Sequels that refuse to follow on from their predecessors are a curious beast – and I’m not talking the Evil Dead’s disinterest in following it’s own continuity or any franchise that drops a single, reoccurring character into a whole new adventure every time. No, I’m referring to franchises where every installment is virtually something completely new from the ground up so the franchise takes on almost a sort of anthology feel as the only thing that ties them together – except the title and the strained production values – is the fact that they’re lead by characters who can high kick while wearing a pair of jeans.
This brings us directly to the second No Retreat, No Surrender movie which changes up it’s status quo from an anti-bullying, martial arts Rocky movie to a full on, Cambodian set war film, which is sort of the equivalent of having the sequel to The Karate Kid inexplicably be Rambo: First Blood Part II…
Scott Wylde (presumably named because the name Frank Action was too on the nose) is an American student visiting Vietnam to visit both his girlfriend Sulin, and his former teacher/best friend Mac and is directed to where he’s currently residing by Terry, Mac’s lightning footed ex. Returning to a hotel room that could be legitimately classed as living in actual squalor (it has graffiti and porn adorning the walls… unless he put them there) he good naturedly puts up with the pimp who continually bursts into his apartment unannounced at all hours like they’re Kramer from Seinfeld and eventually heads out for a date with his girlfriend. After a nice meal, he unbelievably he brings her back to his shitty, porn encrusted hotel room where they promptly “do it” on sheets that are presumably stiff as cardboard.
It’s at this point the date arguably hits a down turn as kidnappers burst in and whisk Sulin away due to her father being responsible for blocking a deal with the Soviet militia back when he was a general in the Vietnamese army. After Scott is framed for the murder of Sulin’s entire family, he seeks out Mac – now a gun runner for some reason and the type of guy who thinks nothing of passing the time indulging in arm wrestling thugs over an open flame – and his Hawaiian shirted friend agrees to help Scott track down the kidnappers along with an assist from the tenacious Terry.
However, Sulin is being held in Cambodia by the Vietnamese army who have belatedly teamed up with the Russians and their rippling leader, Yuri, a killing machine who is built like a concrete tank and who no problems living out his interests of murdering people like a fucking Bond villain. Can Scott, Mac and Terry manage to infiltrate the camp and stop their evil plans – whatever they may actually be… I’m not sure. It’s not my fault, Yuri has a really thick accent.
So once again we’re basically in for another round of maniacally trashy martial arts mayhem supplied to us by Corey Yuen and thankfully, after the painfully melodrama of a teen being trained by the ghost of Bruce Lee to fight for a dojo he doesn’t even go to against mobsters (there’s lots to unpack from that sentence alone), sights have shifted to a whole new playground. The shift in tone from teen learning martial arts to a student invading fucking Cambodia with his two mates is vastly beneficial as this trip to John Rambo town means the more outlandish aspects of the film (ie. all of it) play a lot better as the film only gets more fun the more ridiculous bullshit it shamelessly tries to get away with. The fact that Scott is a expert in Tae Kwon Do is utterly fine, we accept that, but it’s never fully explained why an all-American twenty something is as lethally proficient at the art of warfare as an insane Vietnam veteran as he sets claymores and happily fights people to the death as if this is a daily occurrence.
Similarly confusing is Mac who seems to be taking this ex-teacher/full time arms dealer thing in his stride whose casual acts of playful cruelty while caving in the faces of random lowlifes makes you openly wonder what the hell he was exactly a teacher of. I know the guys he’s fighting all have it coming, but burning the face of a man with his cigar after he’s already got him beat as an extra “fuck you”, or inexplicably smashing a raw egg on someone’s forehead mid-fight like he’s in a snuff movie version of Jackass may make him fucking amazing, but he’s obviously a deranged sadist under those floppy hats and loud shirts…
However, the two best things about the film aren’t actually it’s mentally questionable leads but instead the martial art prowess of the pixie-like godess of kicking people in the face, Cynthia Rothrock and Matthias Hues’ magnificently extra villain, Yuri.
With her noticably small stature twinned with the ability to whip seven shades of shivering shit out of guys that are comfortably twice her size it’s a legitimate shame Rothrock wasn’t a bigger star than she became – oh don’t get me wrong, she has quite the healthy filmography, but she never reached the heights of, say, Van Damme, despite being just as quick on her feet and having arguably better acting skills.
Matthias Hues, on the other hand, is an amazingly awful delight. Probably best known for his turn as a drug dealing alien in Dolph Lundgren’s I Come In Peace (aka. Dark Angel), his baddie is an overblown camp hoot whose flamboyant fighting style (Hues at the time apparently had no prior martial arts training but you wouldn’t know it) matches up perfectly with his proclivity of coming up with hugely unnecessary deaths for his foes – dangling someone over an alligator pit, anyone? As Hues blindly treads that line known as amazingly bad, he truly is the gift that keeps on giving; his accent is indecipherable, his reaction to being shot in the wrist with a crossbow is stunningly melodramatic and he has a hilariously over the top death scene that is worthy of the gods. After a brutal brawl with Scott that sees even a framed picture of Lenin used as a weapon, our hero drapes the villian in the Russian flag while then tying a rope around his neck, the other end of the rope is then tied to a jeep and a screaming Yuri is dragged screaming all across his compound until he ends up in his own gator pit getting chomped as his terrifying Soviet strength manages to pull the jeep down upon himself just as it blows up – it’s rather tragic actually considering his father went exactly the same way…
In case you haven’t guessed by now, No Retreat, No Surrender 2 is a movie that’s firmly of the so bad it’s good variety, but that’s what a film like this needs to be. If you don’t have the budget then you need other ways to get attention and while the fights scenes are actually of good quality, you still have questionable actor busting out resplendent changers like: “Anyone ever teach him the difference between hospitality and hospitalised?” or someone else answering a perfectly rational question with the showstopper: “Is a frog’s ass watertight?”.
Noticeably crude (are we really not going to address the porn on the walls of the hotel?) and impressively stupid (one character has a death scene where they actually lament not boning another character), No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder is a vast step up from it’s equally weird predecessor and thus repeatedly rabbit punches you in the kidneys until you’ll piss pure, silly enjoyment.
Oh, and blood. You’ll definitely piss blood.