REDBELT – NOT QUITE

So I finally sat down and watched the movie Redbelt.  I didn’t go see it right away because I have a weird time-machine bias.  That’s what I call how I decide if I am going to see a movie I have never seen before.  I have to know ahead of time if I’ll like the movie or not.  I didn’t have enough information before yesterday to want to see it.  Anyways, I decided to check it.

Warning – spoilers a plenty.

The movie is about a martial arts instructor.  His school signs says “Jiu Jitsu,” so let’s just say the movie is about a Jiu Jitsu instructor.  He is an extremely moral and severe martial artist.  He doesn’t believe in contest or sport.  What he teaches is only for survival at all costs.  So far, so good.  However, his school suffers from a severe lack of finances.  Here’s my first problem with Redbelt: Why can’t a movie showcase a martial arts hero who is highly skilled, moral, and able to pay the bills?  The message I get right away is:

  1. The main character is a devoted martial artist who loves what he does, and really believes in his craft.
  2. He doesn’t teach competition or sport techniques.
  3. He has high personal standards that he instills in his students, who are strongly loyal to him.
  4. These qualities don’t allow him to have a successful venture running a dojo.
  5. Therefore, he is basically suffering from his skill and virtues.

This is important to understand when you read my review, because as the movie continues, it is shown over and over that if he betrays his own virtues and his skills, he will profit, instead of suffering. Not a lesson to teach the kids.  Admittedly, the point is that no matter what, he remains true to what he believes, until it becomes an issue of force.  You can’t judge someone’s actions as moral if they were made under threat of force.  Plus, I suppose, you have to have some drama somewhere to get a movie started, so this is it.

Next problem I have is with his loyal student, who is recently promoted to Sho Dan.  This poor guy is shown as a talented martial artist, who has obviously used what he has learned in life-or-death altercations on many occasions (he’s a law enforcement officer).  He seems to suffer from a lack of self-confidence, or better put, self-esteem.  He feels better about himself due to his rapport with his teacher.  He talks a lot about not bringing dishonor to the school.  Tragically, he does just that.  The antagonists of the film contrive a heinous con, the results of which would end the careers and lifestyles of the teacher, the loyal student, and the friendly attourney.  Under threat of blackmail, the loyal student ends his life rather than let shame come to his teacher, and the teacher agrees to fight in a rigged tournament, against his beliefs, in the presence of his own instructor, nonetheless.  The best part:  The people committing the con are:

  1. His own wife
  2. His in-laws
  3. Organized competition promoters

Great.  Who has time to worry about rapists, crooks, and drunks at bars, when you have to protect yourself from your supposed loved ones, fellow martial artists, and commercial entities that purport to spread the beauty of martial arts as a a sport?  So now the message is:

  1. You can make a great living in martial arts if you are dishonest
  2. You can make a great living in martial arts if you are willing to ruin people’s lives
  3. Apparently, a martial artist that teaches morality creates cult-like students
  4. These students would sooner die than bring shame to their instructor
  5. Commercial entities that promote martial arts are corrupt and dangerous to deal with

All in all, I think Redbelt had a lot of negative ideas about martial arts that I just did not like.  I never thought that I would ever feel so personally offended by a movie, but, here I am.  One last thing to note: in this movie, all praise went to MMA and Jiu-Jitsu.  However, throughout the movie, you seen Kali highlighted.  You clearly see this when the teacher uses Kali to defend himself with a stick against a knife, and also when they are doing a Hubud-Lubud drill with knives on the movie set scene.  Heck, the honored top martial artist in the movie is portrayed by Guro Dan Inosanto himself.

Whatever happened to the old school, shop owner is harrassed by a local gang, guy from out of town comes in, kicks someone in the dick and maybe gets the girl, and everyone is happy.  I guess now it’s martial artist with values gets shit on, and the commercial martial artist is a demon that does the shitting.  I want to see something better than that.

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