As any Bruce Springsteen fanatic will tell you, "no defeat no surrender" is the refrain from a popular recent hit by the Boss. But the new film, "No Retreat No Surrender" (citywide), has nothing to do with the Springsteen anthem.
In fact, the title of this hilariously bad karate thriller has nothing to do with the movie either. "The Karate Kid Meets Rocky IV" would be closer; it would sum up the exploitative story line of this amateurish clunker whose martial-arts action footage is almost as laughably dismal as its acting.
For no apparent reason, a trio of thugs beat up an L.A. karate instructor (Tim Baker), forcing him to suddenly uproot his family and move to Seattle (just why the Mob wants to muscle in on a one-man karate school is mercifully left to our imagination). By a fortuitous coincidence, Seattle is where karate legend Bruce Lee is buried, which gives the instructor's son, Jason (Kurt McKinney), an aspiring martial-arts wiz, numerous opportunities to visit his grave. (About this time you begin to notice that several scenes allegedly set in "Seattle" are populated with groves of palm trees.)
Oblivious to this freak of nature, Jason befriends a black neighborhood kid (J. W. Fails), who entertains his pal by putting on break-dancing exhibitions. Together they battle all sorts of local bullies from the local karate center. You can probably guess the rest--Jason goes into serious training, magically acquires a cute girlfriend and prepares for a rematch with the bullies.
At that point, the wobbly plot zooms off into never-never land. All of a sudden we find Jason communing with Bruce Lee's ghost (Sensei Lee--dubbed in English), who dazzles him with his fancy footwork and some marvelous mumbo-jumbo about his glass being fuller than Jason's glass--giving the film makers a chance to work in a big product plug for Diet Coke.
And when the local karate kids stage a flag-draped full-contact karate match with the visiting Manhattan Maulers, guess who bounds into the ring for the Maulers? Why, it's Ivan the Terrible, a Russky behemoth in a designer T-shirt, who's in league with those nasty old underworld figures.
Can you just stand it? Have the Soviets somehow taken over New York? Does Mayor Koch know about this? And why does Ivan have a French accent? (One clue--the actor's name is Jean Claude Van Damme.) And as long as the film makers were dubbing Sensei Lee's dialogue, why couldn't they have dubbed the rest of the actors' lines too? Where are David Letterman's comedy writers when you really need them?
'NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER'
A New World Pictures presentation. Producer Ng See Yuen. Director Corey Yuen. Writer Keith W. Strandberg. Camera John Huneck, David Golia. Music Paul Gilreath. Editors Alan Poon, Mark Pierce, James Melkonian. Martial-arts choreography Harrison Mang. With Kurt McKinney, J. W. Fails, Ron Pohnel, Kathie Sileno, Peter (Sugarfoot) Cunningham, Kent Lipham, Tim Baker, Dale Jacoby, Jean Claude Van Damme.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
MPAA rating: PG (parental guidance suggested; some material may not be suitable for children).