Jiu Jitsu, 2020.
Directed by Dimitri Logothetis.
Starring Alain Moussi, Frank Grillo, Marie Avgeropoulos, JuJu Chan, Tony Jaa, Rick Yune and Nicolas Cage.
Every six years, an ancient order of expert Jiu Jitsu fighters face a fearsome alien invader in a battle for Earth. For thousands of years, the fighters that protect Earth have played by the rules…until now.
The concept of some films can often perfectly walk a tightrope between sounding either brilliant or bewildering. Depending on which way you swing in the breeze you’ll find certain concepts either sublime or ridiculous. With Jiu Jitsu, writer/director Dimitri Logothetis delivers the potential beginning of a new franchise with the kind of outline (and attachment of a certain Nic Cage) that fans will either take to or turn their nose up at.
Alain Moussi stars as Jake, being chased through a forest by a seemingly invisible enemy, pelting Ninja stars in his general direction. He escapes but ends up cracking his head underwater, potentially left for dead. He isn’t. He’s pulled to safety and eventually taken to an army encampment but doesn’t remember who he is. From here we kick off a sci-fi infused tale that melds in elements of Predator, ninja movies, a general feeling of early 90’s kids TV, and something with the kind of gonzo craziness and to hell with logic attitude that will translate very well in Asian territories and Eastern Europe (this feels like a lot of Russian action fantasies of late). Western lovers of some B movie cheese, who don’t get as much DTV sci-fi action as the 90’s for example, may revel in the silliness of it all too. Jake is rescued by Tony Jaa and finds out he’s from a secret order of fighters who every 6 years have to have a scrap with an all powerful alien fighter. Inevitably it comes down to a one on one between the alien fighter and Jake, the chosen one. Anything other than an honourable battle that satisfies the creature will result in the destruction of the entire planet.
Logothetis and Moussi have already collaborated successfully in rebooting Kickboxer, particularly with 2018’s enjoyable Kickboxer: Retaliation. Moussi seems destined to become a new reliable DTV action star in a time where there aren’t too many new stars coming through. Once again, he’s not going to be walking away with an Oscar, but he’s got presence and as a physical performer particularly, delivers the goods. Additionally the cast is peppered with quality throughout, and this helps elevate a film that might have otherwise been overlooked. Sci-fi action seems consigned to Asylum material in the straight to video world (though Netflix has begun producing a few sci-fi actioners with mixed results of late), and whilst this certainly doesn’t seem lavish in budget, it’s got more production value than you generally get with some of these films. Frank Grillo doesn’t get quite as much meat to chew on as his talent deserves (and you’d imagine in part because of limitations with scheduling etc), and Tony Jaa though welcome, never feels particularly important to proceedings. It’s nice to have these names, but logistically (and for budget) they are often rationed in these films and it can be difficult to satisfy fans with how impactful the roles are.
One aspect that is a particular selling point in the film is the inclusion of Nic Cage. Cage is well and truly on something of a Cage-naissance since a double hit of Mandy and Mom & Dad. He starred in an enjoyable Color Out of Space adaptation, and has some brilliantly gonzo film concepts in the offing (including Cage as Joe Exotic, Cage as himself, and Cage battling killer theme park animatronics). Here he’s essentially playing a once great Jiu Jitsu warrior turned recluse who exits his self exile to help Jake prepare for the final battle. Cage is clearly revelling in the silliness of the concept (probably a big part of what attracted him to it in the first place). Even despite Cage having fun, he’s oddly restrained by the levels he may well have taken his character (but I suppose we can’t have Cage dialled to 11 every time).
Jiu Jitsu has a simple concept but occasionally threatens to make it more confusing than necessary, somewhat muddling through to the end and as part of a potentially grander story, perhaps suffers a little from first film syndrome in that regard. Additionally some of the locales, particularly repeated treks through jungle, can get a bit repetitive. There is some nice set design in the films final sequence. The action will undoubtedly be a big selling point and on that front it’s certainly loaded full of fight sequences, all nicely choreographed. Occasionally some of the camera work is a bit too much (lots of long takes and dynamic camera work, and one sequence that goes in and out of first person P.O.V without cutting, which doesn’t quite come off). Still, Moussi is given license to shine, Tony Jaa gets some fight good sequences, and JuJu Chan is always a welcome addition, but definitely deserves a more central stage in something soon. There’s an upsurge in female action lead films, and yet some of the real deal female badasses are still getting overlooked for ‘actresses’ given crash course fight training (and the benefit of CG and doubles). Chan could easily lead an action film, she has the ability. If the market is there in mainstream, it should also be there in DTV.
Overall this was a lot of fun, promising a greater story to follow, with more eclectic settings. How well it does will be interesting, not just in terms of seeing a follow up, but in whether DTV action still has a strong market for sci-fi concepts. With a stellar cast, non-stop fights and stylish direction this proves to be an enjoyable throwback that will please genre fans. This is the kind of thing guys like Albert Pyun were making in the 90’s, but with added star power.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), War of The Worlds: The Attack and the star studded action films, Renegades (Lee Majors, Billy Murray) and Crackdown. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.