Discipline: Martial Arts
Story summary: Jason’s family moves to Seattle from L.A. to start a new life after his father gets his leg broken by gangsters who want to own his martial arts school. He doesn’t fit into the new environment, however, and struggles to find the way to not only become a better martial artist, but to also face the man who crippled his father. To do so, he gets the support of his new friend, a breakdancer RJ, and a ghost of the legendary Bruce Lee who appears to him to teach him the principles of his own style, Jeet Kune Do.
Analysis: Karate Tiger, also known as No Retreat No Surrender, is an 80’s martial arts action movie directed by the legendary Corey Yuen who has a long history of producing such films.
It immediately became famous. Although being critically shunned, it found its fan base and became many young men’s guilty pleasure. Despite having poor story, acting, editing and picture, it had something that people craved for and appreciated; fun, lots and lots of fun accentuated by Yuen’s amazing sense for action scenes choreography. And also, it was the first action film appearance of Jean Claude Van Damme.
Today, most people, who look back at it, think “God, how could I have liked that movie?” It’s not a movie that would stand the test of time. The premise is very simple; a guy gets his ass kicked, he gets better by training (usually during a famous training montage) and beats the bad guy. If you’re looking for a fun film, you don’t really need more.
However, as I watched it just recently, I realized something I hadn’t thought of before. As Jason moves to the new neighborhood, he is exposed to bad things, new bad things for him. He gets into the fight to save his friend who is being attacked by the local bullies and instead of recognition, his father scolds him for fighting. On another occasion, Jason tries to join the local karate dojo, where he gets beaten because the same bullies train there. Instead of taking it easy or being diplomatic, he gets angry and runs away. And as the last example, he goes to a party where he fights over a girl he starts to like and as he comes running home, he gets into another fight with his father, which causes him to become even more upset and finally start taking things seriously.
This clearly shows that the problem was his own temper as well as the people around him. In other words, it shows what happens if you “let them get to you”. Now, this is the point where most watchers, naturally, would assume that Jason would just need to beef up to be strong enough to beat everyone just be dominant alpha male of the neighborhood. However, as the ghost of Bruce Lee appears to Jason, he explains to him two very important things; the purpose of martial arts is not to assert dominance or take revenge, but to stop violence. The second thing is that, metaphorically speaking, in order to fill his cup of knowledge with new teachings, he has to first empty it to make space. In practice, that meant to be humble and assume new ways and ideas without prejudice.
This is not exclusive to martial arts. You could apply it anywhere, whether it’s the relationship to your family, coworkers, or even strangers. It’s extremely beneficial to learn to deal with difficult situations without extreme emotions and use violence as the very last resort. Which is why that idea is still valid today.
The interesting thing was that Bruce Lee’s ghost wasn’t there to hold his hand throughout the rest of the story. He only came to change Jason’s view on practicing martial arts and using it in every day life and, plainly speaking, let him take it from there by himself.
The fact, that this idea was somehow mudded by the rest of the movie which followed the standard hero story, is at this point irrelevant, as I’m sure that, just like many other coming of age movies of that time, it was brought in to make sure the young watchers would not get any wrong ideas about martial arts. It’s commendable that the film took on the responsibility to implement this safeguard mechanism, however brief it was.
What it teaches us: Your worst enemy is inside you. Master your self and your emotions and no one will be able to break you.