The criminal activity in Chinatown is escalating and the city’s police department doesn’t have enough resources. Violent gangs perform complex Tai Chi routines with impunity. Thugs in latex Halloween masks kidnap kids in broad daylight. Only a hero with a simple plan can make things right. 1991’s LETHAL NINJA spreads the havoc.
DANCE OR DIE is that rare American independent film that wants us to look at a table full of narcotics and say, “Ha! Cocaine! No big deal.”
The sort of film that gives you five straight minutes of old women eating chicken while a man in a kabuki mask performs magic tricks for a baby and a shirtless man twirls swords around in the back of a dimly-lit restaurant.
Carlos is a former boxing champion hired by the CIA to bring down a homicidal drug dealer in Hawaii. Will he be able to infiltrate the madman’s sprawling defenses and put a stop to the senseless killings? Will he be able to quickly and frequently traverse the island given the cost of gas, or instead be forced to ride a bicycle to get from one location to the next?
At least a decade before organized mixed martial arts provided a platform to answer questions such as “who would win in a fight between a kickboxer and a really overweight sumo wrestler?” a somewhat obscure 1985 film from West Germany sought to provide clarity to a similar proposition, with a slight sartorial spin. (“Who would win in a fight: a guy with mustache in a fur-collar leather jacket, or a tall dude with a mullet in leather pants and a white scarf?”) MACHO MAN puts real-life boxer, Rene Weller, and karate expert, Peter Althof, in a tiny wardrobe closet and shakes it vigorously to see if they’ll fight.
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. NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER 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.