Sunday, 8 November 2009

No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder (1988)

"Raah, I am evil Russian! Ignore mein German accent!"

The tagline to this movie states "It's not a rematch, it's war!" which is actually quite accurate since the movie has a completely different cast and plot from the first movie. It was originally intended to be a direct sequel to No Retreat, No Surrender, with both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Kurt McKinney reprising their roles, but Van Damme decided to break his contract to go and make Bloodsport instead and McKinney left with him. Neither showed up for the first day of shooting, so the crew were left scrabbling to rework the plot and cast a couple of different actors in the lead roles. This worked out pretty well for a number of reasons. Firstly it resulted in Van Damme's appearance in Bloodsport, an 80s classic. Secondly, the talented Loren Avedon picks up the lead role from McKinney. The movie was shot under the name Raging Thunder but the producers saw the No Retreat, No Surrender name sitting in the corner collecting dust and decided to use it anyway.

Scott Wylde (Avdeon) is an American with an awesome name who travels to Thailand to meet his fiance Sulin's parents. After a date at a fancy Bangkok restaurant turns into one of those "wow, foreigners eat some crazy shit" gross-out sequences, the two of them head back to Scott's fleabag hotel. Even though she's a rich girl she's cool with the filth, the door-to-door pimps, the broken bed and all of the strategically torn photos of naked women plastering the walls and they totally do it. What she does mind is a bunch of kidnappers busting into the place the next morning and abducting her. Scott rushes to her parents' place to try and find some information about the kidnappers but he discovers that her family has been murdered by Vietnamese refugees and the Thai police want to pin it on him. He is arrested despite his plaintive cries of "You can't do this to me, I'm an American!", but escapes at the first opportunity, intent on rescuing his girlfriend and clearing his name.

On his first stop he visits his Vietnam vet buddy Mac Jarvis (Max Thayer). I guess he's supposed to remind us of Han Solo since he's a smuggler who is older and more rugged than Scott plus he calls Scott "kid" in almost every line. He trades mostly in heavy machine guns, explosives and tanks, a good guy to know when you want to wage a one-man war. They act like old friends but I have no idea how these two guys could possibly know each other. Scott's a known fugitive by this stage and the two of them can't even enjoy a glass of freshly-squeezed snake blood without a bunch of bounty hunters showing up, so they hire a helicopter pilot Terry (Cynthia Rothrock) and head out to a Khmer Rouge resistance group to try and find out where Sulin in being held.

It turns out that Sulin is being held for ransom at a secret North Vietnamese military base. They are trying to get to Sulin's father but I'm not exactly sure why because big chunks of dialog were in Vietnamese and there weren't any subtitles. The base is run by a huge Russian muscleman named Yuri. He is played by Matthias Hues, taking over the "evil Russian" role from Van Damme. In the first film it was a Belgian and now they've got a German so I guess they are working their way eastward through Europe. Maybe by the fifth film they'll have a Russian played by an actual Russian.

Terry gets kidnapped somewhere along the way and by the time the two of them arrive at the secret base they discover that it is too heavily guarded for them to take alone. It's only when the two of them are kicking back with a few brewskis (Wylde cools down by spraying himself with a room temperature Bud, which is disgusting on many levels) that they get the idea of using the empties to rig up a remote-fire system for a bunch of M60s. If these kinds of movies have taught us anything it's that Commies are helpless against aimlessly-sprayed machine gun fire. They also set up explosives and plant dozens of claymore mines that I guess they carrying with them (along with the beers)?

Despite the fact that Wylde probably smells like luke-warm Bud (ie cat piss and hobo vomit) he manages to sneak up on the guy in the guard tower and stab him. You'd think they would then slip into the camp under the cover of night and rescue the girls, but instead Wylde strings up the guard's corpse and leaves it there while the two of them catch some shut-eye until the next morning. This gives the bad guys ample opportunity to prepare for the climax of the film, suspending the two hostages over a crocodile pit from a rickety death trap.

Wylde's final battle with Yuri is pretty hilarious. Yuri tears his shirt off at the first opportunity and starts grunting and screaming so much he's liable to drop dead of a brain aneurysm at any moment. Eventually the fight spills into Yuri's office, giving plenty of opportunity for politically-symbolic beatings eg Wylde smashes a portrait of Lenin over his head and wraps him up in a Russian flag. Then Wylde ties him to the back of a jeep and drags him into the crocodile pit, pushing the jeep in after him and shooting it until it explodes. It's a pretty thorough ass-kicking, A+ for effort. A nice touch is that Wylde actually takes off the gas cap and makes sure that the tank is full first, as if the audience would cry foul if the jeep exploded without adequate justification.

The first film was a tale of Karate-Kid-esque competitive martial arts and teenage romance, so the shift into Rambo territory is pretty jarring. Wylde even wears a red headband for most of the film. Normally in a film like this the hero would have military training of some description but as far as I can tell in this film it's just an average college kid, and by the end of the film he's mowing down dozens of commies, setting death traps and firing a crossbow with pinpoint accuracy. Shit, if the US had just sent in a bunch of Scott Wylde's the cold war could have been over that much sooner.

I probably enjoyed this one more than the first film. Both have decent fights but watching someone beat up platoons of Commies is more fun than watching a whiny high school student get his ass kicked by bullies. Acting is pretty terrible across the board (the banter between Terry and Mac is particularly painful) but the fight scenes are interesting and varied with a very Hong Kong style. A fight with some counterfeit Buddhist monks is a particular highlight. Avedon has some good fighting skills so it's good that he stayed on for the rest of the series. Unfortunately Corey Yuen left after this one so we'll see whether Lucas Lowe (who's only director credits are the last three films in this series and some obscure film called Diaries of Darkness) is as good at showcasing Avedon's abilities.

No comments: