Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Martial arts movie review: Redbelt

We got "Redbelt" through Netflix and watched it the other night, I recommend you do also.

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.


  • At 8:12 AM, Blogger Ken said…

    While reading your post I came to "your enemies never come at you one at a time". Suddenly I thought of the elections and that that is a good way to describe how I feel about the choices for president. Though maybe that's a little too harsh and should be taken with a grain of salt. Or maybe not.

  • At 11:53 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…


    As John Derbyshire put it, this is the election from hell. We got a choice between pig ignorant bad, and unspeakably bad.

    The only bright spot has been Sarah Palin, and she's 1) not ready for prime time, and 2) not running for president anyway.

    It's going to be Obama, and it's going to get very bad - I'd say starting a year from when he takes office, there's a lag time in these things.

  • At 11:45 PM, Blogger Libertarian_Libertine said…

    Steve, I'm really disappointed with you liking Sarah Palin and I have a sneaking suspicion that it is only because she is hot.

    How else could a libertarian agnostic like a Christian fundamentalist who has misused her government position to fire enemies and has looked into banning books from a library?

    Plus she's an idiot.

  • At 5:41 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Not true on both counts - and I'm disappointed in you for not doing your research.

    1) The "enemy" was a) a government appointee who serves at the governor's pleasure, and who the governor legally owes no excuse for discharging, and b) covering for a state law enforcement officer guilty of, i. drinking on the job, ii. poaching from his state vehicle, and iii. threatening citizens with deadly force.

    Any governor would be guilty of dereliction of duty if he/she had NOT fired the official.

    The fact that there were personal conflicts, makes the situation difficult, but the duty was plain.

    Do your homework better on the "book banning" issue. There was no such attempt, only a willful misinterpretation (i.e. what students of rhetoric call a "lie") of an inquiry about the suitability of some books available for children - something you may take a bit more seriously when you have some.

    "Fundamentalist Christian" is something a lot of people suffer from, and it's their problem not mine.

    It's a generally benign belief system taken to asuage the existential pain known as "awareness of mortality." It can turn malignant - but far less often than another opiate for the masses known as "Marxism" which has a 100% rate of degeneration into homicidal insanity.

    It does however, tend to send young people recovering from a bad religious experience growing up, stark raving bonkers - a condition caused by demonizing, rather than dealing with their upbringing. (The other extreme is flakey neo-paganism.)

    Your suspicion that I like her because she's hot is right on though.

    I like women who are bright, competent, feisty, and hot-yet-family-oriented. They remind me of my wife.

    Your judgement of "idiot" is projection.

  • At 1:35 AM, Blogger Libertarian_Libertine said…

    Didn't she say that she has no idea what the Vice President really does? Didn't see say that since Alaska borders on Canada and Russia that her being Governor of Alaska iss a kind of foreign policy experience?

    And it is not only what I have mentioned, what about her unyielding support for abstinence only sex education when her own personal experience shows her what a farce that really is?

    I'm disappointed in you, not because I think that you are fool, this is one of the most intelligent and insightful blogs I've read and although this is only my second time commenting, I have read this rather thoroughly for quite some time, but rather because I think you are too smart to support an idiot and I thought you were above partisan nonsense like this, especially when your favorite politician in this election is obviously the least intelligent out of the four most important ones.

    I really think that if she were less attractive or a man, she would be seen for what she really is.

  • At 5:21 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Palin is quite obviously in a quandry, having to speak in favor of some of McCain's positions, which are not her own. Think about the last time you had to speak insincerely, and the effect thereof.

    Least intelligent of the three?

    Are you serious?

    Less intelligent that McCain, who still doesn't see the violence he did to the 1st Amendment with McCain-Feingold?

    Not to mention the way it backfired, enabling the 527 mess.

    Biden, who couldn't enumberate the constitutional power of the vice-presidency, and made (by one count) over 60 errors of fact in as many minutes during the debate?

    Obama, who after matriculating from Harvard law - and visiting all 57 states, doesn't have a single publication or significant accomplishment, other than a string of gaffs, to his name?

    Palin ain't ready for prime time for sure, and was probably unwise to step up before more seasoning.

    Unlike Jindal who's still biding his time. Now that would be a ticket, Jindal-Palin!

    And another one to watch might be North Dakota's own Governor Hoeven - considering that the state at present has a $1 billion budget surplus...

    We are however, off topic. I'll try and move this over to the next post, which thanks to your inspiration, will be on why an Ivy League education ain't what it used to be.

  • At 8:32 AM, Blogger dchamil said…

    "Playwrite?" You should change it to "playwright" write away!

  • At 6:51 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Quite rite!

    The verb element, is not "write" as in to scribble words on paper, but from the very archaic noun form of the verb "work."

    work, worked, (and very irregular past participle) wrought.

    Or was is work, wrought, wrought?

    "Wright" is a "worker" or "maker."


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