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Fantasia 2019 Film Review: “The Art of Self-Defense” (2019) ★★★


To learn how to fight in self-defense mode is important to protect ourselves from those who think they can bully anyone. Of course, some might say a gun may solve the problem a fist cannot. That is partially true. However, what has been offered in “The Art of Self-Defense”, written and directed by Riley Stearns, is far beyond the ordinary skills one can learn – the skill known as confidence.

Casey is a shy, quiet, and always hesitant man. He is what we can call someone as content. At work, he is too reluctant to engage in any level of discussion with his colleagues, who seem to have nothing else to do other than drink coffee and gossip. One night, when he goes out to get dog food, Casey was attacked by a group of men in motorcycles. Beaten up severely and lucky enough to survive, he takes months of leave to recover from his injuries. Being afraid that he may get attacked again, Casey decides to learn karate to boost in himself enough confidence and strength to fight back.

The most fascinating part of “The Art of Self-Defense” is the amazingly impressive transformation of Casey’s personality when he becomes a version of himself he never thought he could become. As the film offers an interesting twist in the end, Jesse Eisenberg’s Casey tries to choose between gun and karate. And when he realizes that karate is capable of offering much more than bullets, he drops his idea of owning a gun after becoming a true believer in Sensei’s most important saying in his karate school – the gun is for the weak.

That said, even though there are many rules written in Sensei’s (Alessandro Nivola) little school, the main moral of the film is that rules are not necessarily meant to be followed as the end result is what the person should care about. While all these unfold in Stearns’ piece, the film slowly turns into a psychological game between the weak Casey and a Casey who wants to overcome fear as he continues mastering the skills in a desperate effort to defend himself through the use of martial arts.

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