#1145 No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

No Retreat, No Surrender takes a good portion of Karate Kid and mixes it up with Rocky – especially the fourth one – and manages to come up as a pretty fresh and entertaining competitive martial arts movie.

I always mistook the movie for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s vehicle, but instead he is seen portraying the role of a cocky baddie straight from USSR. The cold war aspect of the movie feels much, much more glued on than in Rocky IV, but in an 80s movie like this that’s just part of the fun, right?

The story itself concentrates on a young kid who practises karate and idolises Bruce Lee. After getting his ass handed to him by the bullies and running into clash with a syndicate and his father, he is visited by the spirit of Bruce Lee that teaches him the way of the Kung Fu.

The modern Bluray transfer reveals the shortcomings of the original film and the movie seems old beyond its years – not in a flattering way – so my recommendation is to hunt this one down as VHS instead.

80s-o-meter: 98%

Total: 87%

#1137 Enter the Ninja (1981)

Well color me me surprised. I watched Enter the Ninja totally randomly and I was surprised to find out that not only does it stars Franco Nero from the The Salamander, the very previous movie I watched, but that its his very previous movie release. That’s a first for me so far.

Taking its name from the iconic Bruce Lee movie Enter the Dragon, Enter the Ninja is often credited for being the catalyst for the endless stream of ninja assassin movies of the early 80s. But on top of showing some impressive Ninjutsu moves by Shô Kosugi, the movie has somewhat limited entertainment factor to it, given you haven’t seen it before.

I watched the remastered Bluray version, and somehow I suspect that the movie lost something in the translation, and that this is one of those few movies that gets a better mileage when viewed from a worn out VHS tape instead of a flawless source.

80s-o-meter: 84%

Total: 61%

#1065 Best of the Best (1989)

USA national karate team goes against team Korea in Best of the Best, a totally ridiculous, unrealistic, sports movie about an unlikely karate team.

Sports movies can be a bore as they stick to the plot of an underdog making it through difficulties to the final victory and then try to masquerade this one way or another. Best of the Best on the other hand does not shy away from clichés, it fully embraces them: There’s the unlikely team, an old shoulder injury that you know will come back haunting later, over the top acting, and a final showdown with an opponent guilty of killing your brother! The only thing missing from the arsenal of clichés is if the last match would’ve ended up with some unorthodox special move.

Eric Roberts seems a weird pick for the lead role at first, but he actually makes for one menacing looking fighter in his ponytail – and gives an excellent performance that’s just the right amount over the top.

80s-o-meter: 95%

Total: 88%

#1045 Cyborg (1989)

Written in one weekend and shot with shoelace budget just to find some use for movie sets and costumes left over from cancelled movies, Cyborg is a prime example of how movies shouldn’t be made.

The movie is pretty much a mess, edited painstakingly to make it to the feature film length. The pacing is way off and the cyborg theme is not followed through at all. The few fight scenes with Jean-Claude Van Damme handing out roundhouse kicks are somewhat entertaining but go only so far to save the movie.

The lack of vision and enthusiasm shines through every crevice of the movie and Cyborg ends up a lifeless shell of a movie done solely with quick cash business goals in mind.

80s-o-meter: 81%

Total: 8%

#1040 Battle Creek Brawl aka The Big Brawl (1980)

Jackie Chan appears in his first english speaking role in Battle Creek Brawl, a comedic martial arts movie with disappointing plot and an uninspired 1930s setting. Chan himself already shows some of the promise in the imaginatively humorous fighting choreographies that later become his trademark, but it’s those same more recent movies that make the moves seen here kind of basic.

What I did like was how the actual Texas brawl tournament was setup, with an imaginative array of fighters that reminded me in a good way of many classic fighting arcade games like Yie Ar Kung-Fu and Street Fighter series, both of which might have takes some cues from this movie.

Despite the few good fighting bits, as a movie Battle Creek Brawl is a pretty tired show that has a bit too much whiff from the past – both the 30s and late 70s – for me to really enjoy.

80s-o-meter: 32%

Total: 38%

#1029 Unmasking the Idol (1986)

Unmasking the Idol is yet another nominee for the worst Bond copycat movie of the decade.

The film looks exactly like many of the various super agent movies that came out in the late 70s and early 80s, and is such very much a late comer both in its formula and style. The mimicking of Bond movies goes much too far in the very first scenes to the film; after the movie marched in Sato, an asian version of the agency’s inventor Q, I had to recheck I was really watching an independent action adventure, instead of something categorised as a Bond spoof.

Still, there’s something sympathetic about the whole looney underdog ninja adventure. As crappy as it is, its comic book mood with zany monkey sidekicks and caricaturistic baddies kind of grows on you. Had I seen the movie as a kid, I’d probably still think very highly of it.

80s-o-meter: 71%

Total: 59%

#1027 Lovely But Deadly (1981)

From time to time I’ve mentioned movies that take all the right ingredients, but end up making kind of a shoddy mess out of them. In the case of Lovely But Deadly, even the ingredients are a mess.

There’s an aspiring singer that gets into the wrong side of law and whose uninspired musical numbers we’re forced to watch throughout the movie. A lot of the scenes are either too prolonged and don’t really seem to fit together, and it all happens in an alternative world where everyone seems to be a two penny martial artist.

Actually, I take back a few of my previous words: Lucinda Dooling as the lead makes for a darn decent and radiant action star. Too bad she didn’t get to debut in a bit more decent movie.

80s-o-meter: 55%

Total: 18%

#999 The Retrievers aka Hot and Deadly (1982)

I’m still trying to wrap my head around what the alternative poster of The Retrievers on the right is all about. It certainly does not seem to be any way related to the movie I just plowed through. Given the setup and the title, my guess is that the movie performed badly initially and was released again with a more exploitation, revenge porn sounding title and the poster to go with it.

Either way The Retrievers is a remarkably insignificant movie with equally insignificant plot line and production values. There’s a limited amount of entertainment to the dodgy kung-fu aspect where everybody in the movie seems to be some kind of a karate champion, grabbing a pair on nunchukas that happen to be handy when the fight starts, and the choreographed fights really seem out of place given the setting, mood and the outfits. And on most parts the fighting is pretty much on par with the home movies you made as a kid, throwing a few roundhouse kicks that felt just about perfect in your mind, but looked much less impressive as you later viewed them on telly.

There isn’t much info available online about the movie to be shared. The director and the writer Elliott Hong would direct another movie in the same year, a martial arts comedy called They Call Me Bruce? that would end up his best known title by a long shot.

80s-o-meter: 59%

Total: 21%

#921 Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985)

After reading about Missing in Action 2: The Beginning deemed to be a worse movie than its originally intended sequel and thus being delayed to be released one year later I was expecting a movie even worse than the previous one.

Not the case as The Beginning surprises by presenting a pretty solid post action pack.

Of course you know the drill; a rogue American soldier single handedly winning the Vietnam war, and there aren’t much of unexpected plot twists along the way, but its the presentation here that makes The Beginning a recommendable watch. The action is over the top as usual, with a nice martial arts showdown at the end, but compared to the previous movie Norris’ character here seems less of an invulnerable, omnipotent super human seen in the previous part.

The Beginning is by far the strongest one of the trilogy, and if you have to watch just one of the Missing in Action movies, let this one be it.

80s-o-meter: 83%

Total: 74%

#912 Avenging Force aka Night Hunter (1986)

What a treat. Michael Dudikoff and Steve James, those guys from the outrageous American Ninja are back with another action packed .. err, action pack.

In Avenging Force, or Night Hunter as it was known in the various European countries’ later home video release has a plot, a group called Pentangle consisting of some of the society’s elite members assassinate and arrange hunts for men in order to preserve the American way of life as they want it. The director Sam Firstenberg smartly acknowledges that it is first and foremost an action movie that they are making here and makes sure to push all the right buttons to keep the adrenaline level high. The house fire scene including its aftermath is one of the most palm sweating ones there are.

Avenging Force, virtually an totally unknown movie to the public is an entertaining and fierce movie done in the very best tradition of the 80s, even managing to best the many of the much better known classics of the genre.

80s-o-meter: 87%

Total: 92%

#878 Fear City (1984)

An exotic dancers’ manager – a pimp – goes after a serial killer wasting his strippers in Fear City, an atmospheric but otherwise disappointing thriller.

Tom Berenger in the lead role is a charismatic actor well capable of carrying through a film, but the two dimensional toughie characterisation Fear City gives him leaves very little to like or care for, and the flashbacks picturing his former career as boxer feel glued on. Instead of going for a strong antagonist, the director Abel Ferrara has decided to make the killer nameless and easy to forget, with equally artificial martial arts theme forced in.

There are some mesmerising shots of the nocturnal New York here, with all of its neon lights and vices pictured in a beautifully poetic way. This aspect remains the strongest suit of Fear City.

80s-o-meter: 82%

Total: 58%

#825 Revenge of the Ninja (1983)

One of those ultra violent, banned and notorious 80s ninja movies, Revenge of the Ninja is the kind of a movie loses some of its charm with the hi-def transfer, compared to the good old grungy VHS; The super clean transfer reveals all the clumsy makeup, effects and wobbling sets without remorse – which doesn’t exactly work out for the movie’s advantage.

Now, almost 40 years after the movie was first released, all the fuss about the movie being too violent and getting banned feels hard to fathom. What is seen here is not particularly gory or cruel, and the effects are a far cry from convincing and come across more comedic than upsetting.

The choreographed fights are ok, but nothing special enough to set the movie apart. It does get a bit better (and sillier) towards the end, and it is the outrageous end showdown that kind of makes it worthwhile to watch it through. Like the case is with many martial arts movies, Revenge of the Ninja has a very limited appeal to those who are not fans of the genre.

80s-o-meter: 67%

Total: 58%

#817 Forced Vengeance (1982)

There are two kinds of Chuck Norris movies that are still worth one’s time: The ones that are just genuinely good, and those that are so outrageous that they make for a top notch guilty pleasure. Forced Vengeance doesn’t really fall into either one of these categories.

Taking place in Hong Kong, Norris plays a Casino hired hand who finds himself pinned as the prime suspect in the death of his boss and sets out to find the real killer. There are many fights along the way, which Norris plays out with his usual solid craftsmanship.

Excluding one flashy silhouetted fight scene shot in front of a gigantic neon sign, Forged Vengeance is your typical early 80s Chuck Norris movie with no real high or low points, and has a very limited redeeming value to it – unless you’re a die hard Norris fan.

80s-o-meter: 62%

Total: 58%

#722 The Karate Kid Part III (1989)

So .. this had to happen then.

The duo is put together one more time in a sequel that pretty much takes a total piss on the whole series. Poor Daniel returns to L.A. being once again dumped by his latest girlfriend. Daniel shells out his college fund to lease a shop to sell bonsai trees with Miyagi and soon get harassed by a couple of bozos, one of which is the John Kreese, that heinous karate instructor from the first movie.

The core trio of evil doers doesn’t seem to get enough of teasing a teenager and the elder asian, no matter how many times Mr. Miyagi hands their asses back at them. The baddies are more annoying than in the previous two movies combined and watching the endless stream of abuse gets somewhat uneasy to look. Even if this is the buildup is for the ultimate inevitable revenge, it pretty much feels like watching as a standbyer as someone’s being teased to death by the most abusive school bullies ever.

The only positive side in the movie is that the karate shown in the movie is much more convincing than in the previous installations, with Thomas Ian Griffith showcasing some genuinely impressive moves.

80s-o-meter: 87%

Total: 45%

#721 The Karate Kid Part II (1986)

The work for the sequel started in a record time, only ten days after the first movie was shot and it seems like a story the makers wanted to tell to complete the first movie. In The Karate Kid Part II the duo travels to Okinawa, and this time around it’s Daniel steps up to support his friend Miyagi who finds himself face to face with things he thought he’d left in his past.

Even if the sequel is weaker than the first installation, I have to compliment the production team for taking the franchise to a new direction instead of playing it safe and repeating everything seen in the first movie, which is the case more than often in these series.

Shot in Hawaii, the decorated setting is carefully reconstructed to pass as a small Okinawan village and these beautiful pacific backgrounds add much depth to the kata training sequences. Similarly to the previous movie there’s not a lot of actual hand to hand combat going on here and in the few selected fights we see I have to say that Ralph Macchio’s credibility as the undisputed karate master still requires quite a stretch of imagination

If the previous Karate Kid was a movie about friendship, in Part II the theme is love. The two very different relationships between Miyagi and Yukie, and Daniel and Kumiko, under the pacific paradise island are portrayed with fondness. The relationship between Daniel and Miyagi also deepens on multiple levels, and Mr. Miyagi gains some new dimensions when his integrity and honor are faced with themes of loss, shame, love and even pettiness.

Pat Morita’s portrayal here is nothing short of awe inspiring.

80s-o-meter: 85%

Total: 81%

#720 The Karate Kid (1984)

A movie responsible for putting the crane kick on the map for a whole generation of young wanna-be-karatekas, The Karate Kid is a culmination to the martial arts trend that started back in early 70s.

Despite its name, The Karate Kid is in its core a movie about an unique friendship. What starts as a master-apprentice relationship between the protagonist teenager Daniel and his unwilling sensei-to-be Miyaki deepens into an friendship believable enough to last a lifetime. It’s this unlikely companionship that keeps the movie interesting until the end, and feeling fresh still after 30 years of its initial release.

Unlike other martial arts films or the era, the actual choreographed karate is pretty non-existent here and while I’m not an expert on the subject, Daniel’s combat skills don’t really seem that impressive. Yes, including that unbeatable crane kick.

A hand must go to young William Zabka for creating one stylish and memorable baddie as the opposing karateka. For the baby-faced Ralph Macchio The Karate Kid was the part of the lifetime and his portrayal outside the actual karate fights is maybe not relatable, but never tiresome to watch. I was astounded to learn that Macchio, who portrays a 14-year old teenager, was already 23 at the time.

Pat Morita is so iconic as the sensei Miyagi that now in retrospective it’s impossible to even think about anyone else being able to replace him.

As whole the movie is entertaining, well balanced and very 80s in a good way. If I was to pick five most iconic 80s movies that shaped the pop culture, The Karate Kid would be a no-brainer addition to that list.

80s-o-meter: 94%

Total: 90%

#683 Kickboxer (1989)

A definition of the phrase guilty pleasure, Kickboxer is like Karate Kid on amphetamine, with the totally ripped Jean-Claude Van Damme taking names and kicking ass in Thailand.

Thailand proofs to an interesting and exotic location for the movie, and Dennis Chan makes for a cool and memorable Muay Thai trainer who takes Van Damme under his wing. There are some hilarious tongue-in-cheek moments among the training montages, and the scene with Van Damme dancing in a bar is just pure comedy gold.

Kickboxer is a feel good film with top notch action and some well choreographed fight scenes thrown in to the mix as well. It’s not a good film by any standard – but by golly is it entertaining!

80s-o-meter: 88%

Total: 93%

#667 The Challenge (1982)

A part of the huge wave of asian inspired martial arts movies of the early 80s, The Challenge has an interesting premise of an American getting in the middle of a long family feud and being a fish out of water in a completely strange land and culture.

The interest is kept us as the protagonist starts learning kenjutsu and the system of honor, still constantly clashing with the oddities of the culture.

The Challenge is not a masterpiece and its cracking, unfinished seams are visible at times; especially with the bluray transfer the fishing lines guiding projectiles like arrows and shurikens are visible.

Still, it’s a refreshing and mold breaking title to the often tired martial arts movie genre, and the end showdown is nothing short of a (hilariously) amazing.

80s-o-meter: 70%

Total: 79%