Directed by Dimitri Logothetis
Alain Moussi, Frank Grillo, JuJu Chan, Tony Jaa, Marrese Crump, Nicolas Cage, Rigan Machado
Plot: Every six years, an ancient order of expert Jiu Jitsu fighters faces a vicious race of alien invaders in a battle for Earth. For thousands of years, the fighters that protect Earth have won until now. When celebrated war hero Jake Barnes (Alain Moussi) is defeated by Brax, the indomitable leader of the invaders, the future of humanity hangs in the balance. Injured and suffering from amnesia, Jake is rescued by Wylie (Nicolas Cage), Keung and his team of fellow Jiu Jitsu fighters. They must help Jake to regain his strength in order to band together and defeat Brax in an epic battle that will once again determine the fate of mankind.
Plot Breakdown: While running to escape Brax, an alien who comes to Earth every six years to challenge Jiu Jitsu fighters, Jake (Alain Moussi) hits his head on a rock and gets amnesia. Jake is rescued by a fisherman and his wife (Raymond Pinharry and Mary Makariou), stitched up and dropped off at a nearby US Army base. After some funny miscommunication between the wife and Officer Tex (Eddie Steeples), Jake is taken into custody by the armed forces. They believe him to be a spy of some type and attempt to extract information (even giving him truth serum). All the while, Captain Sand (Rick Yune) appears to be wary of Jake and questions his lack of memory.
Intelligence officer Mrya (Marie Avgeropoulos) believes taking Jake on a tour of the base could jog his memory, the base is attacked by one unarmed man named Kueng (Tony Jaa). Kueng convinces Jake to go with him and they meet the other jiu jitsu fighters Harrigan (Frank Grillo), Carmen (JuJu Chan), and Forbes (Marrese Crump) on the road. They can’t believe Jake doesn’t recognize them, but before they can explain the Army soldiers are upon them and the jiu jitsu fighters make short work of the heavily-armed soldiers. Brax shows up and uses his stealth abilities to take out Jake, the jiu jitsu fighter flees and Jake is placed back into Myra’s custody. While back at the base, Jake tries to piece things together and warns Myra of the danger that Brax poses. Captain Sand takes notice and seems to know something is going on. Jake, Myra, Tex, Captain Sand and a team go into the Burmese jungle to see out this strange phenomenon. Brax easily takes out the soldiers using his stealth abilities, his ninja star-like projectiles. Jake and Myra flee while Brax reveals his alien form and Captain Sand decides to take a stand against Brax (while Tex watches from behind a tree). Captain Sand unleashes a flurry of bullets and injures Brax. Tex celebrates with Sand while Brax begins to heal and rushes in taking some knife strikes from Sand, which do not faze him. Brax uses his heating grip to injure Sand.
Jake and Myra continue fleeing through the jungle until Jake mistakenly stumbles upon a cave and Myra is taken out by one of Brax’s projectiles. Jake meets with a hermetic, cigarette smoking Wylie (Nicolas Cage). Wylie taunts Jake(in only the manner Nicolas Cage can)while testing his martial skill. Harrigan, Carmen and Forbes appear and take Jake back to the Temple (now accompanied by Wylie). Jake meets other jiu jitsu fighters training to take on Brax. Wylie explains the portal inside the Temple, Brax’s motivation, and how Jake was the “chosen of jiu jitsu” and why he has to defeat Brax and what is at stake (all humanity). Harrigan explains their plan to Jake, suits him up, shows how to track Brax (the comet streaking through the sky). Harrigan, Forbes, Jake, Wylie, Carmen, Kueng, Victor (real life BJJ legend Rigan Machado), June (June Sasitorn), Franz (Dan Rizzuto) enact the plan to defeat Brax. They leave Wylie behind as he is not part of the plan (2 fighter at a time will fight Brax to wear him down, sacrificing their lives in the process so Brax can continue to chase Jake. Jake will surprise Brax and defeat a beaten up Brax). First, Brax faces Forbes, who manages to get some blows and short double spear strikes on Brax, he is later joined by Fran and Victor who all manage to use their numbers advantage on Brax, at first, but all are ultimately defeated and killed. Jake splits up from the rest of the group and is confronted by an injured Captain Sand. Sand has been tracking Brax for over twenty years. He succumbs to his injuries, but before he dies he explains Brax’s weakness (when he is injured he can heal but there is a five to seven second gap). Jake again meets up with Wylie in the jungle. Wylie finally tells Jake what happened: Brax came through the portal to call out Jake, but another jiu jitsu fighter stepped in and was brutally dealt with. Jake (and the other fighters ) saw it and Jake decided to flee thereby dishonoring jiu jitsu and Brax. Wylie explains that Brax hates cowards but loves to fight brave fighters, toy with them and then kill them. Wylie knows because he fought Brax, lost, begged for his life and was forever disgraced (and thus not taken seriously by Brax). Suddenly, a dead jiu jitsu fighter’s body falls, followed by the entry of the remaining fighters:an injured Kueng, Harrigan, June and Carmen. They decided to keep moving and use Jake as bait to ambush Brax. Before they go, Wylie reminds them that jiu jitsu gives them an advantage: leverage.
Brax faces Carmen, June and Harrigan. He brutally kills June (impales her on bamboo), drives his blades through Harrigan and defeats Carmen (who flees before she is killed). Brax finally finds Jake, but before they can face-off Kueng jumps in and joins Jake in fighting Brax. Brax takes both of them out, although he has more trouble with these two. Before Brax can finish the remainder of the fighters, Wylie (special sword in hand) intervenes and challenges Brax! Wylie shows that he has some skills, taking the fight to Brax initially but ultimately is defeated and killed by Brax, getting the broken back Bane-Batman style treatment, while Carmen and Jake watch. They hohor Wylie, go back to the Temple and Carmen tells Jake that Wylie was his father and faking crazy to keep Jake alive until he was ready to face Brax. Tex and the fisherman couple show up. Tex brings grenades while the fisherman couple tend to Carmen’s wounds. Brax shows up and begins to try and take out everyone there. The fisher woman buys everyone time by shooting Brax in the heart. While he is recovering Jake retreats to the Temple to face Brax one to one. Jake and Brax fight each other empty-handed and with swords. Jake eventually figures out that fire blocks Brax’s vision; Jake uses this to his advantage and plays hit and run with Brax. Jake positions Brax in front of the portal, slices him to open some wounds, Carmen appears from behind a pillar, uses her explosive-tipped arrows to shoot Brax and Tex tosses Jake two grenades to place inside the closing wounds of Brax. Jake gives one final lead-leg side kick to knock and exploding Brax into the portal which blows up, closes and locks into place. Jake, the fisherman couple, Tex, Carmen and Kueng take in the victory and vow to be ready in another six years.
Review: You ever really, really want to like something because, well, you would think with certain elements, you would like it? Welcome to my review of Jiu Jitsu. As a lifelong martial arts movie fan, there are some things I expect. With a cast that includes Tony Jaa, Marrese Crump, Juju Chan and Frank Grillo, one would expect a martial arts explosion that would eclipse many standard action movies that do not star real-life martial artists. I was expecting something like Triple Threat, except with sci-fi overtones and some crazy madness from Nicolas Cage. What I saw was a mixture of typical sci-fi cliches (mostly from The Predator), a flat performance by leading man Alain Moussi (Kickboxer: Retaliation), and mostly bland , non-imaginative fight scenes. Action choreographer Supoj Khaowwong manages to put together some decent fights, but I was very underwhelmed during the first half of the movie. More than the just issues with choreography, the camera placement was a bit disconcerting. For example, when Kueng (Tony Jaa) attempts to rescue Jake from the soldiers, we see a POV style Go-Pro camera angle as Jakes fights the soldiers. The shots threw me off and it seemed rather disjointed. Even Tony Jaa’s fighting was rather standard and not exciting. The use of constantly slowing down the shot when he kicked or did a combo, in my opinion, should have been used sparingly. The fights in this first half of the movie seemed to lack flow and was the standard “bad guy swings once and waits for the good guy to perform multiple techniques and throw them to the ground” style.
Alain Moussi brings his signature Taekwondo and tricking style kicks to his fight scenes. There is no denying his talent, but there were many close ups in his fights which do not do justice to his kicking ability. He needs more wide angle fights and more impactful looking hits to highlight his kicking skill. The fight choreography style, for him, seemed jerky, which does no favors to his smooth kicking style. Since we know many fights are made in the editing room, this may be the reason for the chopy nature. But I wanted to see better from him.
Up and coming martial arts star Maresse Crump brings his signature Capoeira-Kali-Muay
Thai style to the fight scenes but with no real rhythm to the multiple soldier fights even he looks flat. The fight scenes do become better in the second half of the movie where Brax (co-stunt coordinator Ryan Tarran) is given more one to one fights with the main players. While these fights still suffer from some of the same things, they tend to have a better flow and some rhythm. His fight with Maresse Crump is decent and we get some cool exchanges. Brax’s multiple opponent fights need work, however. When he fights Victor and Franz (Rigan Machad and Dan Rizzuto) it is a take your turn style multiple opponent fight, which given some little nuances like continuous movement and shorter time between turn taking and cleaner editing can eliminate this (a problem I had when watching Brax versus Jake and Kueng near the end of the film). And to address some people who have complained that “Jiu Jitus” had no Jiu Jitsu (of course they mean BJJ) Rigan Machado performs some ground and pound, a guard change as well as a ude hishigi juji gatame (arm bar). Wylie (real life BJJ black belt Nicolas Cage) performs an upkick while on the ground, a knee bar, and a mount during his fight scene with Brax. There are also many uses (in the film) of Japanese Jujutsu standing wrist locks and throws from the wrist lock (Brax uses one on Carmen during their fight and Carmen uses one or two in the mass soldier fight scene). Frank Grillo, who I really would have liked to see as Jake, performed his gritty double knife style and although his fights were short they made more of an impact due to his acting ability and facial expression.
That brings us to this point: Acting! While I think Alain Moussi is an incredible kicker ( he is a real life Taekwondo Black Belt, martial arts tricker and BJJ black belt) and can be a great physical presence, his acting in Jiu Jitsu was very wooden and expressionless. As the lead, he had very little charisma and I found myself more drawn to Harrigan or even Wylie as a character. Speaking of Wylie, I like crazy Nic Cage! Simply because Nicolas Cage comes off as somewhat eccentric. Wylie was a like a wise Master who smoked too many mushrooms in his younger days. He made the movie more enjoyable and actually brought some color to a pretty bland movie. Tex (Eddie Steeples) brought some humor as a very inept Army translator, who always got the Burmese to English translations backwards.
Jiu Jitsu is based on a comic of the same name written by director Dimitri Logothetis and Jim McGrath (who both get screenplay credits as well); it tried to have comic book elements (I did enjoy the comic style panels that would lead us into different parts of the story) but ultimately was a hodge-podge of different elements that are a mediocre mix. Some of the fight scenes are enjoyable: Brax vs Kueng(Tony Jaa), Brax vs Forbes (Maresse Crump), Brax vs Wylie ( Nicolas Cage) and the idea of all these martial arts movie stars together, but even with those positives Jiu Jitsu felt like a bland, drawn out story with a meh conclusion. Jiu Jitsu is recommended as a rental, or even a movie for the eventual Netflix queue or Amazon Prime (free) queue to watch on a Friday or Saturday night because you like martial arts star power or you are just bored.
Film Fan Dojo would like to thank Kung Fu Drive in Podcast for the opportunity to view this film!