Review: 'Jiu Jitsu' (2020) Dir. Dimitri Logothetis
A sci-fi martial arts film based on the graphic novel of the same name by Dimitri Logothetis and and Jim McGrath fuses a mix of genres into a wild, fantastical (if incoherent) ride.
Jake Barnes (Moussi) wakes up in Burma with a fragmented memory of moments leading to him falling unconscious. It becomes apparent that he is a man with a secret, and is a man who is being hunted by others
Rescued by warrior Keung (Jaa), Barnes comes across jiu jitsu master Wylie (Cage) and fighters Harrigan (Grillo), Sand (Yune) and Carmen (Chan) who are part of a battle being waged with an intergalactic being. The prize being Earth itself.
Wylie must help Barnes remember his part in the jiu jitsu elite, and prepare him to join the others in a sacred battle that takes place every 6 years. If they win, Earth remains safe. If they lose, then the whole of mankind is at risk of extinction...
Opening with a 'Sin City'-esque fusion of comic books visuals bleeding into live-action, the ingenuity of a graphic novel adaptation comes and goes all to quickly. It's not long before we are thrust into a story full of flat characters, TV-movie acting and over-stylish martial arts combat (complete with slo-mo shots for extra wow).
'Kickboxer' star Alain Moussi has nothing appealing in the acting department, but he sure can punch and kick like a boss. It falls to Moussi to piece together his role in fighting to save the Earth from extra-terrestrial visitors, arriving every six years when a comet passes through orbit. For those familiar with the cult classic video game adaptation 'Mortal Kombat', this is similar in theme. A group of jiu jitsu fighters must come together, train, fight and repel the threat before it is too late. Cross that with the sci-fi elements that look like the belong in 'Predator' and ultra shaky-cam action sequences ripped from 'John Wick', then you're getting close to the crux of this offering.
Few key players make this film worth watching; Tony Jaa provides most of the thrills as Keung, but the whole film just feels like an extended piece of fan-fiction mashing many genres together.
A somewhat dazzling sequence towards the 30 minute mark featuring Jaa and Moussi would have made for a better film if it was just that over 90mins. Fast paced, poorly acted, frantic choreography, silly martial arts and enough mixed camera angles and editing to give the avid film fan a headache. But, compared to the rest of the wood story, it is a standout sequence. Burma as a location looks great; lush greens, sandy oranges and dark browns, all making for a very authentic look and feel to the modern setting within an ancient era.
Our band of fighters, including 'Die Another Day' star Rick Yune and "female Bruce Lee" JuJu Chan, are hunted not just by inept Burmese soldiers for some reason, but our alien/human/Predator/samurai hybrid creature. Early battle sequences set in thick jungles are one step away from hearing Arnold Schwarzenegger scream "Get to da choppa!". The story turns on its head when Nicholas Cage enters from the shadows, signalling to viewers that this film truly is on that can't be taken too seriously with him involved; long hair, scraggy beard and psychotic facial experiences in full force.
It's a film full of very subpar visual effects, but it's hard to wonder if that is on purpose to keep in line with the back-and-forth of comic book/live action visuals, framed by Gerardo Madrazo under direction from director (and novel creator) Dimitri Logothetis himself.
Moussi and Jaa deserve something better than this sort of disposable action film, because there is no solid material to get behind. Everything looks lazy and cheap, and while the hand-to-hand combat fights are entertaining enough, they fail to compensate the overall wooden performances in this cat-and-mouse, predator vs prey, humans vs alien narrative.
Not even Cage can inject his kind of crazy to make this film work, given his subdued role only helps the wooden acting, empty story and watered down action stand out like a sore thumb.
'Jiu Jitsu' is a co-production between Highland Film Group, Coprod Media International Limited, Double Tree Entertainment and Acme Rocket Fuel