Heart of Kickboxer

This is the Canadian video title (for French speakers) which makes sense since Cynthia Rothrock is the heart of the film. The real title for the movie is Raging Thunder but it was rechristened No Retreat, No Surrender II so that people knew what quality of action as to expect.

Keith Strandberg talked about this movie with less detail on his old (and defunct) website. Here is what he had to say about it anyway…

The pitch and ditch

During the development of the script, I was working with Roy Horan, a salesman for Seasonal Film. He got it into his head that he wanted to be a producer, so he pitched Ng See-Yuen an idea and sold him on it. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but I didn’t hate it, either. So, I met with Roy to discuss the storyline, and then went back home to write the script. I called the project Holiday in Cambodia, after a song that was popular (at least with me) at the time. I turned the script into Seasonal, then met with Roy again. He didn’t like my take on the script and, when we met, had rewritten my script! This had never happened to me before, and it threw me for a loop. Here was a salesman trying to be a writer, with no credits, no credentials, who just thought he could go ahead and rewrite my work. I didn’t like any of it – except for the stuff that was still mine.

I suppose that I was not reading with the most objective eyes, but I still thought the stuff that Roy did was horrible. It was chock full of jargon and clichés, and took what I thought was a good story and turned it into a “macho” trek through the wilderness. The central point of my attempts at the script was that Scott Wylde (the character that Loren ended up playing) was a man-child thrown to the wolves in Thailand. To show him as a “fish out of water” was important to the development of his character, but Roy changed all that. In his versions of the script, Scott is not an innocent, he is a whippersnapper at best but he is already a hero (much like Stallone’s character in Cobra) and therefore has nowhere to go, so no way to grow.

A worldly-wise character can’t suddenly become naive, but a naive character can become more skilled in the ways of the world. So, each time Roy would rewrite the script, and then I would change it back. We went round and round like this for a little while, then Roy finally persuaded Mr. Ng that his take on the story was correct, and that’s when I pulled out. This is the only movie that I am not happy with, and I don’t even put the poster from the movie up on my wall.

Fortunes change

The movie went on to be fairly successful, but it didn’t make as much money as No Retreat, No Surrender because that movie at least had character development. When I saw Raging Thunder, I wanted to disown it. I don’t like the movie, I don’t like the story, and I especially don’t like having my name associated with it. I get second or third billing anyway, with Roy taking the primary writing credit. That’s OK, because the stuff that he changed really didn’t work. I’m fond of saying that the stuff that was good was mine, and everything else was his. Roy didn’t work with Seasonal on another film after that one. The worldwide sales were good, but I told Mr. Ng that if Roy was involved, I wouldn’t be. When he listened to Roy before, he was listening to Rambo. When he listened to me now, he was listening to the comparative needle dropping of his box office failure. He should have listened to Platoon.

The draft that was given the shaft

Though I am a writer first, I have also become a producer in order to protect the integrity of my work. I did not go on location because Roy was the producer instead of Ng. I stayed home, and when I saw the finished film, I knew I was in trouble. I was so disappointed in the changes that Roy had made to the script, I seriously considered requesting to have my name removed from the picture. Once again, the dynamic between the three protagonists was developed by Ng See-Yuen, and he turned it over to me to flesh it out and make it a coherent movie. I liked the initial story that I came up with, because it explored an outsider coming into Thailand and being out of his element. By the end of the film, he had grown in many different ways, and he had become a very capable adult.

That is a theme that works especially well in action movies: someone who is not trained nor seems capable to handle something, but does it anyway and becomes a better person. So, the first few scenes in the script, the lead’s dialogue had to be almost tentative. I wrote the dialogue so that the “fish out of water” (one of my favorite themes, by the way) idea would be communicated right away. Unfortunately, during the making of the movie things got changed around, and the movie that was produced did not follow the script that I wrote. Instead of a naive young man, Loren’s character somehow was transformed into a wisecracking man of the world, and the story really didn’t work. The ambush by the monks was something that would only work in American Shaolin.

My draft was better because it was something that could be enjoyed by people who don’t usually watch action movies. Unfortunately, Roy (who fancied himself as a superior writer) changed the dialogue so that the lead came off as an egotistical, confident he-man and thus made it so that entire story didn’t work. The lead character had nowhere to go. Where I had created a character that was a shy fighter who would come to realize his potential through the adventure. But he transformed into a cocksure hero from the beginning, and thus there was no character growth. Therefore, the situations were all the same, it was just the dialogue that was different. People can say what they like about actions speak louder than words but dialogue is crucial to how a character is being perceived.

Other things that differ

Cynthia Rothrock’s character had a bigger part. She was supposed to have a rematch with Hwang Jang-Lee that was to be intercut with Loren’s fight with Matthias Hues. Hwang’s part was bigger but Roy’s pointless desperation to commercialize meant that Matthias was now the head honcho. Realistically speaking, the Russian was meant to be second fiddle to the Vietnamese villain. My concept was for Loren’s speed to prevail over Matthias to the extent that he teams up with Cynthia to fight Hwang in what would have been a legwork spectacle. Roy’s bid in commercializing everything resulted in the romance between Loren and the Vietnamese girl being shafted in order to focus on the romance between Matt Thayer and Cynthia.

A problem on the set

The set of this movie was out of control. Roy had been the salesman for Seasonal Film in the past, had no experience producing, and, as we know, problems arise constantly on the set of a film. It seems that Roy was completely unprepared for dealing with all these headaches. One of the stories which I’ve heard from several sources concerns a day when it was raining hard in Thailand. Roy insisted that all the actors stay on set in the case the rain stopped – a reasonable request. The set was out in the boonies, so far from the hotel.

Well, one of the actors just didn’t want to wait, and started to leave. Instead of talking to this actor, or letting him leave and talking to him when he calmed down, Roy grabbed one of the live guns and threatened this actor with it, forcing him back onto the set! Honest! This is the story that I have heard. When I heard it, I was extremely glad I hadn’t gone on location. He never produced for Seasonal again.

Breaking contracts instead of bones

It was to be the follow-up to the first movie, using both Kurt McKinney and Jean-Claude Van Damme, who had helped to make the first movie so successful. The only problem was neither of them showed up for work. So, all I know is that I got a frantic call from the President of Seasonal Film to tell me that neither Kurt nor JCVD showed up in Thailand for the first day of shooting. As it turned out, J-C got the part for Bloodsport, so he broke our contract to make that picture whereas Kurt decided that he didn’t want to work for Roy, so he stayed away. It really hurt the company at the time, because we had a complete crew in Thailand waiting for the lead actors, but they scrambled and were able to find replacements – Loren Avedon for Kurt’s role, and Matthias for J-C’s villain. Both of these actors have gone on to make a number of very good movies, but neither has achieved the level of stardom that Van Damme has.

Why Corey Yuen Kwai can direct action better than the guy who directed First Blood II

The lens that is used on the camera will change how the image is recorded. A long lens, for example, compresses the image, and focuses only on the object desired, while the background is “soft,” while a short lens adds depth and increase the depth of field, meaning that more things besides the subject are in focus. A fish eye widens and many times distorts the image, while a zoom lens gives you the flexibility to adjust the focal length without having to change lens, or change perspective of the subject without having to move the camera. There was a time when many low budget pictures shot most of their film with zoom lenses – they didn’t have to take the time to change lenses, but just adjusted the focal length of the zoom. In reality, however, you sacrifice quality, because fixed lenses deliver a better quality image than a zoom. Now, zoom lenses are used exclusively for zoom shots.

Why Corey can edit action better than even Sylvester Stallone

Sometimes, the director of a mainstream Hollywood movie is involved in the editing process, but it is rare that a director has the final say – that’s usually up to the editor and the executive producers.

Turning lemons into lemonade

I was so dismayed by the finale that I decided that the next movie would have a two on one showdown. Poetic justice has served me well because many fans like that finale more than the previous one.

The box office failure of NRNS 2 forced Seasonal to make straight-to-video movies.

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