Around 1994, few action stars were bigger internationally than Jean-Claude Van Damme, mostly owing to the $100 million box office success of TIMECOP that year. As a result, his back catalog of films was widely available in brick-and-mortar video stores. On a whim, I grabbed a VHS copy of a 1986 movie called NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER, where — as promised by the box art — he co-starred as the evil Russian villain kickboxer who, in the climactic fight, battles a bullied teenager trained by the ghost of Bruce Lee in a condemned house. Yes, seriously.
Something about the film’s sensibility hit just right for me, because even with (or perhaps due to) its shortcomings — continuity errors, odd supporting characters, rough line delivery — it was entertaining as hell. It kicked off a unique run of U.S.-based productions for Hong Kong-based Seasonal Films, and it spawned a franchise of unrelated sequels that ran wildly deep depending on your region.
This was back in ‘84 and there hadn’t been a lot of martial arts movies in the US, so none of the actors we hired really knew how to fight for the movies. We had to teach everybody how to react, and how to throw a pretty kick for the cameras…Keith Strandberg, as told to the author
Fast-forward more than 20 years later, I was seeing and reading what seemed like a deluge of “oral history” format retrospective articles about a lot of films, some good, some bad. For my money, that endearing martial arts movie I bought on video back in the day deserved that sort of treatment too. In the U.S., we take the influence of Hong Kong’s “Golden Age” for granted, but you can see its fingerprints on everything from the 2000 film version of CHARLIE’S ANGELS and the UNDISPUTED sequels to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the JOHN WICK films. NRNS was a very early version of that classic Hong Kong fight choreography mapped to an American film production, and made primarily for an audience that had gotten its kicks from flicks like THE KARATE KID.
After many hours of interviewing, transcribing, assembling, and re-editing, I had an oral history piece that was way too long for publication online. After several really tough cuts, I was fortunate to find it a home at Film School Rejects.