Director: Corey Yuen
Producer: Roy Horan, Ng See Yuen
Cast: Loren Avedon, Matthias Hues, Max Thayer, Cynthia Rothrock, Hwang Jang Lee, Roy Horan, Patra Wanthivanond, Nirut Sirichanya, Perm Hongsakul, Chesda ‘Pop’ Smithsuth
Running Time: 97/104 min.
By Jeff Bona
If you think Jackie Chan and John Woo were the first (after Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, of course) to introduce real Hong Kong action to mainstream moviegoers in America, think again.
In 1985, Hong Kong’s Seasonal Film Corporation, the company that was responsible for making Jackie Chan a star with 1978’s Drunken Master, started producing American productions that blew viewers away; particularly, those looking for the same type of inspiring action they saw in accessible Golden Harvest action films of the 1980’s. What started with 1985’s No Retreat, No Surrender – Corey Yuen’s English-language debut feature, and also the movie that put Jean-Claude Van Damme on the map – continued with 1987’s No Retreat, No Surrender 2 (aka Raging Thunder).
Corey Yuen, the director/action choreographer of the first No Retreat, No Surrender, was back in the director’s chair for Part 2. Back then, Yuen was known in Hong Kong for directing classics such as 1981’s Tower of Death, 1982’s Ninja in the Dragon’s Den, and 1985’s Yes, Madam! It wasn’t until 1998 that Yuen finally exploded in the Hollywood circuit, thanks to Richard Donner giving him full control over Jet Li’s action sequences in Lethal Weapon 4. Since then, he has directed 2002’s The Transporter and has choreographed a number of big Hollywood films, including 2001’s Kiss of the Dragon and 2010’s The Expendables.
In addition to Corey Yuen, both Kurt McKinney and Jean-Claude Van Damme were also supposed to return. According to screenwriter Keith W. Strandberg, neither McKinney or Van Damme showed up in Thailand for the first day of shooting. Apparently, Van Damme broke his contract and did Bloodsport instead; and rumor has it that McKinney rejected because he had just gotten married and his wife didn’t like the idea of him filming on the Cambodian border.
At this point, No Retreat, No Surrender 2 desperately needed a new leading man who could not only carry himself on camera, but also look good fighting on-screen. Producer Roy Horan (he’s the Charles Manson-looking guy who appeared in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Tower of Death) turned to a 23-year-old Tae Kwon Do expert named Loren Avedon, who was chosen over 75 other candidates to replace McKinney. At the time, Avedon was a used car salesman whose only claim to fame was a bit part in 1985’s Ninja Turf. A week later, he was off to Thailand to begin filming his first starring film.
Filling in for Van Damme was newcomer Matthias Hues, a German bodybuilder who I personally describe as “Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren rolled into one,” in other words, Hues was the perfect choice to play the bad guy. International star power was added in the form of martial arts sensation Cynthia Rothrock, who had already made a name for herself in Hong Kong with 1985’s Yes, Madam! and 1986’s Millionaire’s Express. In addition, Iron Eagle’s Max Thayer and martial arts movie legend Hwang Jang Lee (Drunken Master) were also brought in.
Contrary to popular belief, No Retreat, No Surrender 2 was always intended to have an unrelated story (a sequel to the original, by name only). Even if McKinney and Van Damme returned, they would be playing two, totally different characters.
If No Retreat, No Surrender was Yuen’s answer to The Karate Kid, then No Retreat, No Surrender 2 was his answer to Rambo. The plot of Part 2 concerns a Tae Kwon Do expert named Scott Wyld (Loren Avedon), who visits his girlfriend (Patra Wanthivanond) in Thailand. Soon after the two meet up, she is kidnapped and held hostage in Cambodia. With the help of his friend Mac (Max Thayer) and Terry (Cynthia Rothrock), Scott travels to Cambodia in hopes of rescuing his girlfriend from Russian and Vietnamese troops, headed by a Russian general (Matthias Hues).
If you can get over the fact that Avedon isn’t exactly a graduate of The Birmingham School of Acting, then you’ll realize that No Retreat, No Surrender 2 is one of the best action movies of the 1980’s. Sure, the film has corny moments, cheesy one-liners and third rate acting; but once the brawling kicks in, you’re in action movie heaven. The fight sequences are swift, solid, tightly edited and very creative. Even the sound effects used are crisp and organic. Not all the action is a bunch of flips and kicks, there’s motorcycle stunts, shootouts, explosions and even Max Thayer drinking fresh snake blood (like, really drinking it, as shown in a one-take shot).
With a choreographer like Corey Yuen, almost anyone can look good fighting on screen; but with someone like Avedon under his command, the result is top notch. Till this day, I have yet to see a non-Chinese actor who can pull off Hong Kong choreography the way Avedon does; with that said, I consider him to be one of the most underrated names in the history of martial arts film. The bottom line is: Avedon is a natural when it comes to on-screen fighting. It’s no wonder The Seasonal Film Corporation had him sign a 3-picture deal before production of Part 2 even wrapped up.
Cynthia Rothrock is just as awesome – and this goes without saying – being the seasoned, butt-kicking babe that she is. Even Max Thayer gets down and dirty, although he is obviously body-doubled 95% of the time. Kung fu cinema fanatics will get a kick out of Hwang Jang Lee’s appearance; despite his non-speaking role, he has a chunky duel with Rothrock. Matthias Hues, who handles his action scenes like a champ, goes full force against Avedon during the film’s climactic battle.
During their release, I feel that No Retreat, No Surrender 1 and 2 were too ahead of their time to be fully appreciated. Or it could be that the excellence of both films were easily overshadowed by their cheese factor. Whatever the case, Corey Yuen and Seasonal Films were the first – since Bruce Lee and Golden Harvest – to bring real Hong Kong flavor in an American action movie. Not even Jackie Chan’s early U.S. films, like 1980’s The Big Brawl or 1985’s The Protector, showcased the action he was famous for (and we can blame the directors of those two films for that).
If you’re a fan of Hong Kong, martial arts or action movies in general, then No Retreat, No Surrender 2 is easily a must-see. Plain and simple.
Jeff Bona‘s Rating: 8/10