The Sensei (2008)

Posted in Reviews by - February 17, 2018
The Sensei (2008)

This occasionally veers off into the type of histrionic melodrama you would find on The Hallmark Channel, but Diana Lee Inosanto’s directorial debut deserves credit for its subversion of traditional gender roles prevalent in martial arts movies. She places a female in the master role and a gay teenager at the heart of the story. Inosanto (herself a stunt performer and the daughter of Bruce Lee‘s buddy, Dan Inosanto) acts as writer, producer, director and star, and the film ultimately ends up feeling very personal. She places her central character, McClaine (Michael O’Laskey II) – a bullied gay high-school student – in small town America at the height of the AIDS epidemic. He is marginalised not just in his school life, but also by society at large; he is ostracised by the church who label the epidemic as god’s way of punishing “sinners”, and even his local karate school turn him away. Inosanto plays the similarly marginalised karate expert Karen, who is refused a black belt due to being a woman. It is McClaine’s mother who convinces Karen to teach the boy some martial arts, and through his extracurricular studies in Kali, Wing Chun and jiu-jitsu, his self-confidence quickly develops. The film also tackles issues around racism, as if there weren’t already enough emotional triggers in the narrative. It might feel a bit worthy, but the film’s message is pure, and Inosanto proves herself to be a filmmaker brave enough to tackle some very important and weighty issues.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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