Review: Jiu Jitsu Is “Action Trash,” and That’s Not Necessarily a Bad Thing

The latest martial arts mess from director Dimitri Logothetis (Kickboxer: Retaliation; Wings of the Dragon) answers a question I have pondered for decades, but never had put to the test: Can an action movie have too much action? Well Jiu Jitsu definitively answers: Yes. And  by “too much,” I mean so much that it begins to numb the brain as to just how impressive the athleticism of the performers is. It’s so much that it all starts to blur in your mind and so much that you completely lose track of the story and who the characters are meant to be.

Jiu Jitsu
Image courtesy Green Olive Films

I’ll admit, I was drawn into watching Jiu Jitsu by the cast, which includes known martial artist Alain Moussi as Jake Barnes who wakes up after being attacked in the jungles of, I’m going to say Burma, with a severe case of amnesia but instinctual fighting skills. He’s handed over to a group of U.S. soldiers in the country who grill Jake about why he’s there and whether they are seeking the same answers about possible destructive forces in the area. Although he still doesn’t remember, it doesn’t take long for the squad to be attacked by a merciless alien warrior named Brax(!), who strongly resembles a normal-looking human in a rubber suit and weird mask that sometimes reveals a computer-generated alien face meant to…terrify us?

Brax demolishes the soldiers using what appears to be Jiu Jitsu martial arts, while Jake somehow survives and is discovered by a group of fighting monks who don’t look like your traditional religious types and include the likes of Tony Jaa, Frank Grillo, JuJu Chan, and Nicolas Cage (as the wise older monk who has enough lines of exposition to explain just what the hell is going on here). There’s no getting around the fact that Cage is doing his best attempt at Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now, and we find out that his Wylie is one of the only monks to have survived the alien attacks over the years. Apparently every six years, this combat-oriented alien race sends a warrior through a portal to Earth where he must fight the 10 best Jiu Jitsu monks this order can assemble. If these 10 are sacrificed, he leaves for another six years, but if the monks don’t do their duty, the Earth and all mankind are likely doomed to an alien invasion.

It turns out, Jake was actually the head of this order of monks before his memory loss, and as he slowly begins to regain his memories of his mission plan, he also must gear up for an eventual conflict with Drax, who is described in the press notes as “a fearsome creature, horrifying to behold, with a robotic outer shell, flames that leap out from within, and glowing dots for eyes. He is the leader of a team of invaders with mind control abilities, supernatural agility, martial arts skills, and futuristic beam weaponry.” Yeah, no.

In theory, the only way that humanity wins is if the monks all lose, but Jake comes up with a plan to change all that, only he can’t remember what it was, so there’s a bit of a ticking-clock element adding to the already stressful alien-invasion thing. In case you hadn’t deduced this, Jiu Jitsu is one dumb-as-shit movie, but if it’s possible to not recommend a film but still think everyone needs to see it, that’s how I feel. And it’s not just because I believe you must constantly reset both your high and low bar for movies, but because I could honestly see this movie playing like gangbusters for a midnight crowd or at a genre festival. This thing has cult potential for days, and there is some legitimate value in that. While I’m not much of a believer in the theory of “so bad it’s good,” I do believe that some bad movies are highly watchable (The Room isn’t one of my favorite movies for no reason). If you only have time for high art, why are you even reading this? But if you have a spare moment for legit great action trash, Jiu Jitsu might be just for you.

The film is now available via VOD.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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