In the past year or so, two MMA related films have come out. One is Never Back Down, the other is Red Belt. There has been a lot of talk about the legitimacy of these films. These films have one thing in common- MMA. Outside of that, they have very different approaches to the life and motivations of an MMA fighter.
Never Back Down
Never Back Down is the story of a new kid (Sean Faris) moving to Florida. After being beaten up in a fight at a party, he decides to learn MMA to better protect himself. Through his training with his MMA coach (played by Djimon Hounsou) he learns that what he's fighting against is bigger than the bully he has to contend with.
When this movie first dropped, many in the jiu jitsu and MMA community wrote it off as a MMA version of Fast and Furious. It does have elements of that in it. But beyond that, it told the compelling story of what brings a man to fight and the responsibilities that come with the power of being a fighter. I found it to be an exciting film.
Red Belt is the story of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor and his quest trying to make an honest living (Chiwetel Ejiofor). One night in his academy, an unexpected turn of events changes his life, and the lives of those around him. He deliberately stays away from the MMA fight scene. Unfortunately, circumstances get so bad he is forced to enter the ring against his wishes. The outcome is beautifully shocking. Tim Allen and Randy Couture are also have roles in the film.
When Red Belt first hit the scene, there was a lot of hoopla about it. After it came out, the only people I knew who went to see it were jiu jitsu or MMA practitioners. There were two camps, lover and and haters. It seemed many wanted the movie to have more fighting. Some felt it was too long. Others loved it and said they felt a deep emotional connection to the lead character.
After seeing it, I realize that Red Belt is not a movie about fighting. Its about the philosophy of a true martial artist. This is something that Guerilla Jiu Jitsu author Dave Camarillo has written and spoken about powerfully before. This is a movie about a man who suffers not for fighting, but philosophy. Red Belt is a movie about persevering with principles- not matter what they consequences. There are very few action scenes, but the ones they have are very well done. I thought the movie was well written and that ultimately, everyone in the film did a great job.
MMA is brand new to America. These films, are the first courageous attempts at capturing the real essence of what it means to be a fighter AND what it means to be a martial artist. Considering how new MMA is to the American audience, its amazing that they even got made. The end reality is that you will like these films not based on their authentic quality, but for where YOU are in your life right now.
If you are new to MMA and jiu jitsu and you practice, a young hot blooded guy is gonna love Never Back Down. However, if you are a guy who has been training a while, or, is attracted to the philosophical aspect of the martial arts then Red Belt is for you.
I talked to a friend of mine who is s well known rapper. He said he felt that the corruption of the fight game heavily mirrored the record industry. So, he identified as a struggling artist, watching the main character struggle.
As much as a lot Hip-Hop folks hate to admit Breakin' , Krush Groove and Beat Street while not the best films, were important to the rise of the culture. Such is the same here.
I applaud both films for different reasons and I hope to see more MMA movies come out of Hollywood in the coming years.
***Please be aware that both movies are not intended for young children. Parental discretion is ALWAYS advised.