GTR Archives 2000-2021

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Jiu-Jitsu Books 

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Roberto Pedreira

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Redbelt

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 Rev. by Jake Jacobs

September 12, 2021

Redbelt is a martial arts movie by David Mamet. You are more likely to enjoy it if you havenft seen a lot of Mamet movies, nor a lot of martial arts movies.

Mamet became famous for taking demotic Chicagoese, and turning it into a sort of poetry. Consider the call and response chorus at the opening of gSexual Perversity In Chicago,h as Bernie tells Dan about his date the night before:

Dan: gSo, was she a hooker?h
Bernie: gAt this point, we donft know.h

Mamet is capable of writing dialogue which doesnft sound like Mamet dialogue, as films such as Hoffa, The Untouchables, or Wag the Dog demonstrate. But over time, he seems to have found it harder to avoid. Glengarry Glen Ross has even Jack Lemmon sounding like Joe Mantegna. His Oleanna was so extreme that it seemed like an endless parody of Mamet dialogue, painful to sit through, though it helped distract from Oleannafs plot, which managed to make Disclosure seem a subtle and insightful examination of sexual harassment. Redbeltfs dialogue is nowhere near as mannered, yet if you have been damaged by hearing Oleanna, it picks at the scab.

Then therefs the plot. Mametfs first effort as film director was House of Games, which had an intentionally convoluted plot. Itfs twists and turns were the point of the exercise, and so, pleasurable. But by The Spanish Prisoner the viewer cried: gEnough, already!h If Mamet has cranked the Mamet dialogue down, he has cranked the Mamet plot twists up. 

Back to Redbelt: In a nutshell (and I suppose there are spoilers coming) a martial artist named Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who runs a money-losing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu dojo, becomes the target of sleazy fight promoters, movie stars, and his own in-laws, in a scheme to steal intellectual property (I canft imagine anyone wanting), and forcing him to sully himself by competing in a tournament. The scheme requires that they successfully predict the unpredictable behavior of people not in on the scheme, starting with a woman evidently addicted to pills (never explored) sideswiping his car, then coming in to pay for the damage, and accidentally nearly shooting one of his students, an off-duty cop, with his own gun. None of these people are in on the scheme, by the way; they will become pawns within it later.  

Meanwhile, Mike Terry is that martial arts cliché, the purist. Itfs hard to tell from his aphorisms whether he doesnft compete in tournaments because he is a man of peace, or because he is a man of war, and thinks the point of defence is to kill onefs opponents, not grapple for points. Since he doesnft kill his opponents, I will opt for actions over words. Thanks to the plot against him, he winds up deeply in debt and – surprise! – must fight in a tournament, which uses his ideas, which are dumb, but which are also manipulated. The game is rigged! And worse, gThe Professor,h the holiest man in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, has come to L.A. and will witness this profanation of the sacred art.

I hate to break it to Mike Terry, but his imagined bushido is mostly gbullshitido.h According to jiu-jitsu historians, the pioneers, including Jigoro Kano, were also promoters. They took techniques no more mysterious than trying to use a half nelson to turn over another sweaty sophomore whose gym clothes need washing, and invented mythology and mysticism  And yes, when they stepped into the ring, often battling wrestlers, some, if not many, of the matches were rigged. Ok, this is a gross over-simplification. What do you expect on the internet?

There are some neat fights in Redbelt, though fewer than in most films of the genre. I do have a question for experts in BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). Imagine you are standing behind your opponent, choking him into submission. Suddenly, he runs up a handy wall, and does a back somersault over you, ending up right behind you. My question is: which breaks first: your grip, or his neck?

Assuming you get past the Mamet morass and the martial mythology, there are some good performances. Ejiofor, best known for 12 Years a Slave, has presence, and is convincing as a fighter (though so is Bob gSaul Goodmanh Odenkirk in a recent film; Hollywood specializes illusions). Mamet regulars Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay, Jack Wallace, and Rebecca Pigeon are in it. Some famous martial arts people, such as Rigan Machado, gJudo Geneh Lebell, and Guru Dan Inosanto contributed in front of or behind the camera. Tim Allen gets to throw a changeup in a non-comedic role. Is it enough to make it worth seeing? At this point, we donft know.

(c) 2021, Jake Jacobs. All rights reserved.

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@Many different priced versions are available on Amazon (such as above).

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Other Reviews and books by Jake:

Pillow Talk

Battered Butterfly 

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Jake Jacobs is the author of many books and a few action kung fu movie screenplays, including Ring of Fire.

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Ring of Fire, starring Don Hoshino "The Dragon" Wilson, screenplay by Jake Jacobs.

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GTR Archives 2000-2021

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