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.
Smoking clowns, unpredictable quips, weird relationship dynamics, alcoholic benders, and murderous sleaze. TO THE DEATH is that rare breed of underground fight film that surprises, confuses, and delights.