seasonal Project) recalls his involvement in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s debut:
“I recommended JCVD for NRNS based on his submission through an ad in various Hollywood trade magazines. Hwang Jang Lee had taught me how to analyze martial arts action photos. It was obvious that JCVD was flexible (eg splits), he showed good power but was not very fast and his strike focus was not sharp. I suspected that he competed. Speed, however, is easily compensated for by camera angles, editing, and frame rate. Focus can be learned quickly. He also looked the part of an antagonist which fit the character profile. I felt he was likely to have screen presence which panned out to be true. His success in the industry did not come as a surprise. Although I did not meet him personally until after the film was licensed by New World Pictures…”
While some aspects of the film may seem dated (and there’s certainly some cheesy moments) it’s still a lot of fun, and to this day showcases the one time Jean-Claude let a Hong Kong action team really showcase his ability, as he shows a variety of techniques we rarely saw him do again in any of his films. You can see just how enthusiastic he was. I remember talking to both Corey Yuen and Mang Hoi about the film and Jean-Claude and both of them spoke about how much he impressed both of them with the way he picked up the choreography, how much he put into it and how he delivered, while also commenting on their disappointment that he never really let a Hong Kong action team call the shots completely on any of his projects ever again.
While McKinny is the hero, he’s given a very vanilla role, while the film better showcases Van Damme as the villain of the piece. His introductory scene where he lets loose in the white suit is modeled on the way Seasonal Films perennial villain Hwang Jan-lee would often be introduced, kicking the crap out of someone’s father or teacher before beating the inexperienced hero (who would then have to undergo extensive training – in this case with the spirit of Bruce Lee!) before returning for a very dramatic finale. In this case, Van Damme’s character – who is referred to by name as Ivan Kraschinsky (although credited as Karl Brezdin in the American version end credits) – takes down an entire kickboxing team including Peter Cunningham before facing off with McKinney.
Ivan: So it is you, son, is it not?
Jason Stilwell: But this time it will be different. Russian.
Both McKinney and Van Damme were supposed to reprise their roles in the original draft of the sequel Raging Thunder, called No Retreat No Surrender 2 in most territories, but Van Damme despite having a two picture deal with Ng See-yuen and Seasonal Films had joined Cannon Films to headline a little movie called Bloodsport, while McKinney claims Van Damme convinced him not to join the project. Both men would be replaced by Loren Avedon as the hero and Matthias Hues as the villain when Raging Thunder finally began shooting.
The spirit of Bruce Lee was played by the late Kim Tai-chung, who had previously played Bruce Lee alike’s in both Game of Death and Game of Death 2. Scriptwriter Keith Strandberg would continue to write and serve as producer for Seasonal Films English language productions for such projects as Blood Brothers, King of the Kickboxers, American Shaolin and Blood Moon.
We’re looking forward to Kino-Lorber’s release. McKinney has had some interesting things to say about the production and Van Damme over the years, and it’ll be interesting what he has to say looking back after 30 years. It’s just a pity there doesn’t seem to be any interviews with any other members of the cast or crew such as Jean-Claude, Corey Yuen, Mang Hoi, Peter Cunningham or Keith Strandberg. Hopefully Kino-Lorber might give the rest of the series the release they deserve, and hey if you’re interested we could set up some incredible interviews for you for the rest of them!