Martial arts movie review: Redbelt
But first, google "David Mamet" and "ju jitsu" and you're sure to find some reviews that miss the point entirely, such as here http://thesop.org/index.php?article=11290
Now it could be that they have no understanding of, or interest in martial arts. Or perhaps they don't understand honor, an integral part of the plot. Or, could it be that the Left establishment is mad at the writer, and ju jitsu practitioner, David Mamet.
Mamet, once hailed as America's most gifted playwrite, is in somewhat bad odor with the arty Left since he penned, "Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal,"
see here: http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-03-11/news/why-i-am-no-longer-a-brain-dead-liberal/1
and published it in The Village Voice, all honor to them for doing so!
The movie stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mike Terry, a Brazilian Ju jitsu teacher who studied in Brazil with "The Professor," played by martial arts legend (briefly, in a non-speaking role) Danny Inosanto.
(Full disclosure: I studied with students of Danny and have quite a lot of seminar-hours training with him directly. Of course, so have thousands of others. He also granted me an interview for my Master's thesis many years ago, for which much thanks Guro!)
Now durn it, I can't tell you too much about the plot without spoilers, but the basic outline is old and well-known: a teacher who doesn't want to fight in a tournament setting, because he is only interested in perfecting his combat skill, is forced by the machinations of villains to do so.
Terry is the honorable man trying to live as best he can in a world which places no value on honor.
No. The great archtypical stories can always be told anew, because we never grow tired of hearing them.
Terry is betrayed by almost everyone he trusts, except his senior student who pays a terrible price for loyalty, and a wounded soul who comes into his life by accident, and who he shows how to become strong and whole after surviving a rape.
The woman is in fact, one of the precipitating causes of the troubles that befall him and his student. Not the only one, her part in it is accident, compounded by the villany of the Hollywood types Mamet plainly despises. (Well, he would know...) But she is the only one who accepts responsibility and tries to make it right - which is ultimately her salvation, and Terry's.
OK, so there's lots of slam-bang martial arts action, right?
Well, actually no.
There's training scenes leading up to the climactic fight, which is par for classic martial arts movies, Eastern or Western. See "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin," or "Scaramouche."
The scenes are fairly brief though. It does build up to a climactic fight, which lasts maybe a minute.
Most of the movie is background and buildup, with long dialog scenes. But it works. The ending will knock your socks off if you have any understanding of a warrior's honor at all, and it's making me grind my teeth with frustration not to describe it and spoil it for you.
Thats' the review, here are some thoughts:
-Chiwetel Ejiofor, who you may remember as The Operative, from "Serenity" worked for two months every day to get ready for this part.
"Two lousy months!" I hear you shout.
Well yes, but as he pointed out this was two months every day one-on-one with master teachers. Consider the total hours spent twice-a-week at lessons, the way most of us train, and two months begins to look like - a lot of weeks. And, I believe he was not starting from zero as a complete beginner, based on the moves he showed in "Serenity."
-The art in the movie is Brazilian Ju jitsu, the family art of the Gracie and Machado families. The point Terry is making, that turning an art into a sport degrades combat effectiveness is true.
But, BJJ is a duelist's art. It was perfected in one-on-one encounters where proud men who love to fight, fought for fun and honor. Encounters were originally without rules, or very few ones, in arenas in Rio, but they were still one-on-one and fought to submission or unconsciousness.
In other words, it's a combat sport. A very rough one for sure, but in combat, as opposed to a duel, your enemies never come at you one at a time (as Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje says.)
It does have great effectiveness for sure. It's been made the basis for the H2H (Hand to Hand) training of the Army Rangers for example, and I'd say no martial artist can afford to be without some knowlege of it on board.
-David Mamet announced to the world he is no longer "a brain-dead liberal" and that took some courage in the world he lives in.
I wonder how much studying and becoming competent in a martial art had to do with that?
I mean the courage, and the conversion.
The martial artist, in the tradition of the lone samurai, is usually an individualist, almost an anarchist. Because he knows that when the rubber meets the road, your personal defense is your own responsibility and no one else's.
The true martial artist is also in touch with the dark parts of his own nature, the place where the "killer instinct" lies, thankfully dormant in most people. The martial artist looks it in the eye and tames it, a process I call "domesticating the killer ape."
In the process, it's almost impossible to maintain Left illusions about human nature.
So go see the movie. If nothing else, you'll piss off a Leftie.