Not only does this film rip off “The Karate Kid” and “Kickboxer”, but it pulls the rare trick of expecting the viewer to have seen them too, because it doesn’t supply you with any of the backstory or plot beats that these films are traditionally known for.
We’re at the end of the “No Retreat, No Surrender” series, but we might just do one more after this – “Fighting Spirit”, a 1992 Loren Avedon film, had its name changed to “King of the Kickboxers 2” for its DVD release, which would make it the sequel to “King of the Kickboxers”, aka “No Retreat, No Surrender 4”. But this movie’s alternate title is also “King of the Kickboxers 2”. I think we’re expected to be confused as viewers?
Drew is a martial artist, but at a local tournament gets humiliated by evil champion Trevor Gottitall (great name, great character), by having his trousers pulled down. Rather than play it off, he freaks out and moves to China to become a shaolin monk, for reasons which are flimsy at best and non-existent at worst. We’re then treated to a montage which made my (American) wife suggest changing the title of this to “The Ugly American” – he fulfils every negative stereotype about Americans abroad, and in such a short amount of time!
Anyway, the temple refuses to take him in, so he sits outside for…days? weeks?…until he’s accepted with a huge new class of teenagers who want to become monks. I’m going to pause things there for a moment. Drew is a New Yorker, and if he were interested in learning the ways of the shaolin, perhaps a more sensible way would have been to go to their temple in Manhattan? Or the one in San Fransisco, if he fancied a change of scenery? Or, at the very least, to learn anything about the shaolin philosophy?
He immediately rebels against his stern teachers, because that’s what you’re expected to do in these movies, earning himself a small group of friends and some enemies – most interesting to us, Gao, played by Daniel Dae Kim in his movie debut. If you’re wondering “no-one’s forcing him to be there, if he hates it, why doesn’t he leave?” then you’ve already put more thought into this than the people who made it.
This training goes on forever, but Drew gets the chance to be a dick a whole bunch more times, then introduces the monks to Playboy, dancing badly, pop music and parties with girls. It’s around now that we get “Shaolin Temple Blues”, the movie’s alternate version of “Summertime Blues”. But they don’t do anything stupid like change the lyrics to reflect the movie, they just change the title. Lyrics are hard work, you guys!
“Lazy” is the best way to describe this. It’s way too long, for one thing – trashy fighting movies like this should not go more than 90 minutes; the final fight appears to exist in some world where martial arts tournaments don’t have referees, or rules, or security; and for such a long film, too little time is spent at the beginning establishing the stakes for the movie. Trevor the villain is only on screen for a few minutes, and there’s zero sense of Drew’s life or why he’d want to up and move to China. Plus the fighting’s rubbish, slow and old-fashioned, feeling like a bad 70s Hong Kong movie.
If I was a believer in the ancient Shaolin faith, I’d probably think this was the year’s best comedy, but it’s really just no good. Yet again, this series was plagued by a “difficult” leading man – scriptwriter Keith Strandberg says this was his most difficult experience in the industry, and Reese Madigan (Drew) has barely worked since – but worst of all, it seems like no-one was really bothered, like they made the minimum effort possible.
Rating: thumbs down
PS – For those of you who like imagining stuff like this, the leading man was nearly Jason Bateman, but he turned down the role due to not wanting to shave his head. That might have been a fun movie.