Redbelt, the most recent movie by director and screenwriter David Mamet, is the kung fu movie I hadn’t realized I’d wanted to see.
Well, kung fu isn’t quite correct. Actually jiu-jitsu, a style of fighting more effective but considerably less showy than kung fu, is portrayed in this film. Basically it’s real, or at least it appears to be. And, it is this, this shying away from the corniness so commonly seen in the martial arts film genre, which makes this movie worth the watch. There are no wires, no slow motion, no flying acrobatics, and no need for them; there’s just fighting.
The main character, Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor, American Gangster, Children of Men, Serenity), is a character somewhat reminiscent of Zatoichi, the famous samurai featured in Japanese films from the sixties through eighties, as well as in Takeshi Kitano’s “revival” movie in 2003. Zatoichi, like Mike, is a peaceful man who only becomes a warrior when he must. He tries to warn the bad guy time and time again that he does not want to fight. But, of course, the antagonist never listens and ends up getting his ass kicked. Or, in keeping with the jiu-jitsu tradition, he ends up getting caught in some sort of choke hold or arm bar.
David Mamet, the screenwriter of past successes such as The Verdict and The Untouchables, achieves his own choke hold on the audience with this movie. He grabs hold of us with the simple story of a man just trying to do what’s right, and holds us tighter when we observe the character’s greatest asset, his morality, repeatedly get him into trouble.
Mike, the owner and instructor of a jiu-jitsu studio, just wants to teach his students the moves and techniques essential for self-defense. He tells them, “There is always an escape.” But, as the movie progresses and one bad event breeds another, you wonder if there will be an escape for Mike. Yet, whether it is financial troubles, death, or betrayal, he continues to “fight” for his principles.
It is this struggle which makes the movie great; that, and the fight scenes. If, however, you are a person who will only settle for Kill Bill type fighting, with its blood splatter and flying limbs, then the fight scenes may not seem exciting to you.
But, if you are one for what Dana White, the president of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and a commentator on Redbedlt’s DVD, refers to as “kinetic chess,” which equates to a strategic battle for the upper hand in a fight, then you may not only enjoy but also appreciate what you see in Mamet’s movie.
What you see is someone trying to do one thing right, that one thing being to stay true to himself. Mike is a warrior, a samurai, and call me a sap, but I love him for it. I love a character that is careful and calculating when so many others are not. He and his fights, are tactical, strategic, and as well planned as the movie itself.