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The Art of Self-Defense (2019)

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2:29 | Trailer
A man is attacked at random on the street. He enlists at a local dojo, led by a charismatic and mysterious sensei, in an effort to learn how to defend himself.

Director:

Riley Stearns

Writer:

Riley Stearns
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2,205 ( 466)
2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Credited cast:
Jesse Eisenberg ... Casey
Alessandro Nivola ... Sensei
Imogen Poots ... Anna
Steve Terada ... Thomas
Phillip Andre Botello ... Kennith
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Caroline Amiguet ... French Audio Instructor (voice)
Apollo Bacala ... Karate Day Class Student
Hauke Bahr ... Grant
Jason Burkey ... Alex
Justin Eaton ... Lone Man
Dallas Edwards ... Manny
Will Ellis Jr. Will Ellis Jr. ... Night Class Student
Josh Fadem ... Serial Killer
John French ... Office Worker
Darren Gaebel Darren Gaebel ... Karate Night Class Student
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Storyline

After he's attacked on the street at night by a roving motorcycle gang, timid bookkeeper Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) joins a neighborhood karate studio to learn how to protect himself. Under the watchful eye of a charismatic instructor, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), and hardcore brown belt Anna (Imogen Poots), Casey gains a newfound sense of confidence for the first time in his life. But when he attends Sensei's mysterious night classes, he discovers a sinister world of fraternity, brutality and hyper-masculinity, presenting a journey that places him squarely in the sights of his enigmatic new mentor. Written by Bleecker Street

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

self defence | sensei | dojo | See All (3) »


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Official Sites:

Official site

Country:

USA

Language:

English | French | German

Release Date:

1 November 2019 (Mexico) See more »

Also Known As:

The Art of Self-Defense See more »

Filming Locations:

Louisville, Kentucky, USA

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$114,374, 14 July 2019

Gross USA:

$2,410,914

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$2,411,846
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

End Cue See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

This was to be a comedy remake of the karate kid. See more »

Crazy Credits

At the beginning of the end credits, the show's "title logo" is shown in a "black metal" font, mirroring the front cover of the CD Casey buys (albeit in yellow). See more »

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User Reviews

 
punch with your feet
18 July 2019 | by ferguson-6See all my reviews

Greetings again from the darkness. This special screening included a simulcast of the Red Carpet arrivals at the Brooklyn Alamo Drafthouse hosted by Eric Davis of Fandango, and the broadcast went to many cities around the U.S. What immediately struck me from the interviews with writer-director Riley Stearns and co-stars Jesse Eisenberg and Alessandro Nivola was how carefully they chose their words in describing the story and their characters. It was clear what we were about to watch was not just another acting gig, and certainly not some mainstream mush. According to those involved, this was something altogether different.

Casey Davies (Eisenberg) is a corporate accountant. He's a meek guy. Casey is an outsider at work, and has no social life beyond his TV and devoted dachshund (because a poodle would be too obvious). To put it bluntly, he's a lonely guy. One evening, whilst walking back from the grocery store to buy dog food, Casey is mugged and brutally attacked by a motorcycle gang. This leaves Casey not only alone and battered, but also afraid. His decision to buy a gun gets sidetracked when a local dojo catches his eye. He's drawn to the whispered guidance of the Sensei (Nivola), and the confidence and power derived from the self-defense skills being taught.

Filmmaker Stearns takes on toxic masculinity in a subversive and satirical manner. His dark comedy is played straight by the participants, putting viewers in a state of awkward laughter and uncertain reactions to what we are witnessing. It's both exaggerated and nuanced, as there are informative subtleties in both the dialogue and the mannerisms of the characters. Imogen Poots plays Anna, perhaps the most interesting character in the film. She's a talented brown belt frustrated by her Sensei's unwillingness to award her with a much-deserved black belt. Instead, she is relegated to teaching kids' classes, and only gets to shine in the mysterious night classes. It's a shame this role wasn't expanded to take advantage of Ms. Poots' talent.

Ah yes, the night classes. Participants must be personally invited by Sensei, and it's here where Casey finally begins to understand the dark forces at work. Henry, played by David Zellner (co-producer with his brother Nathan) is so desperate for Sensei's stamp of approval that he makes the tragic mistake of attending night class without being invited. The violence in the film elevates quickly.

We witness the changes in Casey as he gains confidence, and the many transitions in his life take the form of shifting colors, foreign language and music. Misogyny and toxic masculinity were also addressed in the recent action-comedy STUBER, but here, Mr. Stearns' voice challenges us to analyze what we are laughing at. Nivola's Sensei is simultaneously funny and frightening, and demented and enlightened. The insecurities that accompany the male ego are contrasted with the extra hurdles women must clear to be accepted as equals. These people could possibly be caricatures, but possibly not. There is much confusion over how to be a man in today's world - what it means, how to act, how to control sparks of aggression, how to prevent the misuse of power. We watch as Casey becomes so similar to those he so despised. We also learn that the Alpha male may not be male after all. These are some serious topics buried within the lesson of "kick with your hands and punch with your feet." It's an offbeat film presented in a way that makes us sit up and take note.


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