Movie Review of Redbelt
Redbelt is an independent martial arts film that came out back in 2008. It stars international actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, Dirty Pretty Things, Kinky Boots, and Children of Men), international actress Emily Mortimer, comedic actor Tim Allen (Home Improvement and The Santa Clause), international actress Alice Braga (I Am Legend), and Joe Mantegna. The film, while focuses on martial arts, is more focused on the drama than on the fighting. If you are into mixed martial arts (MMA), Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and/or grappling in general, you might enjoy watching Redbelt.
Retired MMA fighter and former UFC Champion Randy Couture and BJJ figure John Machado make appearances in the film.
Notable martial arts icon Dan Inosanto, one of the earliest pupils of the late Bruce Lee, makes a cameo appearance.
While I enjoyed the story, I found the lack of plausibility in the story. The structure of the story itself, I felt, was so weak that it could easily collapse. As a martial artist that has MMA training and has interacted with different training environments, there are flaws of the story I could point out. While Ejiofor's character, Mike Terry, is an endearing underdog protagonist, I could find little to no sympathy for him.
If there's one thing I could take from the movie, it would be the important lesson that a master instructor might not make the best businessman. Also, the movie's story really gives the wrong lesson in regards to martial arts let alone managing a martial arts school.
The story itself has a couple of subplots that eventually intertwine for the climatic finale.
Unless you have trained in the martial arts and got to really know your instructors and peers, it would be difficult to understand the meaning of Redbelt's story. Also, it helps to have MMA experience to further understand what Redbelt is all about. There's a lot of symbolism in the movie; but, it's hard to miss unless you are somewhat of a serious martial artist and/or professional fighter.
In the story, Mike is a struggling martial arts instructor who has his own martial arts school. However, his school doesn't make enough money to pay for the gear and utilities. His wife Sondra who's a struggling fashion designer, played by Braga, foots the bill for everything. While wanting to make it big in the fashion world, Sondra's revenue ends up going into the dojo for the rent and utilities. In the beginning, Sondra's resentment is present but in the subtle state.
During class, Mike is shown with his usual training routines.
There are two things that trigger the story. Off-duty police officer and top student Joe, played by Max Martini, is getting a private lesson fro Mike. On that same night, Joe gets his black belt in BJJ. Laura, played by Mortimer, shows up. Being a victim of sexual assault, Laura is distressed when around men. Mike, not noticing the distress, insists that Joe grab her coat. Laura, panicking, grabs Joe's gun and fires the weapon and breaks the window. At the same time, Mike learns that Joe quit working security for his brother-in-law due to not getting paid.
To make things more complicated, Sondra tells Mike that the check bounced and that he needs to get a loan from her brother-in-laws. These events would soon cause trouble in Mike's life.
Going to the bar owned by his brother-in-laws, Mike inquires about the loan and Joe's pay. Bruno who is one of the brother-in-laws, portrayed by Rodrigo Santoro, discards Mike's inquiry about Joe. Instead, he tries to persuade Mike in the undercard for this upcoming MMA match in which he could get at least $50K. However, Mike refuses due to believing that martial artists should not fight for the sake of money as it will weaken the soul in the long run.
It is revealed that the MMA promotion is losing money. Not many people are excited about the fight. So far, the fight has not sold enough tickets. To make matters worse for the promoters, the service that does the pay-per-view (PPV) had pulled out of the fight.
That same night, Mike meets actor Chet Frank (portrayed by Allen). Frank inadvertently picks a fight with one of the patrons and is saved by Mike. Thanking Mike, Frank pays to get the window replaced. Mike and Sondra meet Chet and his wife. During the meeting, he meets with Chet's business associate Jerry Weiss (portrayed by Mantegna) and talks about his usual training regiment. He event faxes documentation to Jerry.
Also, Chet invites Frank on set of his new movie as a military consultant. Chet even gives Mike a very expensive watch; in turn, Mike gives Joe the watch to sell for cash.
However, it is ultimately revealed that Mike and Sondra were deceived. Mike's world comes down. It is revealed that the watch given to Frank was stolen. Since Joe pawned the watch, he's under investigation and is placed on suspension without pay.
Knowing his life is over, Joe takes his own life.
On top of that, if things could not have gotten worse for Mike, Jerry has joined forces with the same MMA promoters and promote a change using Mike's documented training regiments.
While Mike has a legal case, with Laura's legal representation, he has a case against Jerry and the MMA promoters. However, Mike ends up with no leverage due to the deception of his wife. Sondra reveals the incident of the shooting to other lawyers. The promoters, with a way to get away with everything, threatens to reveal the details of that night if Mike doesn't drop the suit. Then, Mike relents and decides to fight in the undercard.
However, Mike learns of a deeper conspiracy.
So far, Redbelt has an interesting story. But, there are a bunch of flaws I have to point out. First, I'll say that the ending was pretty ridiculous and overly excessive. You don't need to be a martial artist or MMA fighter to see that. When you think about it carefully, throughout the story, Mike is a very stupid and ignorant martial artist. On top of that, he's a highly trained soldier. He should have kept his guard up; but, his guard's been lowered the whole time through the film.
The story really perpetuated the false perception that schools need to compete in tournaments or students have to compete for cash. When you think about it, an implausible story like Redbelt does nothing but harm in the world of martial arts. It makes people ignorant about martial arts even more ignorant about martial arts. I do have to say I would rather watch Redbelt than something like Never Back Down.
In terms of running a martial arts school, the story obviously shown that Mike was terrible at managing money and at running a business. When running a martial arts school, unless you have financial backing, you have to run it like a business. You don't have to compete in tournaments or have your students compete in tournaments let alone MMA tournaments to bring more students in the door.
Apparently, Mike runs the school full-time.
UFC Fighter Chael Sonnen talks about how many hours are in a day. If you're fighting, don't miss practice. What you do with the other hours is your business In the case of Redbelt's story, Mike seemingly has a lot of free time on his hands. Apparently, he doesn't have a daytime job. Realistically, many instructors don't teach full-time. Many have daytime jobs before they teach later at night. That tidbit of information easily picks apart Redbelt's story
During the day, if Mike doesn't have a daytime job, could have done a lot of things. He could go around the city to pass fliers around. He could also network with other businesses to bring in more students through the door.
My FCS Kali instructor told me that children's classes are the bread and butter if you plan on doing martial arts instruction on a full-time level. Another martial artist, a fellow Tae Kwon Do user like myself, told me about the school he trains at in Miami. He told me that if you have a good location and make training both fun and educational for children, you make a healthy living as a martial arts instructor.
If Mike made a curriculum on top of teaching private classes and his main classes, he wouldn't have to depend on his wife. However, the movie has shown that Mike is a poor businessman. In reality, Mike would have to close his school down. Also, Sondra probably would have divorced him. My TKD instructor told me that most martial artists are divorced. It shows that Sondra never really supported him as the story eventually reveals. On top of that, Mike should have seen that coming and divorced Sondra when he had the chance. The story reveals that the marriage is a fairy tale wedding gone wrong.
While Mike has noble intentions, nobility is canceled out by ignorance and stupidity.
With the interaction with Laura in the beginning, Mike should have picked up on that and not have Joe try to take off the coat.
Plus, Mike should have filed his documentation of the training regiment with the US Patent Office.
When meeting Chet, Mike shouldn't have lowered his guard. Apparently Mike has been in the military and been an instructor for quite some time. With all that combined training, Mike completely lowered his guard and got taken advantage of. To make things worse, Joe ultimately paid for Mike's ignorance and naivety.
The cast of characters is very small. The only people in the film I could have any shred of sympathy for would be Laura and Joe as they are the ultimate bystanders.
While I found myself rooting for Mike, I couldn't help but shake my head at his ignorance. If Mike had been a competent businessman, none of those problems would have happened. Before opening his dojo, he could have taken business courses. Since he's a black belt, his masters and those that promoted before him would given valuable advice. It takes at least 9 to 10 years, if you're inter the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), to promote to 1st Dan in BJJ. Obviously, Mike should have picked up more than just the moves and techniques.
Mike's ignorance ultimately cost Joe his life.
While I found Sondra attractive; I'm not surprised at her duplicity. She has proven to be Mike's undoing in the story. If Mike knew better, which he could have, he'd never have married Sondra in the first place. The fact that Sondra's brothers have questionable ethics when running a business should have been a telltale sign that Mike would be marrying into trouble.
It's a noble story; but, the story has so many holds that can be poked through. The structural integrity of the story is weak. There are many things to point out that could make the entire story of Redbelt collapse. Still, it's an enjoyable watch. But, it perpetuates the false perceptions associated with martial arts in general. The situations that led to the world of trouble that Mike entangled in are easily avoidable.
If you are looking for a serious martial arts film, watch Redbelt with caution. It's one of those movies you just watch once and then be done with it. Despite the weak structure of the plot, I rather watch Redbelt over Never Back Down any day of the week. On the plus side, Redbelt's the first very serious martial arts film with the specific focus on the art of BJJ.