Saturday, 28 November 2009

No Retreat, No Surrender 5: King of the Kickboxers II: American Shaolin (1993)

Man, these Hare Krishna are getting really
aggressive about donations

It's fairly obvious that this film was never supposed to be a No Retreat, No Surrender film, given the ungodly clusterfuck of a title. Naturally it doesn't have any connection to the first King of the Kickboxers either, save for director Lucas Lo. It opens on a training session for the villain of the piece, a goofball in a ponytail named Trevor Gottitall. I know I say this a lot, but that's the best name ever. He's a self-absorbed asshole with a whole evil entourage straight out of a Rocky film, including nurses, scientists and tracksuited lackeys. During a training match with a Bruce Lee wannabe, his opponent's pants fall down and Trevor takes the opportunity to deliver a wicked side kick. It's through this that Trevor develops an entire fighting system revolving around the strategic pantsing of his opponents. "Beat your opponent once and he's a threat." says his sleazy manager, "Humiliate him and he'll fear you forever."

Cut to the Jersey Shore Karate Championship and Trevor Gotitall is facing the Daniel-Larusso-esque Drew Carson (Reese Madigan) in the final round of the tournament. Even though you have no idea who this kid is you know it must be important because the lights dim, scary music plays and lightning flashes. When the match begins Trevor thoroughly creams Drew before demonstrating his Deadly Move of Ultimate Pantsing, whipping off Drew's belt (while wearing fighting gloves, which is quite impressive in itself) and sending him 'a' over 't' in his tighty-whities. In a stunning display of insensitivity, the entire crowd points and laughs while Drew's Mr Miyagi equivalent Master Kwan (Kim Chan) bows his head in shame. Drew is humiliated after his ignoble defeat and Master Kwan reveals that although he claimed to have studied at the Shaolin Temple, he actually made all that shit up. As a result, Drew is inspired to travel to China and become a Shaolin monk.

After wandering around China like a stupid tourist he finally reaches the temple and unsurprisingly he is refused entry gets tossed on his ass. After consulting a local girl he manages to get around their strict "no whiteys" policy by going on hunger strike outside the temple until they give up and let him in. He doesn't speak a lick of Chinese and although you'd think that not being able to communicate with other monks or read the Buddhist scriptures might be a problem for an aspiring monk, luckily everyone inside the temple speaks perfect English. Indeed, many of the monks are played by American actors, leading to strange situations such as where fellow initiate Gao (Daniel Dae Kim) refuses to sleep next to him because he's an American, even though Gao has an American accent himself; or where monks speak to villagers in English and get replies in Chinese.

Naturally Drew's all-American sass causes all sorts of friction and he rebels when a 'roided-out senior monk (Cliff Lenderman) assigns them menial tasks such as sweeping and breaking rocks. I guess Drew hasn't seen Shaolin Temple or 36th Chamber of Shaolin or pretty much any film ever made about Shaolin monks. Eventually their training moves onto more traditional fare such as strengthening their hands in braziers of hot coals, walking on logs etc and Drew teaches the other students how to pop-lock and air guitar to Summertime Blues (with "Shaolin Temple Blues" awkwardly inserted into the chorus). Rockin'! I hope you like this song too, because it's used at least half a dozen times throughout the film. I guess they paid their licensing fees and they were determined to get every penny's worth.

It wouldn't be a movie about Shaolin training without a few fuck-ups along the way. A fight with Gao gets out of hand when Drew accidentally kicks the head off a sacred statue, although Gao ends up taking some of the blame under the temple's "dobbers wear diapers" approach to discipline. Drew's biggest snafu is when he convinces some of the other students to go with him to a party at a local girls' school. When the monks hit the dance floor with the girls (there's that Summertime Blues song again) a bowl-cut doofus in aviator shades picks a fight with them. The police arrive at the temple the next day and demand that Drew be expelled, but in the end the head monk lets him stay. Phew!

In Drew's final trial he has to test his skills against a whole bunch of Shaolin wooden men like in Jackie Chan's 1976 film, uh, Shaolin Wooden Men. This involves a whole bunch of goofy looking wooden golems rocketing towards him while flailing their limbs madly. Drew gets completely creamed and I've got to admit that watching him get put in an armlock and punched repeatedly in the gut by a bunch of wooden automatons is completely hilarious. Watch out for splinters! Of course, Drew eventually emerges from the test, battered and bruised but victorious, and is made an honourary monk.

But what about Trevor Gottitall? Well, he's dealt with in the final ten minutes of the film, when the group head off to Beijing so they can compete in an International Wushu Exhibition. Turns out that Trevor is one of the competitors (local Karate tournaments, international Wushu exhibitions; the guy really gets around) and starts beating up Gao in an effort to goad Drew into fighting. Drew initially refuses ("I will not fight for personal glory or my ego") until Gao is severely beaten and the senior monk gives Drew permission to kick ass. The match is pretty entertaining and Drew manages to defeat Trevor even after falling for his secret pantsing move again. You'd think by this stage he would have learned to wear suspenders or a firmly fastened belt.

I particularly enjoyed the ridiculous premise of this movie. In a typical movie of this type, like Shaolin Temple or 36th Chamber of Shaolin, the hero seeks training from the Shaolin monks so he can avenge the murder of a loved one and/or overthrow a political tyrant. In this movie the hero seeks training after being pantsed by an opponent during a New Jersey Karate tournament. It kind of lacks the dramatic heft, you know? Unfortunately it also lacks the quality fight scenes, and although Corey Yuen does a good job with the choreography it's clear that Reese Madigan is the weak link. Occasionally some extras would demonstrate great weapons skills and I would think "Why can't this movie be about those guys instead?" Hopefully the sequel will focus on the awesome character of Trevor Gotittall. Title suggestion: No Retreat, No Surrender 6: King of the Kickboxers III: American Shaolin 2: The Rise of Trevor.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice one Dave. I just saw this and thought the whole way through, it's like what would happen if they subbed Napoleon Dynamite for the Karate Kid.
I found it hilarious but then, I was drunk so...