I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Besouro

tn_besouroHere’s a nice surprise, just something I found at the video store that I never heard of before, sounded interesting from the description on the box and it turned out it was. BESOURO is another movie based on the life of a legendary martial artist, except not an Asian one. This is a Brazilian film about a capoeira fighter.

The movie takes place in 1924. A narrator tells us that it’s less than 40 years after slavery ended in Brazil, that Africans are still treated like shit, that their religions and the practice of capoeira are outlawed. The setting is a small settlement where mostly African-Brazilians live, but they work in the sugar cane fields for an asshole white Colonel who uses the n-word more than 50 Cent does (played by Michael Richards [no, not really, but wouldn’t that be weird though?]).
mp_besouroBesouro is the nickname of our hero (he’s named after a beetle, because he’s black and he can fly). He’s the number one student of an old master who teaches capoeira and is considered a leader in the black community. But one day Besouro is busy showing off his capoeira when he should be watching the master’s back, and the master gets murdered. Besouro’s own friends and community shun him, so he’s not even allowed to go to the funeral (he hides out and watches from the woods). He goes off to live in the forest where he communes with the spirit of the master, learns to inhabit the body of a frog and a beetle, learns mystical lessons, is taunted by a ghost, etc. By the way there is some magic stuff in this movie, it’s purposely based on the legends of the guy instead of the historical record. Sorry, historical record buffs. The guy’s not on wikipedia yet either.

Besouro has two best friends who grew up learning capoeira with him. One is a girl, the other one goes out with the girl, and there will be some issues there. Besouro’s buddy sort of develops an “I’m sure these white folks will be pretty cool to us” attitude while Besouro turns into a total militant, burning down the sugar cane fields and sabotaging the factory machines. It’s not mentioned whether or not anybody picks up any delicious goop off the ground after the fire, but if Besouro invented caramel no wonder he was worthy of a movie. Either way, he’s portrayed as the guy who stands up when the man won’t pay him, or when the authorities are beating people up. He takes a stand and inspires the people to follow his example. And teaches them how to kick. And likes women with natural hair.

It’s nice to see a guy doing martial arts against racists. I didn’t get enough of that out of NINJA VENGEANCE.

If you’re not familiar with capoeira, first of all you should watch Mark Dacascos in ONLY THE STRONG, which combines a primer on the artform with a corny teacher-helps-troubled-students movie and a topnotch Van Damme-esque martial arts picture. Second of all you should know that it’s a fighting style that is practiced with music. It involves alot of kicking, cartwheels and dodging, and it was developed by slaves to defend themselves from the slavedrivers when they were on the run. Visually it’s very unique and hasn’t been used in a huge amount of movies, although Lateef Crowder has been able to do some in TOM YUM GOONG/THE PROTECTOR, UNDISPUTED 3 and that MORTAL KOMBAT short.

It’s not a slick movie. Some things are a little awkward, like the way that Besouro’s friend asks him “shouldn’t you be watching the master?” at the exact moment when the master is about to be assassinated. Seems a little coincidental. This is not one of those stylish, intoxicating Brazilian movies like CITY OF GOD, it feels a little more home made. The real Besouro travelled around alot, but this looks like a pretty low budget movie so they have it take place in this one area. It would be better if it had the scope of IP MAN, and the fights definitely aren’t as sophisticated as the ones in that movie. But for me it’s enjoyable because of the uniqueness of its content. We’ve seen martial arts used to defend the defenseless, but it’s extra satisfying in the context of black almost-slaves fighting off white racist oppressors. What better use is there for awesome kicks?

I like the way they add wirework to an otherwise very down to earth type of fighting. There are long takes and real moves and then every once in a while Besouro can fly. That’s what people started to say about him, so the movie takes it literally. They also said he was bullet proof and could only be stabbed by a certain type of wood called tucum. I imagine the real guy got lucky getting shot at one time and the story got exaggerated, so why not put it in the movie that way? Even Besouro’s inspirational quality is depicted literally, as he’s shown actually possessing people’s bodies and fighting through them.

I can’t claim this is a great new martial arts discovery like ONG BAK or something. I don’t think it will be a big international hit or nothin. But it’s got an enjoyable simplicity, a novel subject and I think this folk hero that I never heard of has a universal appeal. You’d have to be a real asshole not to root for the guy who does martial arts on the slavedrivers.

(But why the German blu-ray is in 3D I cannot explain.)

Here is some information about Besouro

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, March 18th, 2011 at 2:31 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

12 Responses to “Besouro”

  1. I got choked out by a lady doing a capoeira demonstration back in the day, yet I have always been staunchly anti-slavery.

    Thanks for the review, Vern. I really can’t get enough of this fighting technique. It’s so damn fun to behold. Maybe because of the dancing aspect. I’m fruity like that. And now this Besouro guy adds the power of flight! In 3D you say. . .? To Berlin!

  2. Vern, you must have the “Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe” of video stores. Blockbuster all but took over here in the uK.

  3. Martial arts thrive in societies where there is an underclass denied the right to defend themselves, due to racism and/or colonialism:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eskrima

    Which is a backhanded roundabout way to say I guess its ok after all to have a Filipino playing a Brazilian martial artist freedom fighter:

    http://officialerniereyesjr.com/page.asp?content_id=21591

  4. One of the KICKBOXER sequels was set in Brazil, and while I don’t recall if any Capoeira is used in a fight scene (I didn’t watch much of the movie), the master does talk about it being turned into a dance to conceal it when it was banned.
    Also, I remember Eddie Gordo was an easy character to play as in Tekken 3, as button mashing just resulted in all sorts of random capoeira combos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reShUHfqUug

  5. Hey man, it’s a serious way of life to practice capoeira, an art form & a source of pride for an entire culture.  Let’s not reduce it to a Playstation hobby.  

    . . .

    Just fuckin with you, Stu, I’m a hypocrite.  Actually, I always consciously avoid overzealously describing my time with my favorite Tekken fighters, Eddie/Tiger.  But it’s true, that shit was awesome in video game form.  And ’twas one of the few games I could play with girls back then, since the inartful button mashing of unskilled female gamers was often so effective in the Tekkenverse.

  6. Something very catchy about that poster. It looks fuckin real, man.

  7. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    March 18th, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    My girl used to button mash whilst playing as Eddie Gordo back in the day. Got my ass kicked every time.

  8. Yeah Eddie was the only guy I played as ’cause I suck at fighting games and he rocked

  9. I must also admit that when I heard the term capoeira, the first thing I thought about was Eddie Gordo.

  10. The reason instruments and dance like movements are a part of capoeira is because the slaves had to hide the fact that they were training each other to defend themselves. By making it seem like a dance the slaves were able to avoid being punished by slave owners.

  11. When we were big Tekken players we always hated the capoeria fighter, Eddy Gordo, because his combos could all be done easily by randomly mashing buttons. Combine that with a style where strikes come from strange angles in unconventional, hard-to-predict ways, and you have an opponent who is no fun to fight.

    So when the capoeria guy came out in Undisputed 3 naturally my wife and I yelled “STUPID BUTTON MASHER!” and were happy to see him go down. I imagine this movie would just enrage us beyond reason.

  12. holy jesus I should have read first. I see every post before mine was also about Mr. Gordo. Sorry.

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