Monday, December 21, 2020

Jiu Jitsu: Nic Cage, Tony Jaa, and Juju Chan Fight an Alien

You probably thought Jiu-jitsu originated in Japan, influenced, by Buddhist, Taoist, and Shinto teachings, later developing a Brazilian offshoot in the 1920s. Well, how wrong you were. Actually, an alien brought it to earth through a Stargate-like portal in Burma, where he taught it to humans, so he could fight a worthy champion when he returns every six years. If no champion presents himself, the alien just starts killing people until one presents themselves. Jake, a member of the chosen brotherhood used to know that secret history, until he was stricken with amnesia in Dmitri Logothetis’s Jiu Jitsu, which releases tomorrow on DVD.

Jake nearly died fleeing the alien, but an old fishing couple patched him up and dumped him at the American military outpost. Bet you didn’t know we had troops in Burma either. The local Army Intelligence officer is suspicious, but she can’t get anything out of him, because he truly lost his memory. Nevertheless, Kueng comes to break him out, Jake instinctively goes with him.

It is hard to enjoy the first forty minutes or so of
Jiu Jitsu, because Jake and his comrades of the Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood spend most of their time fighting and possibly killing American servicemen. The Yanks aren’t even supposed to be the bad guys. It is just sloppy writing from Logothetis and James McGrath (who originally conceived the story as a graphic novel). Heck, the only officer aware of the extraterrestrial goings-on, Captain Sand played by Rick Yune, emerges as a sort of martyr figure, which just proves how confused the script gets.

Of course, it blatantly “borrows” elements from
Predator, Mortal Kombat, and Beyond Skyline (which also co-starred Frank Grillo, but was much better in nearly every respect). However, Logothetis (who produced the Kickboxer reboots) fully stocks the film with talented marital arts performers. As a result, the final hour is pretty entertaining, because it gives just about everyone a chance to go toe-to-toe with “Brax,” the alien warrior.

Frankly, this a better showcase for Tony Jaa than he has had in a while. (Too often, he has just appeared as a guest star in a cool fight, only to get killed off or written out of the rest of the film, as in
Paradox). At least, he figures prominently in the third act here. Likewise, Juju Chan gets a chance to show off her chops. Technically, she also provides a love interest for Jake, but that is not really developed until the third act either. Unfortunately, Grillo’s big solo fight is surprisingly short, but up-and-coming martial arts thesp Marrese Crump makes the most of his duel with Brax—it is impressive work, probably making him the biggest winner of the film (if not his ill-fated character, Forbes).

Everyone’s favorite mad man, Nic Cage is conspicuously doubled in his fight scenes, but he still manages to chew the scenery with abandon and make the nuttiest pronouncements with total conviction. In short, he never looks out of place in this film. Alain Moussi looks a bit stiff opposite the Zen-ed out Cage, but the
Kickboxer star definitely holds his end up during the action sequences, nicely choreographed by action director Supoj Khaowwong (who probably did more to make this film work than Logothetis and McGrath).

Jiu Jitsu
is problematically slow to start, but it eventually gets fun down the stretch. Honestly, it just has too much martial arts talent in Jaa, Chan, Moussi, and now Crump for it to be a total wash. Nevertheless, it looks decidedly cheap. Beyond Skyline also took geographic liberties, but it still looked bigger and grander on its shoe-string budget—with deeper characterizations as a bonus. Mostly recommended for fans of Jaa, Chan, and Cage (who do indeed do their thing), Jiu Jitsu releases tomorrow (12/22) on DVD.