For those of you keeping count, the hero surrenders once and retreats three or four times.
How did Jean-Claude Van Damme become so famous? As well as losing a court case and having to pay $450,000 to an actor he stabbed in the eye in 1989, he kept “accidentally” making contact during his fights in the first “No Retreat, No Surrender”. Then, despite being signed on for this sequel, he decided that it wouldn’t help his career and just didn’t bother showing up for the start of filming – not only that, but he persuaded co-star Kurt McKinney to do the same, forcing the producers to recast and rewrite not just at the last minute but beyond it. I’m sort of amazed people would hire him after all that.
Taking over the part of “The Russian”, previously played by a Belgian, is the German Mathias Hues (last seen by us in the fantastic “Digital Man”). Replacing McKinney is Loren Avedon, who got the part when the producers called the place he was training at and asked if there were any martial artists there who could act. He’s Scott Wylde, who goes to Thailand to visit his fiancée, and gets involved in a plot by communist soldiers based in Cambodia to…no, not sure, and the internet doesn’t appear to be much help either. There’s Vietnamese and Russian soldiers there, and director Corey Yuen is clearly no fan of the commies, so it’s just enough to know they’re bad guys.
Sulin, his fiancée, gets kidnapped, because her father is someone high up in…the Army maybe? The Government? It’s all a bit confusing, but Scott goes to get help from his old friend Mac (Max Thayer), a gun runner with a heart of gold, and Mac’s old friend Terry (Cynthia Rothrock), a kickass martial artist / helicopter pilot. A large portion of the movie is them getting cornered by one bad group or another and having to fight their way out, or escape – Thai authorities, Vietnamese army, local thugs hired by the communists, you know the sorts.
There’s also a fairly sizeable chunk of “Weird Thailand” at the beginning, where Scott is amused / appalled by the things he sees, like the strange food (being a carnivore just seems unpleasant over there), the pushiness of the people, and so on. If he’s marrying a Thai woman, wouldn’t he have learned a little about his wife to be’s culture? Or had a meal or two with her? But this is probably more for the Western viewers than it is a character choice.
With a moderately confusing overarching story, you’re really just left to enjoy the set-pieces, and this film is an enormous step up from the last one. Scott and Mac fight their way through Bangkok, with my favourite bit being an open-air restaurant brawl that’s choreographed to perfection (no surprise, given how good director Corey Yuen normally is). Then Terry gets involved and they’re off in a helicopter to fight the commies, which becomes a bit more gun- and explosive-heavy, although you know there’s going to be a big brawl at the end between the Russian and SCOTT WYLDE (what a great name!)
Cynthia Rothrock was without a doubt the most accomplished martial artist to appear in these movies (5-time world karate champion – forms and weapons class; black belt in six different styles), but what she wasn’t was an accomplished trash-talker. Most of her dialogue is insulting people, and it sounds like poorly translated Chinese, bless her. She doesn’t even get to fight all that much, which is a shame because she’s fantastic at it. Max Thayer is a great trash-talker, though he gets to fight more than she does, despite not being as good at it. Curious!
It’s such a relief to find how entertaining this is. The cast have an easy camaraderie, The Russian is properly demented in a way that JCVD wouldn’t have been, the pace never lets up and it’s packed with exciting set-pieces. The big battle at the end is reminiscent of a “Rambo” or a “Missing In Action”, and it shares something of a political view with those movies too – a giant picture of Lenin gets smashed over the Russian’s head, and he’s tied up inside a Soviet flag at one point. It’s got some oddities, too, which give it bad movie kudos – for example, Scott seems way more bothered about finding Mac at the beginning than he does about finding his kidnapped fiancée; there’s a box of grenades with “Made In The USSR” written on them in English, which gave me a laugh; also, this was Hues’ debut and he learned to fight on the set, which is pretty impressive.
So, tons better than the original, and as it’s available for free on Youtube, there’s no excuse not to pop it on.
Rating: thumbs up