This was the Japanese title for No Retreat, No Surrender (which was produced by a Hong Kong film company called Seasonal). The movie was filmed in November and December of 1984 with some additional filming in 1985 (prior to the midway point in January). The driving force of the plot concerns a mafioso who wants to own as many dojos so that he can train hoodlums, although it’s implied rather than outright stated. Kent Lipham (who played the fat bully) contributed to the IMDB message board before IMDB shut down the forum. This is what he had to say…
Scott wasn’t racist to R.J.
There was a scene that wasn’t filmed. It took place in the school cafeteria. Scott was coming down steps with a tray full of food. R.J. was sitting on the steps, so he accidentally trips Scott and his food goes all over him. He’s humiliated, thus the rift. It wasn’t filmed because the budget wasn’t big enough to be a proper cinema movie. It was so tiny that some injuries were painted on with a very faint amount of make-up that didn’t read on screen. At the start of shooting, there was enough money for extra takes and catering. Near the end, they were throwing us bags of McDonald’s for lunch and keeping the first take no matter how bad it was.
I think we were all pretty cheesy, bad and over the top. Believe it or not, the money behind the film wanted us that way. I guess they wanted us to be as loud as possible because they could only afford to shoot sync-sound. Then again, the producer and director made camp movies. We were all young, high strung and taking it all so seriously like we were in The Godfather or something. I think that’s part of why it’s so campy. I was allowed to do a lot of improvisation. Throwing the cake, not being able to get over the fence at the burger joint, pointing out my injuries to Dean, make my day, etc. Scott was an interesting character. He sort of took control and they let me play with it.
During the audition, he said I wasn’t fat enough. I told him that I could act fatter, so I tried to stick my stomach out. The only problem was that it was already out as far as it would go. He cast me anyway because my face looked mean.
I got to talk to most of the cast. The great majority of them were very nice. Two come to mind that were a little self-involved or maybe they were just shy. Both of them don’t have any credits on stuff since the 20th century, so I will reveal their identities as Dale Jacoby and Kathie Sileno. Kurt, J.W. and Jean-Claude, on the other hand, were way cool.
Only the grave scene needed to be filmed in Seattle because of Bruce Lee’s grave. The rest was shot in and around L.A. They tried to hide the palm trees by holding branches out. I think that they just gave up after a while. They were putting paper Seattle plates on the cars but I think that grew old as well. Jason’s house was in San Pedro. The gym for the final fight was a YMCA in Pasadena whereas the dojo was in the valley on Ventura Blvd. Kelly’s house was off of Beverly and Highland. Damn, that pool was cold. We should have filmed that scene in November instead of December. The movie should have taken 2 weeks to film but the ringleaders were not very organized.
Timothy Baker (who played the hero’s father)
The guy who played Jason’s dad was cool. Nice guy. He referred me to a mobile mechanic when my car broke down on the way to the set. He was a better person than he was an actor.
J.W. Fails (who played the protagonist’s friend)
He was a ball of energy just like you saw in the movie except he really seemed to have it all together. He was really upbeat and friendly. I’m really surprised that he didn’t continue to have success in the business. His stunt double during the breakdancing segments was a Caucasian dude as opposed to the assumption that it was a Chinese guy.
Jean-Claude Van Damme’s star appeal
All the gals and some of the guys were GAGA for him. I remember that he had a happy and healthy smile which would impress either sex. I guess the cliche would be lit up the room. He was being touted as the next big action star even as we filmed. All the girls were swooning. Some of the guys as well. He was working on reducing his accent because people were expecting him to be in the next Rocky. I think towards the end of filming, he realized that he was a soon-to-be somebody in a low budget flick. It was sort of like when I was in Across the Tracks where Brad Pitt was on the brink of stardom and was stuck in a less low budget flick. He did not seem happy at all. It was only when Last Action Hero came out that most folk realized that Van Damme was on the cusp of stardom.
JCVD’s gender appeal
I was blown away. I thought he was a great fighter. He was outgoing and not uptight at all. He was really concerned that he had hurt me when he headbutted me. The truth is I have a very hard head. He was just a humble guy. Once, I was leaning against a poll while sitting on the grass outside of the gym where the final fight scene was filmed. He walked up to me and introduced himself because I had not been on set for his other scenes. He asked me what I was staring at. I told him I was trying to watch the shadow of the pole reach a particular blade of grass. He said: “Very zen.”
In response to Kent’s comment about Seattle, I have my own theories about what happened to the movie after its U.S. cinema release by New World Pictures. The space needle scene along with the other scenes exclusive to the U.S. video release were filmed afterwards. What supports this theory is that the video was heavily edited. The cinema release (which became the U.K. DVD) was 94 minutes long. This has been referred to as the director’s cut when in fact it was actually the theatrical cut in the U.S. as well. Let’s face facts – the movie’s budget was so miniscule that they couldn’t afford to shoot extraneous scenes.
The man who ran the U.S. video distributing for New World Pictures denounced the acting to be so bad that he removed as much as he could before he announced for extra scenes to be filmed so as to adhere to guidelines – a U.S. video release has to be at least 81 minutes long or it will be, at best, relegated to TV airings. 79 minutes was what was left after the editing, which also explains why the U.K. DVD incorrectly displays this running time. It was decided that the U.K. VHS release would also benefit from this new edit. Slowing down some scenes helped to bolster the running time to that of 85 minutes.
Even the music was changed. The original soundtrack by Frank Harris was mostly stock in that it borrowed cues from movies released by Golden Harvest (the biggest of Seasonal’s rivals). Paul Gilreath was the replacement. Ironically, his contribution was more Oriental for the most part. This isn’t always the case when Hong Kong movies have their soundtracks changed (as what happened when Dimension re-released a slew of Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies). Paul’s score helped to make what should have been straight-to-video less B-grade. The reviews and miscellaneous web comments validate the distributor’s decision.
The following information is courtesy of Keith Strandberg’s first official website (i.e. On the Set) that became defunct. It should have been used for an exciting autobiography:
The story was created by Ng See-Yuen and Corey Yuen Kwai. I basically filled it out. It was Ng’s idea was to ride the success of The Karate Kid by having the ghost of Bruce Lee come back to teach martial arts to the lead character – Jason Stillwell (who was played by Kurt McKinney). Corey’s idea was to take advantage of the Cold War sentiment by having the Russian mob wanting to monopolize the U.S. Karate community. Rocky IV hadn’t been released yet, so no-one was cashing in on that movie. If you look at Tsui Hark’s The Master. That movie was made in 1989 – a year before Rocky V was made. It’s possible that Sly Stallone was inspired to make a movie about a teacher who trains a student that becomes an enemy. Both villains even have blond mullets!
I had been a Lee fanatic when I started training in the martial arts, so I used that experience to develop the character of Jason. I particularly enjoyed writing and filming the scenes where Jason visits Bruce’s grave, because I had always wanted to go there, so got the chance through the movie. Being a writer is as much to do with living vicariously through someone as well as being autobiographical.
I basically worked for nothing on my first picture: I was paid 12,000 dollars for writing the script as well as acting as second assistant director and translator: for four months work!
How lucky that Kurt and JCVD were to be chosen
When we were casting the lead roles, we held an open casting call on the lot of Raleigh Studios. We expected to see about 30 or 40 people, and were totally unprepared for the hundreds of people that showed up. They were all lined up outside the building, standing in the hot sun. We had put in an ad for several very specific types of people – mostly young, but the line outside was all different kinds: old, fat, balding, etc. Very few of the people waiting outside were right for the parts we were casting, and we definitely didn’t have time to see everyone that was waiting, so I was nominated to weed out the undesirables, and choose the people to come into the office.
What a job, and what a responsibility! I walked up and down that line, looking at the people and trying to keep in mind that I couldn’t feel sorry for them; I had to just choose people based on how they looked (something that I had been taught not to do most of my life). It was probably one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had to do in the movie business – I felt sleazy as I picked the people we wanted to see, and the looks of disappointment on the faces of the ones who I didn’t pick really got to me. This is the one side of the business which I don’t like – having to choose one person over another. In a perfect world, everyone should get the parts they want…it just doesn’t work out that way.
JCVD losing his control (with Tim Baker)
The first fight scene we had with Jean-Claude Van Damme was the scene in the dojo at the beginning of the film, where Jason’s father is teaching in the dojo, and the bad guys walk through at the end of class. J-C is one of the bad guys, and he goes after the father, played by Tim Baker. During this fight, J-C jumps off the shoulder of one of the other bad guys and flying side kicks Baker in the face. The kick is a spectacular one, but unfortunately J-C hit Baker in the face the first time he did it, cutting his lip and drawing blood. This did nothing but hinder our filming for the rest of the night, because now Baker didn’t trust J-C, and didn’t want to stay in there when J-C was throwing kicks to his face. It must have been tough on J-C, as this was his first film, and he was excited and wanted to do a good job. Certainly, Baker would be jumping to work with him now!
Ditto with Pete “Sugarfoot” Cunningham
J-C was supposed to jump crescent kick Pete as he rushed across the set, barely missing him. When Corey called “Action,” J-C jumped and smacked him (a middleweight kickboxing champion) in the face, knocking him out immediately. Pete fell to the ground like a stone, and J-C finished the shot without pausing to see if he was OK – which is exactly what you are supposed to do.You see, if you do make contact, and then stop in the middle, before the director calls “Cut,” you won’t just hurt your fellow actor, you’ll ruin the shot. That means you’ll have to do it again. As it was, J-C had to do the scene again, just for insurance, in case something was wrong with the first shot, and he hit Pete again, though he didn’t knock him out this time. It turned out that the first shot was good, and that was the one that ended up in the movie. It looks realistic, and painful – which it certainly was.
What kind of a guy that JCVD was
I remember J-C being a super guy. He was always friendly, and always had a smile on his face. He was hungry back then. He needed the work and the opportunity to be in a feature film, so he was very appreciative of the part that we gave him. He’s been able to turn it into a hugely successful career. Everybody knew that J-C had something, which is why we signed him to a two picture contract. It’s a shame for my career that he broke that contract, or I’d probably still be working with him. I’ve heard horror stories about the way that J-C is on the set these days, but when I knew him – I thought that he was the perfect gentleman. He was always on time, always ready to give 100%. He was a joy to work with, and I hope he continues to be that way.
Rewriting at night
My first draft of the screenplay was much too long, and that meant rewriting and cutting while we worked. One of the most precious commodities on a film set is time, and there was no time to rewrite on the set, while people were waiting to film. So, every night after working on the movie, I would retire to my bedroom in the apartment in Sherman Oaks and work on the scenes for the next day. I would discuss what was supposed to happen with the director, he would make comments, and I would immediately integrate them into the script. It was tough, long work, and many nights saw me toiling into the wee hours only to be awakened after an hour or two of sleep to start filming. I learned, however, what does and does not work in films – it was an incredible learning experience. Toiled or be boiled.
Changes on the set
Everyone’s a writer! We were filming the party scene in, and one of the actors was having trouble saying his line – “Now you know who’s the best!” while he was holding Kurt down with his knee in his back. The actor kept saying “Who the best is” instead of “Who’s the best”. I kept shaking my head and indicating to the director that we had to go again. Finally, after about 5 takes, the make-up woman looked at me and said – “What’s the difference? It means the same thing!” Well, it’s a small point, and it probably didn’t make or break the movie, but I am very careful with the way things are said. “Who the best is” is not as powerful as “Who’s the best!”
You can’t snap the first out, but you can the second. It just sounds and works better, and I feel strongly that the dialogue that is said anywhere, in any film, should really be concentrated on – it can’t be normal unless there’s a reason for it to be normal. On the flip side, dialogue shouldn’t be catchy and witty if it’s not in the character to be that way. But, dialogue should reflect the characters in the movie, so not everyone talks the same way. Listen to the people who are around you, you can tell a lot about them by the words which they choose, and the sound of their voice. Dialogue is a powerful tool in a movie – and you have to be careful in its use. The danger is compromising your principles in the heat of battle. I could have backed down and allowed that actor to say it any way he wanted, but I didn’t; and I’ve stuck to that ever since.
Working with the Korean Bruce Lee
The actor who we hired to play Bruce’s ghost was an interesting guy. He had mannerisms just like Bruce, so when he was in character, it was really eerie to watch him. He also had the biggest knuckle callus that I’ve ever seen. He got it from hitting stones, and he was always walking around the set hitting things to keep the callus up. It was fascinating, but extremely ugly. In the movie, Bruce’s ghost has a good bit of dialogue. I was very anxious to go over the dialogue when I first met the actor. I needed to make that there were no problems. The first problem was – the actor didn’t speak a word of English! How, then, was he to do his dialogue? I asked. The idea that we came up with was to hire a Korean dialogue coach, and construct sentences in Korean that matched the English dialogue in timing and delivery, and then dub in the English later.
You should have seen Kurt’s face, when he was going through a dialogue scene with “Bruce Lee” and all that’s coming out of his mouth is Korean! You have to give Kurt credit, though, he came out with a great performance given the circumstances! The idea, when it finally got down to dubbing the picture, really didn’t work. You can tell the scenes where Bruce has dialogue have been dubbed, and they are less effective because of that. Also, many of the sections are shorter than necessary to fit in the entire English dialogue, so a good many of the passages had to be cut drastically – and that’s where the message was being imparted. I was disappointed with that portion of the film, but the movie did incredible business. The budget was 400,000 dollars and grossed over 2 million in U.S. cinemas. That helped us to fund the next movie for Seasonal (another cash-in but this time wanting to do better than Missing in Action as it was impossible to top Rambo).
Kurt not wanting to do the stunt with the rope
During one scene, Kurt was training with “Bruce” where he was to put his foot in a loop of a rope hanging from the ceiling, then jump up and try to kick a bag that was also suspended from the ceiling. Kurt was supposed to miss the bag several times, falling down to the floor each time. Well, Kurt put his foot in the loop, and then balked at doing the kick, saying: “It’s going to hurt”. Now, the Hong Kong stunt directors and fight choreographers don’t have a lot of patience for American actors who refuse to do what they consider “safe” stunts. Yuen Kwai, the director, came up to Kurt and just said, through me (he didn’t speak much English), “Do it!” Kurt went back to the rope, looking at it, then shook his head.
Kwai, you have to understand, came up through the same Chinese opera school that Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung came out of, and he was used to doing all sorts of things for the camera, and this was a baby stunt to him. He couldn’t believe that Kurt wouldn’t do it. It got tense in the room, and everyone was waiting to see what would happen. This shot was necessary for the scene, and neither one of them was going to budge. So, Kwai threw down his cup and put his own foot up in the loop, then jumped up and kicked the bag, then fell down heavily on the floor. He popped up immediately, looking at Kurt and saying, “See, it’s not hard. Now do it!” Kurt sheepishly got right into position, and did the shot. It wasn’t as hard as it looked, and he did it correctly the first time, without getting injured in any way.
Fingertip push-ups on one arm
In the training scenes, you see Kurt doing one arm fingertip pushups. Quite a feat, huh? Well, not exactly… First off, Kurt didn’t know how to do one arm pushups, so I had to show him the correct form. Then, he tried to do it for the camera, and it just didn’t have the impact. So, Kwai decided that it would be much more effective for the pushups to be faster, and to be off two fingers. I pulled him off to the side and said, “He can’t even do one arm push ups fast enough, how’s he going to do this?” Kwai just smiled and held up a piece of wire cable.
They affixed a wire to Kurt’s back with a special harness, and every time he goes up and down, there are really three Chinese stuntmen off screen pulling on a wire that takes him up with ease, and keeps the pressure off his fingers! He looks great doing it, doesn’t he? Why doesn’t the wire show? Because they hid it by having the trees in the background, and what wire did show they spray painted white so it would blend in with the sky. Pretty ingenious, huh?
The pain of vanity
When we were filming out in Hollywood, I had to step in and be a thug during a fight scene. It was my first time on camera and I was very excited. Kurt was to jump spin kick me in the face then I was then to go with the kick and fall down on the ground. Well, I rushed in, he threw a perfect kick and I turned with the force of the kick in what I thought was a very professional spin and fall. When it was over and I asked the director how I did, he said, “It was pretty good. But when you got kicked, you turned the wrong way!” Not exactly an auspicious debut. After that, I left the fighting and the thuggery to the actors, and stayed behind the camera. It’s definitely not as easy as it looks.
Imbalance of takes regarding ratio
There are more dialogue scenes than fight scenes but the former averaged about 6 takes per shot, while the fight scenes averaged about 15. During one particularly difficult scene, Corey Yuen (a name that was designed to remind then-mainstream Hollywood of Corey Feldman and Corey Haim) insisted that it be redone more than 26 times! The record for takes on my films is about 36, but I have heard about Jackie Chan shooting a single movement over 300 times to get it exactly right.
The real Bruce’s philosophy of emptying one’s cup
For many actors, it’s a process of relearning techniques. Kurt was a karate black belt with years of experience, but still had to learn to fight all over again. For movie fighting, he had to learn to perform linear, sweeping techniques, because the kicks and punches he was taught to perform just didn’t look good on screen. Techniques that are snapped back, as they are supposed to be maximizing speed and power, don’t have the visual impact of techniques which are left hanging out. Even though it’s considered bad form to do just that in training! Also, you have to try to train yourself not to make contact.
Van Damme had a problem with contact and hurting the other actors when he first started. Van Damme had one of the actors, and a former Shotokan world champion at that, scared to step onto the mat with him in a scene because he was afraid that he would get hit in the face. You see, Van Damme came from a kickboxing and he wasn’t used to pulling his techniques – after all, in kickboxing, you’re supposed to make contact. Dale Jacoby (the aforementioned champion who fights after Pete) managed to pull through, although you can see his cautiousness come through. It’s unintentional method acting. Still, it is one of my best known films.
In response to Keith’s last comment, the movie was even referenced via Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts in Valentine’s Day (2010). Also, the guy doubling Kurt in the penultimate photo is the fight director – Harrison Mang (who is also known as Meng Hoi).