New Sci-Fi Thriller From the Director of the Rebooted Kickboxer Movies Stars Nicolas Cage, Alain Moussi and Tony Jaa!
When I first heard about Jiu Jitsu, a fantastical martial arts actioner in which nine heroes of Earth must battle a psychotic alien every six years with the planet's future for the next six years hanging in the balance, I thought, Who better to write and direct this sci-fi atomic blast of martial mayhem than Dimitri Logothetis, the man behind the reimagined Kickboxer movies?
Then my mind moved to martial arts folklore. The Chinese have the 10 Tigers of Shaolin, and the Japanese have the 47 Ronin. Now, thanks to Logothetis' brainchild, the whole planet has the Nine Knights of Earth. Specifically, they are nine human beings who hail from a variety of countries and are skilled in a variety of combative arts. It's a brilliant way to depict a world that must unite against alien domination, a sci-fi concept popularized by H.G. Wells in his timeless novel War of the Worlds.
Jiu Jitsu, of course, ups the ante by using martial arts instead of high-tech weaponry for its battles. That allows the film to present an intelligent blend of the frenzied insanity of Predator, Alien and The Day the Earth Stood Still, along with a dose of mind-tripping a la Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.
One reason the film succeeds is Logothetis managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat by bringing Nicolas Cage on board. Cage's performance evokes that of Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now with Cage creating Mad Hatter moments that have the tone of a 1970s kung fu film. During his long duel with Alain Moussi, star of those aforementioned Kickboxer remakes, he engages in schizoid attacks — and manages to deliver each martial move in a convincing manner.
Cage reveals the movie's plot as he breaks down Moussi's movements like a teacher preparing a student for a grand performance. In this case, that performance is a fight against an alien called Brax, a duel to the death that will lead to either the continuation or the destruction of the world as we know it.
"I don't like exposition, but it's needed — especially when you're starting a motion-picture storyline like this," Logothetis said. "The best place to do it is within an action sequence. Nic passionately embraces the genre, and when an actor is as brilliant as he is, he sells the story. His desire to channel Hopper, a man who's lost his mind in the middle of nowhere, was brilliant."Logothetis offered more insights into the film's fighters: "It was important to have flawed characters, including Jake (Moussi), who does something that's not in step with us as martial artists. When we get bullied — in a fight, by our superiors, on social media — we feel like we can't react, and we want to run. This is how the film starts."
Anchored by an extensive background that spans Japanese jujitsu, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Thai kickboxing, Moussi is perfect for this role. His martial education started when his mother urged him to learn jujitsu at age 7. Moussi found it uninteresting, so his mom took over his membership.
Although he recalls watching and enjoying The Karate Kid in 1984, Moussi didn't feel compelled to resume training until he saw Bloodsport in 1988. That got him back in jujitsu. "My goal was to have that physique and do those splits," he recalled. "Dad introduced me to Bruce Lee, and I'd watch the Bruce Lee Box Set like mad. I also watched Wesley Snipes, Steven Seagal in his heyday and then Jackie Chan's films."
That love affair with action cinema no doubt was part of the reason Moussi embarked on a career in stunt work. From that base, he was able to level up to acting, including his starring roles in Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016), Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018) and Kickboxer: Armageddon (in production). And that made him a no-brainer for Jiu Jitsu.
"Jake is a warrior and a coward," Moussi said about his Jiu Jitsu character. "In regard to Brax, he has doubt, but it's more about fear of the fight's outcome, and he doesn't want to deal with it. Jake has to come to terms [with the fact] that he's a coward and overcome his fear of this unwinnable battle and go all the way."
People can relate to that. I did when I trained so hard and when a kickboxing tournament was coming. I'd say, 'I might embarrass myself. Maybe [I'll] win, but I'm not expecting to.' It can hinder your performance — or you can use it to improve yourself. Acknowledging fear can enable you to be your best. [In the movie], Jake forgets who he is and must rediscover who he was.
"Logothetis echoed that last sentiment: "With his cowardly act, he must rise to the occasion and go back to his values, honor and code. This is the kind of morality I push forward. I love martial arts films when lead characters are alone and decide to do the right thing, step up, be honorable and be willing to lay their life on the line."
Having earned a black belt in American kenpo and tang soo do, Logothetis is uniquely qualified to further elevate the stylized pugilism he served up in the Kickboxer movies, which has led to him being dubbed a "martial artist's martial arts film director."
He brought those directorial skills to Jiu Jitsu, further cementing his prominence in the genre in three ways: by revealing the film's storyline via a fight scene (Cage vs. Moussi), by devoting an unheard-of 34 percent of the movie solely to martial arts action, and by setting a new oner standard by rotating two heroes (Jaa and Moussi) in and out of the fight during the oner.
That gang of nine noble martial ministers that Moussi is part of in Jiu Jitsu is an eclectic coalition of both rising and established martial arts stars, most of whom will use double weapons in their match against Brax. They include Jaa, who is armed with tonfa; JuJu Chan, who carries a nunchaku; Frank Grillo, who wields knives; Marrese Crump, who uses a pair of short spears; and the King Arthur-ish Moussi, who opts for double swords. Each actor ably displays a skill set designed to fit his or her armament, and the choreography gives suitable credibility.
"When you have a martial arts free-for-all, you have to come up with a story that stretches the boundary," Logothetis said about the armed combat. "And when you add in science fiction, you really have to push the envelope even further."
Some say Tony Jaa is like a video game; I say it's supposed to look like that. The difference is my martial arts actors are authentic, real humans doing real things and not people drawn or manufactured on a computer. When people digest that they're all real humans, they get it. Furthermore, I'm able to give my martial arts actors the ability to do some of the wonderful things that they do on-screen."