Stand on your own- No Retreat, No Surrender PART 1


NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kurt McKinney, 1986

Whilst somewhat overshadowed by actual wars in which real people died, make no mistake eighties popular culture was a bloody battlefield of bitter conflict. Coke vs Pepsi, NES vs Sega, Roxanne Shante vs The Real Roxanne. All gruelling wars of attrition in their own right but they all pale in significance next to the harsh reality of my own personal Hamburger Hill….Betamax vs VHS…..

See my family didn’t have a lot of disposable cash. And whilst there was always a modest meal on the table, luxuries like video recorders were pretty far down the list of things we could afford. If I wanted to watch a movie I had to wait for it to come onto terrestrial television or hope that an invite from the kid next door  to watch a tape round there might be forthcoming. One day I will tell you all the story of how I feigned illness whilst at a classmates birthday party and weaved an intricate deception just so I could be left alone in the house to use their video player to watch Empire Strikes Back. I was eight years old.

In 1988 my dad returned home from work with a pep in his step. For a man who dug holes in the road for forty years of his life this was an unusual sight. Normally he’d drag himself through the door at the end of the day, defeated. Eat his dinner in silence then slump in the armchair and fall asleep watching the news. But today was different. He entered our home with a look of triumph upon his brow. ‘Look what I’ve got’. Out of a black bin bag he produced a bulky video recorder. My eyes flickered with delight as my Dad’s craggy features split and he smiled down at me and together, father and son hastened to the front room to set up the video recorder and commence our journey into cinematic heaven.

With the video set up I immediately popped next door to borrow a tape from the neighbours. I forget exactly what it was but when I returned and pressed the button to insert the tape into the top loading device, I was dismayed to discover the tape wouldn’t fit. See my old man had bought us a Betamax video recorder. Whereas just about everyone else in the civilised world had a VHS. Same idea but different formats. Those conflicts I was talking about earlier? Yeah well we picked the losing side as usual.

See Betamax lost the video wars and the film studios soon stopped producing product for a dead format. We tried though. My dad took us to our local video shop. Rows upon rows of VHS big boxes with the hot titles of the day. Yeah we couldn’t watch any of those though could we, because my old man blew our money on a fucking turkey. Despondently made our way to the back of the shop where the proprietor had a small selection of Betamax titles, languishing like the last ugly puppy in the burning pet shop.

Sure we had Platoon and Aliens and Full Metal Jacket available to us and in the years to follow I would work my way through that little shelf of tapes, but what I wanted to see was The Karate Kid. Other children at my school had been talking about it. Children who didn’t have to wear Gola’s or Matchstick shoes. Cool children, and for once I just wanted to be involved in the conversation. To act like I knew. But was Karate Kid available to me? Was it fuck.

‘Just get this. It’s kinda the same’. My Dad’s patience was wearing thin. He handed me a case down from the top shelf. On the front cover was a crude oil painting of two muscular men facing off against each other. No slick cover. No Ralph Macchio. No Pat Morita off Happy Days. ‘No retreat No Surrender? Alright man’Lets be right No Retreat No Surrender is an infinitely cooler name than The Karate Kid. That’s a fact jack. It’s a line from a Bruce Springsteen song for starters and it just sounds hard as fuck. It’s got that defiant ring to it. And as someone who was getting sand kicked in his face on the regular, it appealed greatly.

The movie itself is a low budget smoothie made from one part Rocky, one part Karate Kid and one part finest eighties cheddar cheese. It follows the story of one Jason Stillwell played by likeable underdog Kurt Mckinney, a very average Karate student but an exceptionally sincere Bruce Lee fan.

The movie opens with Jason Stillwell taking a class at his Dad’s Karate club. At the end of the session as the students are peaceing out some bad guys from a crime syndicate show up including Jean Claude Van Damme aka Ivan The Russian in his first screen appearance (not counting Breaking’) and basically demands that Dad’s Dojo join their evil empire so that they can monopolize the competitive karate scene. Apparently there was a lot of money to be made on that scene which comes as a surprise given there’s like twenty people in the crowd for the final fight. Anyway. Dad isn’t having any of it so the baddies send in henchman number one to convince him otherwise. Henchman number one looks to be of Middle Eastern origin and even though he clearly came dressed for battle, boy better spend some more time in the horse stance because he gets dropped good style.

Quick as a flash Jean Claude Van Damme sprints across the mat and just straight bodies Poppa Stillwell. JCVD blasts him a bunch of times and then breaks mans leg in front of his son.  His son dude. That’s cold. This scrap is made all the better by the fact that Dad had been insisting that Karate only be used for defence, never attack. I guess the Karate Men of Russia missed that memo, huh comrade?

Presumably no one wants to get taught how to have a tear up by a loser who just got his arse handed to him in a top hat so Dad shuts shop then he and Jason leg it across America to start life again in Seattle. The spiritual  home of grunge, Undertow, coffee riots, celebrity smackheads and *PLOT TWIST * Bruce Lee’s final resting place.

Typically for the new kid in town things don’t go well. Firstly Jason falls foul of a local bully named Scott. Where do I even start with this piece of work? He’s basically the illegitimate lovechild of Ray Mears and a Big Mac. We don’t get to explore the circumstances that led Scott to being such a horrible turd but when we first meet him he is stood outside Jason’s house watching the family move in whilst lashing a whole Sarah Lee chocolate gateaux down his neck. Not a slice. Not a couple of cheeky bits. The whole cake. Far out.

Anyhow it seems Jason’s budding friendship with neighbour RJ is Scotts trigger. Maybe Scott’s a  racist? Because RJ is without doubt the blackest person in Seattle. He tips up with a  headful of jerry curls and a boombox strapped to the front of his bike . The boombox is blasting boogaloo music. Jason tosses RJ a basketball and he is naturally amazing at basketball. Then he does some freestyle rapping and demonstrating some Michael Jackson style dancing. All in the space of five minutes.

Things come to a head when Scott and his crew are hanging out at the local burger spot. Say what you will about Scott but man is generous with his crew hooking them all up with an enormous platter of cheeseburgers. “Stick with me boys and you’ll never go hungry” the great man proclaims whilst smearing a quarter pounder all over his boat race. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch and pretty soon Scott’s crew are coerced into giving  RJ a good hiding in the car park.  I am pretty sure a bunch of  white boys gang stomping a lone black kid is probably some kind of initiation into The Aryan Nation, but these chumps reckoned without Jason Stillwell tipping up in the nick of time and beating serious ass. It’s worth noting at this juncture that Jason Stillwell wears some bizarre clothes for the majority of this film. With his colourful shirts tucked into his jeans he looks like a cross between an extra off Fame and a bassist in a NWOBHC band.

After that Jason decides to join the local karate school and resume his training. *SPOILER* Scott attends the karate school too and orchestrates a fight between Jason and real life arse beater Pete ‘SugarFoot’ Cunningham. Things go as well as you might expect and once again Jason runs home with his tail between his legs

Jason is into this girl Kelly. Apparently they have prior form but that is never explained. I mean up until two weeks ago homeboy was living in New York on the other side of the country so how does that even work? Maybe they were pen friends? I mean when I was trying to convince people at school that I had once necked on with a girl, I used the pen friend excuse “yeah she lives in France and she let me touch her knockers but you’ll never meet her or have this story confirmed because she lives in France and can’t speak English and uhhhh she’s a mute/dead” Who cares.

Kelly’s brother, Hairy Ian is a professional karate man and owns the local dojo. Kelly has also caught the eye of Ian’s right hand man/head coach Dean Ramsay. Let me tell you that Dean Ramsay is a META level turd and looks and behaves very much like a touring member of Chain Of Strength. He’s got the frosted tips, that California tan, all the pastel clothing. Alpha Douche. Needless to say both suitors are on a collision course and when sparks inevitably fly at Kelly’s birthday party Jason catches a roundhouse in the chops and ruins his best shirt. Cheers Dean Ramsay. Jason runs away again but this incident is the spark that ignites the fuse that drives the rest of this disjointed mess towards its absolute nonsense conclusion.

I gotta leave it there for now because I’ve already written 1700 words on this movie and we’re barely breaking the surface on this seminal work. Look out for Part 2 in which we discuss the absolutely ABSURD second and third acts of this adorable pile of shit. You’ll also get the lowdown on the Nathan Bean training montage circa 1989 and an in depth analysis of the long term benefits of getting sparked out by the ghost of Bruce Lee. In a bit.

1 thought on “Stand on your own- No Retreat, No Surrender PART 1

  1. This is fucking gold. I’m hoping for an in-depth analysis of that cenobite torture device/training aid in that kids garage.

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