An often forgotten example of awesome 80’s Karate nonsense gets the walk through treatment.
The year was 1986. U.S. audiences, who recently fell in love with Daniel Larusso and to a lesser (though no less deserving) extent, Leroy Green, sought yet another teenaged Karate hero to whisk them off to that magical place where concepts like “honor” and “pacifism” really mean spin kicking motherfuckers in the face when you get mad enough. Enter Jason Stillwell, a young man with undiagnosed schizophrenia, a nice collection of sleeveless t-shirts, and no impulse control.
We meet young Jason under pretty typical martial arts movie type circumstances. He’s training at his father’s L.A. Karate dojo, totally killing some sweet punching kata (aka punching the air in the adams apple). It’s clear that young Jason possesses a unique fire for Karate that transcends the simple drills he’s performing, and when the class switches over from kata to partner drills, he can no longer contain his enthusiasm. He sucker punches his partner in the throat, then drops him with a snap kick to the scrotum. KARATE!
His father admonishes his rash, Kung Fu like behavior, and reminds him that punching and kicking should NEVER be used for punching and kicking other people (obviously). But everyone seems to be used to Jason cheap shotting unsuspecting white belts in the balls, so class dismissed! Have a good night you guys.
But wait, while the boys are hitting the showers, in march three greasy, hairy-knuckled New York types who represent some evil Karate Dojo chain that believes punches and kicks are best used for hurting others, and somebody mentions something about joining some sort of association maybe? Anyway Sensei Dad, despite being outnumbered three to one, refuses to join said Karate umbrella corporation based on his firm stance as a pacifist. Then he fights two dudes and loses to the second dude because hey look, that’s JCVD! The Muscles from Brussels kicks everyone’s ass, including Jason’s, without every breaking a sweat, cuz it’s 1986 and he’s Russian.
Jason’s dad, now exposed as kind of a wuss and maybe not a pacifist at all, decides to pull up stakes and move the family to Seattle. At first, Jason is bummed. Luckily, he meets his new best friend, RJ, literally seconds after arriving in Seattle. RJ is pretty much the coolest. He’s black, has a nice, relaxed hairdo, and can rap and dance at the same time. Brothers from different mothers from the jump, they get busy kicking the air and rapping about stuff right away, then they go see Bruce Lee’s grave. Did you know that Bruce Lee was buried in Seattle? And also, that some people, like Jason, think that while his corporeal form has expired, he is actually still quite active as a sort of martial-arts-teaching wraith? Yeah. And also, that we are barely like ten minutes into the movie at this point? All true.
Everything would be just about perfect if that fat, cake and burger smeared face, fatty, fat kid hadn’t seen Jason and RJ being awesome in the street that day while he stuffed cake in his fat facehole. But he did, and now he hates Jason and RJ. But I’m sure that won’t be a problem later.
Nope! Jason is forced to defend RJ in a pretty sweet brawl with the cakeface gang in which he gets to jumpkick fatty (he’s so fat!) from the other side of a fence. It’s a sweet kick, and it marks the second time Jason gets to cheap shot somebody, which is pretty much his thing, I think. So now the fat kid really hates Jason – he even threatens to kill him! But that’s probably just the anger or constant hunger talking. It probably won’t amount to anything.
Okay, so Jason needs a dojo because apparently his dad has completely given up the Karate game and now he’s a bartender. RJ takes him to the local spot to check out the scene, and Jason suits up in his Karate PJs to take his first class. Class is about to start, and -oh goddamnit! That fat kid goes to this gym?! AND he told the Sensei that Jason beat him up and had the gall to say that L.A. Karate was way better than Seattle Karate?! Sensei guy, who seemed pretty cool at first but who is obviously incensed at the inflammatory comments about his fair city’s Karate prowess (to be fair, people are always putting Seattle Karate down), decides to enter Jason in a pop quiz-style mini Kumite against his best man right then and there. But it kinda seems like Jason doesn’t know how to fight pretty much at all, and he gets his ass kicked in spectacular fashion. This marks the second time Jason gets beat up. He actually retreats AND surrenders, not in that order. Bummersville.
Jason and RJ head home and Jason, who’s already real bummed about not getting in a cheap shot before that last fight started, just wants to go home and sulk. But oh shit, one of his mom’s bitchy friend’s cars is in the driveway, which is pretty much the LAST thing he wants to deal with at this point. Great. Here we go. Looks like Jason is in for a real shitty, bitchy time with his mom and her friend when all he- Wait, what? That’s actually his girlfriend Kelly’s car and he just forgot that he had a girlfriend AND what her car looks like!? But he’s only been in town for a few days, so how coul- Oh, they met last summer, but she lives in Seattle and just got back into town? Well that’s fucking awesome. Teen romance montage!
Man, even though he doesn’t have a gym to go to, life is sweet now for Jason. He can hang with RJ pretty much whenever, and he’s still got his garage dojo to spazz out in. Plus, things are getting kinda serious with Kelly, so he buys her a bunny or a guinea pig or something for her birthday. She fucking LOVES it! Makeout session! But oh, cruel fate! As it turns out, Jason hasn’t met any of Kelly’s friends or family, which, okay I guess. But they also haven’t really spoken much or seem to really know each other at all because Jason discovers at THIS point that Kelly is actually the sister of the guy who owns the gym where he took his last ass pummeling. In fact, basically ALL of her friends are from that dojo, and they’re ALL at her birthday party! Awkward! Long story short, Jason takes a third pounding at the hands of yet another superior martial artist and again, he promptly retreats AND surrenders. That makes for a win/loss record of 2-3, with both wins coming by way of cheap shot for our hero. Seattle Karate is pretty much owning L.A. Karate at this point.
After this, Jason suffers a psychic break from reality where he begins “training” with Spectre coach “Bruce Lee” in an abandoned house, sorta like Su Can trains with the God of Wushu in the totally awesome 2010 film True Legend. “Bruce Lee” (who might just be a vagrant living in the kitchen of Jason’s new dojo) “teaches” Jason lots of confusing stuff about kicks and punches and how they should never be used for kicking and punching people (obviously), and how you should use your head to win fights but also don’t think about it? Sounds like nonsense, or a bad western misinterpretation of eastern philosophy, but I’m sure it’s really smart stuff. There are a LOT of training/fitness montages at this point. I counted five separate montages of Jason training with “Bruce Lee” and doing different types of push ups. Finally, “Bruce Lee” teaches Jason the penultimate Kung Fu move – the backflip kick – then goes back to the kitchen.
Jason cannot wait to backflip kick the first unsuspecting guy he sees walking down the street. Sadly, he only gets to beat up a trio of old wasted guys that are picking on Sensei Dad in the parking lot of his crummy bar job. Not even one flip kick, but beating up old drunks is kind of like a whole fight of just cheap shots, so he’s into it. Love you, Sensei Dad!
As the movie approaches the 80 minute mark, we are made aware that the evil, knuckle-dragging New York toughs are coming to town to belittle Seattle’s Karate prowess like everyone is always doing. There’s a big fight night, and in glorious, macho-adolescent 80’s fantasy fashion, JCVD is there representing New York and throws down the gauntlet to anyone who wants a piece. He makes quick work of the first three dudes, two of which kicked Jason’s ass in the last couple of weeks. These fights actually rule pretty hard. JCVD is in peak form, and he even does his splits pose on the ropes more than once.
Even though Jason is there as a spectator, he can’t resist the opportunity to showcase his new moves, or maybe just wants to see if he can sneak in a quick cheap shot on the nameless Russian. Either way, he rushes to Seattle’s defense at the last minute. And guess what? He wins! Oops, spoiler alert! He wins! Seattle Karate wins! Or, at least Jason does. I mean, he’s only lived in Seattle for a month or so, and he’s universally hated by Seattle’s top Karatekas, and he trains by himself in a foreclosed home, and he’s actually performing a different martial art altogether, but whatever. Karate rules!
– justin midnight
my friend and i used to have snowball fights in grade school and if we were getting down and out we’d yell NO RETREAT! NO SURRENDER! then win of course.
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One of my favorite Martial Arts films growing up in the 1980s!