Tom Jolliffe runs the rule over the potentially brilliant upcoming sci-fi action film Jiu Jitsu…
Occasionally a film escapes my attention that really shouldn’t escape my attention. It’s been green lit for a while now but there’s a certain martial arts action sci-fi film that has the distinct conceptual feel of a late 80’s, early 90’s video special from Albert Pyun (in a good way).
For fans of straight to video shlock, and B movie brilliance, there’s an enticing amount of promise in every fibre of Jiu Jitsu. The plot is as follows:
‘Every six years, an ancient order of expert Jiu Jitsu fighters faces a vicious alien in a battle to protect Earth. For thousands of years, the fighters that protect Earth have played by the rules…until now. When celebrated war hero Jake Barnes (Alain Moussi) is defeated by Brax, the Alien invader, the future of humanity hangs in the balance. Injured and suffering from amnesia, Jake is rescued by Wylie (Nicolas Cage), Keung (Tony Jaa), Harrigan (Frank Grillo) 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.’
That alone should be enough to convince you to watch, but then you consider that cast. It is epic but let me first focus on two promising aspects in the film first. That is the re-teaming of Alain Moussi and director Dimitri Logothetis. They’ve shifted from Kickboxing to Jiu Jitsu, having previously collaborated on the Kickboxer franchise reboots, Kickboxer: Vengeance (which Logothetis wrote and produced) and Kickboxer: Retaliation (which Logothetis also directed). Vengeance had all manner of issues which affected the final product, but Retaliation was a really decent martial arts action film that perfectly encapsulated the best of 80’s-90’s video style action. As a physical performer Moussi was impressive. As an actor, he was showing marked improvement from Vengeance to Retaliation. There’s solid grounding for developing what will surely be a fun film (if production runs without hitch).
If the cast lists in those Kickboxer reboots were worth a nod of approval, then prepare for whiplash, because the cast list here is inspired. Tony Jaa continues his western assault. He’s had mixed success so far but he’s also proved himself to be a likeable on screen presence. You then have a rugged presence like Frank Grillo. He’s steadily beginning to assert himself as a good action presence, upgrading from his good work in TV and henchmen roles. The guys got presence and charisma. Throw in a couple more reliable toughs into the mix like Randy Couture and Rick Yune, and the effervescent (and tough) presence of Juju Chan, and we’re cooking on gas right now.
So how do we take this from a ‘hell yes’, to B movie perfection? You add in Nicolas Cage of course. Now apparently Cage replaced Bruce Willis. Which I think is for the benefit of the project. Willis is difficult to rouse and inspire these days. There can occasionally be an air of superiority emanating from Willis and a lack of effort in projects he deems beneath him (though he deems the pay packets quite sufficient). Cage has apparently been intensely studying Jiu Jitsu and a number of other martial arts for the film. I couldn’t see Willis making that same effort. Cage has certainly had a handful of payday phone-in gigs, but largely he seems to enjoy what he does, and when he’s inspired, he’s really inspired. Films like Mom & Dad and most certainly Mandy appear to have reinvigorated Cage too.
With an outline that has just enough silly to make this potentially very culty, adding Nic Cage into the blender screams potentially legendary cult film. Logothetis has already shown he can pull in a good stunt and fight team. The action is backed with nous, and Logothetis has a background in Martial Arts himself and his passion will most certainly benefit the action sequences. This is envisioned as a potential franchise too, so it will be very interesting to see how the film fares and how good the marketing push is.
Whilst much of this has the air of direct to video, the same was said about Taken and John Wick. The fact is, a film like this has an audience awaiting who would come in numbers to watch it on the big screen. If the backing is there come distribution (and if they nail their landings, that’s entirely possible) it will succeed beyond the home market.
An interesting factor here is also the fact the film will be the first Hollywood production to be filmed in Cyprus, and will be looking to make the budget (a reasonably meaty $24 million apparently) stretch as far as possible. There’s certainly a promise of plenty of bang for buck, and if we look again to John Wick, or Taken, those had similar budgets first time out. It’s not an over-extension, whilst the inclusions of Jaa and Chan will also appeal to the Asian territories and do potentially big numbers theatrically. Foraying into a region fairly new to big scale production is a gamble. If the crews aren’t quite up to it, there will be issues. If they are, it could help the film look bigger than it is.
With so many great ingredients in place, here’s hoping the team delivers on the fantastic promise. Are you excited to see Jiu Jitsu? Let us know on Twitter @flickeringmyth or in the comments below…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has three features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.