Film / No Retreat, No Surrender

No Retreat, No Surrender (a.k.a. Karate Tiger) is a 1986 martial arts film starring Kurt McKinney and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Jason Stillwell is a Bruce Lee fanatic who trains in his father's Los Angeles karate dojo. One night, the dojo is visited by members of an organized crime syndicate, who try to convince Jason's father to join them. When he refuses, he is attacked by the boss's thugs and ultimately has his leg broken by Ivan Kraschinsky, an intimidating Russian martial artist.

The Stillwell family relocates to Seattle, but things don't get any easier for poor Jason, who repeatedly becomes the target of harassment by the local bullies. Fed up with the abuse, Jason visits the grave of Bruce Lee (filmed at Lee's actual grave) and beseeches him for aid. That very same night, the ghost of Bruce Lee appears to Jason and begins to train him. Under Lee's tutelage, Jason goes from a below average fighter to a superior martial artist. His training ultimately pays off when, at a local kickboxing tournament, Jason once again comes face-to-face with Kraschinsky and defeats him in the ring.

Often compared to another martial arts movie with a very similar plot, No Retreat, No Surrender was followed by two unrelated sequels, neither of which featured McKinney or Van Damme.


This movie contains examples of:

  • Advertised Extra: Van Damme only appears in the opening and the final tournament.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Jason seems to have spent most of his young life trying to emulate Bruce Lee.
  • Black Best Friend: Jason gains one immediately upon arriving in Seattle.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The entrapment escape technique Jason learns during his training comes in handy against the Russian.
  • Fat Bastard: Scott, who is introduced in the movie as he insults people while stuffing his face with cake. It is rare that he is not shown with food, just so you know he's a fat guy.
  • "Hey, You!" Haymaker: When the thugs attack Jason's father in the parking lot.
  • Jerkass: Dean Ramsay and (especially) Scott the Fatboy.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Implied to be the reason Scott hates R.J.
  • Spirit Advisor: Bruce Lee
  • There Are No Police: Really the only explanation for why Jason's father apparently never even thinks to tell anyone in law enforcement about the not-that-secret plan to turn "all the dojos in America" into fronts for drugs. At no point does the movie even explain why the FBI or the DEA isn't involved given that apparently everyone knows the crime syndicate's really silly plan. And it's not like the thugs threaten Jason's dad if he calls the cops or have any kind of collateral like a hostage. They just show up, beat him in public with tons of witnesses, and he just closes the dojo and moves his family to Seattle (which of course has a dojo that, surprise, is about to get converted into a front for drugs!)
    • For that matter, it's kind of surprising that nobody in the white collar neighborhood ever seems to call the cops over the numerous public beatings and murder attempts by the local kids.
  • Title Drop: "No Retreat, No Surrender" becomes a mantra of sorts between Jason and his friend R.J.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Jason.
  • Totally Radical: R.J. Madison, the jive-talking, break-dancing, rapping skateboarder.
  • Training Montage: Several, in fact.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: So... did the thugs losing one karate match really stop their crime syndicate in any meaningful way? I guess they got beat up that one time, but why would that uproot their karate dojo drug empire? The movie doesn't say, Ivan goes down and the movie just ends.
    • For that matter, if Jason's dad closed the dojo in LA, wouldn't the thugs just buy it up and turn it into a front for drugs?

Alternative Title(s): No Retreat No Surrender 2 Raging Thunder

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