Reel Bad Dudes: Ivan Kraschinsky – NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER (1986)
Sometimes the Reel Bad Dude in a film isn’t necessarily the typical hero. Everyone cheers for the good guys and, in most cases, they do win, but that doesn’t mean they are always better than their adversaries. They just got lucky. Often the good guy versus bad guy fights are grossly mismatched, yet the good guy wins. I don’t buy those odds in reality, but it happens in film - even in some of our favorites.
Take the wonderful martial arts/action film NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER (aka KARATE TIGER) from 1986 for instance. There is a complete badass “Russian” who destroys everyone he touches but along comes some Daniel Larusso wannabe teen who drives his mom’s station wagon and he’s going to be the real champion? Right!
Why doesn’t anyone think of the poor immigrant who gets a bad hand in life? Have they no compassion?
The way I see it (because Ivan only utters a grand total of five sentences and gives us little insight into his great character), a young man left his homeland of Russia for greater opportunity. All he knew was the long lines for food staples and a very drab economy with little chance of bettering his life. So off to America he goes to make his dreams come true. Upon arrival in the States Ivan Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme in his first feature film role) did his best to find work but found it hard with his lack of English and a tough job market. Unfortunately the only man willing to give him a shot was the wrong man. A new high paying job as part of a bully karate group who is forcing people out of their dojos all over the country, using scare tactics and muscle men to rake in his fortune. Of course this is spread around through those who work for him so it’s really hard to blame Ivan when he was hypnotized by the unprecedented amount of cash in his pocket. It would be hard for anyone to turn down.
He was a great enforcer, but soon his boss and the world would know his true talents as a ruthless and skilled martial artist. When we first see him he is standing silently in a very nice white suit/red tie and pocket square combo – looking sharp and making very little movements. Then as his cohort gets in trouble trying to out karate the instructor of a small dojo he steps in - or should I say leaps in - propelling himself off the back of his downed associate and flying through the air kicking the Sensei in the chest. This is followed by the breaking of the man’s leg and a quick roundhouse to the face. Take that, karate man (a name his character will be affectionately called later in the film)!
We don’t see our “hero” Ivan for quite some time. He must have remained in the gym diligently working on his technique and readying for the big fight in Seattle where his team of hostile karate enthusiasts will try to take down the number one ranked full-contact martial artist. Instead of pitting a different guy from their team against the three members of the Seattle squad (three-on-three) the New Yorkers need only one man from The Manhattan Maulers to take on all of them (one of a time, of course, he’s not a machine). After the first American waves his arms around while Ivan effortlessly dodges him, it takes just one powerful kick to knock him on his ass. A second and he flies from the ring. Knock out! Within a couple of minutes he has annihilated the first two and though the third man, and nationwide champion, gives a good fight, he’s still no match for the Russian.
Out from the crowd runs the so-called hero of NRNS, Jason Stillwell, making a helicopter-kicking entrance into the ring to defend the honor of his lumbering anti-karate karate instructor father, the girl he loves and the city whose honor is at stake. Kraschinsky recognizes him right away and the battle begins with pride also on the line. Now we have arrived at the point where the filmmaker tinkers with reality and asks everyone to suspend his or her disbelief. In what alternate reality would this whiny teen be able to hold his weight against the chiseled, perfected Russian? This kid who cries when his dad trashes all his martial arts gear and must break into an abandoned house to continue his training – skills taught by none other than Bruce Lee’s freaking ghost! He spends all of his time doing various weird training exercises in some of the best 80s montages, complete with questionable routines involving his rapping and breakdancing buddy R.J. (for evidence of this see the video at the bottom of this post).
Regardless, you can guess what happens next. Our beloved Ruskie gets the short end for the glorification of Mr. Corey Yuen’s pro-Seattle agenda. Poppycock. I say!
This surely leads to Ivan being shamed and sent out of The Manhattan Maulers for good. Now he is forced to take the little money he saved from his days of strong-arming the little guy to open his own dojo in Salt Lake City, Utah. He remains an alcoholic to make the painful shame go away – all because of that little punk Jason. I demand that we see a rematch someday to prove to the world the identity of the true victor. No matter what happened in the small gymnasium in Seattle 25 years ago, before a crowd of literally dozens, Ivan the Russian is, and shall always be, a Reel Bad Dude.