"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Life After Fighting

LIFE AFTER FIGHTING is a 2024 indie action movie starring, written, directed, and choreographed by Australian martial artist Bren Foster. He even has writing credits on some of the songs on the soundtrack. That sounds like a vanity project, which I wouldn’t necessarily be against, but if “vanity project” is someone forcing their way onto the screen when they don’t really belong there, this is not that. This guy is a natural, and it’s a good movie, delivering well within the traditions of the genre and occasionally even transcending them a little. I kinda loved it.

Foster is close to my age, and has been on screen since a bit part in the crazy made-for-TNT kung fu movie INVINCIBLE in 2001. More recently I’ve heard he was good as the villain in DEEP BLUE SEA 3 and as Max in the Mad Max video game. I knew the name was familiar, and sure enough I first encountered him as one of the younger co-stars who takes on most of the fighting in a couple of the later Seagal movies. I didn’t mention him in my MAXIMUM CONVICTION review, but in FORCE OF EXECUTION I noted that he’s basically the main character even though on the cover he’s only seen as a tiny reflection in one lens of Seagal’s sunglasses. I praised his fighting but wrote that “when he’s talking instead of kicking ass he lacks the charisma to be captivating. Maybe it’s partly because he fakes an American accent. Shoulda gone full Van Damme and not worried about it.” Here he does in fact get to use his real accent, but also I think he’s just more comfortable in something coming from his heart.

He plays Alex Faulkner, a handsome and sweet man, good with kids, beloved by the community he’s built around him at the school where he teaches taekwondo, Brazilian jiujitsu and other martial arts to people of all ages. He’s not perfect. His dark secret is that he didn’t try hard enough in the championship fight he lost before retiring, and then he left his wife even though he still loved her because she wanted kids and he couldn’t have them due to spinal surgeries. Also, sometimes he goes a little overboard when pushed into a fight. But those things are so minor when it comes to movie protagonist flaws that he kind of seems like an idealized hunk in a romance movie, and I think that’s kind of refreshing. He gets to cry and go to some dark places for different reasons than the usual ones a guy trying to prove he has dramatic chops would write for himself.

The story begins very low key and down to earth, showing Alex’s daily life as a teacher, getting into a sweet romance story when Sam (Cassie Howarth, 2 GRAVES IN THE DESERT) comes in for lessons with her little son Terry (Anthony Nassif) and he decides to break his personal non-fraternization rule to have dinner with her. But a couple different conflicts come up:

1. The current world champion Arrio Gomez (Eddie Arrazola, 5 episodes of The Last Ship) is in Australia and keeps posting videos saying Alex is too scared to fight him

2. Sam’s ex-husband Victor (Luke Ford, the son in THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR!) is being a possessive douche, and shows up at the school with a burly henchman (stuntman Mike Duncan) who Alex ends up fighting on the lawn

3. Two guys dressed in black sit in during a white belt class, start punching people, and try to get Alex to pit his silly martial arts against their military style. Classic kung fu movie shit. I love it.

And while I’m trying to figure out which of these are subplots and which one is what the movie is gonna be about, suddenly an unseen person in a van snatches up two little girls from the school’s parking lot, and it becomes a serious drama about Alex trying to support his trusted employee Julie (Annabelle Stephenson, ESCAPE ROOM [2017]) who’s freaking out because her daughter (Arielle Jean Foster) might be dead and she can’t even tell her husband because he’s away on a secret military exercise. And maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I felt great tension that Julie might blame Alex, suspecting this is retaliation for one of his recent squabbles, and that Alex either feels that way himself or worries that she does. It gets very uncomfortable and it pretty much switches genres for a while, but eventually he faces the villains of the fucked up crime thriller section in the type of balls-out extended fight fest all fight movies deserve but often don’t have the schedule or elbow grease to provide.

Yesterday when I reviewed THE LAST KUMITE I admitted that it didn’t really add any flavor to the traditional elements of its subgenre. LIFE AFTER FIGHTING doesn’t have that problem at all. It puts its genre elements together in an idiosyncratic way, oddly butting them up against parts that seem like a Lifetime movie and overachieving dramatic performances from some of the supporting players. And there are so many little touches that give it personality. I found it really thrilling that during the many martial arts lesson montages we see Alex teaching people how to do choke holds, how to disarm an attacker with a knife, how to disarm an attacker with a gun, and we see him practicing stick fighting, and not only does he utilize every one of those skills in the big fight, but I’m pretty sure he does them in the same order he practiced them in!

One of the unexpected turns involves the business with the current champ. When that comes up you have no choice but to assume that this movie is about Alex coming out of retirement to redeem himself in a championship fight, right? But it turns out to be just a subplot that’s resolved in an interesting way that reminds me of the Balboa/Creed relationship circa ROCKY III. (spoiler?) Arrio shows up at the school but doesn’t threaten him, just respectfully asks to sit in for a class, explains that he doesn’t feel he’s proven himself because he hasn’t beaten the best. Alex very sensibly explains that beating the out-of-practice, past-his-prime ex-champ would mean nothing, while losing to him would be humiliating. So they end up having a long, pitched battle, but in private. The scene is more about explaining Alex’s character than setting him up for any dramatic conflict later, but also it gives us a warm up fight in the middle that’s better than the climactic fight in some movies.

(If they manage to make a sequel I sure hope they bring back Arrio as an ally, like Dae Han in BEST OF THE BEST 2.)

There’s also a bit of a Peckinpah touch in that it often cuts to normal people watching and being horrified by the violence. For example, Alex has a BILLY JACK moment where he tries to avoid a fight, then gives in and deservingly whoops a bully’s ass. But then he turns and sees a young student and his mother watching, upset, and he seems ashamed about it. Later, when he’s similarly pushed into a challenge from the military guys, we keep seeing reactions from students and employees of the school, and most of them seem scared and disgusted. They come here for respectful martial arts, not actual animosity and violence. Not macho dudes trying to hurt each other.

And is it my imagination or does the story come of a little anti-military? We’re used to the action movie (and real life) trope that soldiers leave the military and get paid to be even more amoral as mercenaries. But this takes it to a crazy level – they’re kidnapping little girls and auctioning them off! They have once respectable soldiers trying to kill people on behalf of this enterprise, considering themselves professionals. And then at the end there’s a scene with Julie’s husband, a current military guy who is not a scumbag, but the movie kinda shames him about being away on duty when he was needed by his family.

I don’t think Foster intends a big statement there, but it’s kinda ballsy to make a movie that shows a difference between a martial artist and a warrior. The title sounds a little clunky to me but I liked it better when I realized it’s contrasting his life after sports to the villains’ life after combat.

I can say two negative things about the movie, both minor. One is that the smooth and confident storytelling gives way to some clunkiness in the middle, particularly in the use of titles saying “one week later,” “two weeks later” and then “three weeks later” that, in context, seem to each mean one week later? The other has to do with all the anticipation they build for Alex to fight Ethan (Masa Yamaguchi, THE CONDEMNED), one of the soldiers who show up at the school. He has so much malevolence in his face, he’s squaring up THE RAID 2 style for a duel, but runs away when the cops are called. And then when he returns with a bunch of other guys, Victor holds him back as his personal bodyguard, further delaying the showdown and amplifying our expectations for his fighting abilities.

Eventually Victor sends Ethan to attack, and he’s like it’s about fuckin time, and he finally pits his skills against Alex, but wears a mask the whole time. That made me assume they found an actor with the right hateful scowl but that wouldn’t be able to do the fight scenes… but then I looked him up and found out he was a stuntman in THE WOLVERINE, GHOST IN THE SHELL, SHANG-CHI and FURIOSA. So maybe they’re really just sticking to the plot logic that they’re trying to hide their faces from security cameras. Anyway, that was one of the only things I felt was missing – seeing that guy’s face when he loses.

You may also be intimidated by the length, since it’s only 1 minute shorter than DAWN OF THE DEAD. It could be tightened, but I think it mostly earns it – it’s weirder, more emotional, more ambitious than most movies of its type, creates some real dread in the most drawn out non-action sequence, and pushes the envelope on the action. If you get to a point where you look at the time and think “oh wow, there’s still 40 minutes left?” that’s okay, because the remaining 40 minutes are a relentless Alex vs. many horrible people who deserve to die battle. It’s all inside the school but it moves around to different rooms, he uses different weapons and methods, smashes people through walls and cabinets and windows (he self sacrifices in the amount of damage he causes to his own property), there are a couple surprisingly brutal kills to liven things up (spoiler: possibly the only movie where someone gets THE-RAID-stabbed with a door knob), it’s just an all around good time.

LIFE AFTER FIGHTING isn’t a reinvention of the form, but it’s an exciting new rendition of it, and a real “oh shit, I better pay attention to this guy” moment for Bren Foster. Congratulations, Australia.

* * *

I first learned about LIFE AFTER FIGHTING from Charles (@The8thCurse), who gives me lots of good tips on Twitter, and many others of the VOD faithful have been singing its praises as well. I thank them for their service.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 19th, 2024 at 10:57 am and is filed under Reviews, Action, Martial Arts. 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 “Life After Fighting”

  1. I am glad you enjoyed this one. I had a feeling you would. I was so impressed with what this movie achieves on such a modest budget. That last 40 minutes are tremendous!

  2. Missing out on seeing a bunch of movies at the cinema cause of baby has been rough but this is playing in Indie cinemas here about 30 minutes away and not being able to go see it fucking sucks. Really wanna support the local fight movies.
    Since I saw the trailer this guys face has been irritatingly familiar, turns out he played a love interest revealed to be a killer in Home and Away so that tracks.

    On the Military stuff, for some context I grew up as a military kid on air force bases across Australia, and yeah the public view of the military is not great in Australia at the moment.
    For starters we never really have the military respect shit America has, there’s kind of like a tacit respect for people that died in Gallipoli in WW1, and like respect for dead soldiers but generally the view of the military is a negative necessity, rather then something that is automatically respected. Like unless you’re a close friend of the family, or someone dad knew through work no one would even know we were a military family growing up.

    And then there is a dude named Ben Roberts-Smith, an ex SAS soldier who was very publically accused of doing some absolutely heinous war crimes shit in news papers across the country after investigations into warcrimes in Afghanistan, then he sued the news papers for reporting on that shit for defemation wich resulted in an incredibly public, protracted trial that repeatedly proved he deffeintly commited war crimes and had such absolutely amazing shit as “The character witness called to testify that Ben Roberts-Smith was a good guy couldn’t show up cause he was in jail for warcrimes” or “Ben Roberts-Smith’s freind showed up and threatend to kill the lawyer questioning him” etc.

    This has been going on for like the past 3 or 4 years? It’s all been SUPER public because obviously the news papers and shit being sued are absolutely flogging the shit out of it. Just repeated stories of like children murder and shit has absolutely dragged the name of the military through the mud

  3. Thank you for that context, Ben. I did consider that it could be more an Australian thing than a Bren Foster thing, but wasn’t sure. It’s genuinely really interesting.

  4. first comment on the FORCE OF EXECUTION review is “Bren Foster really impressed me in this one, Vern. The guy has some real Martial Arts skills. Can’t see him headlining his own film though.” So here you go, Felix, sorry you had to wait so long (I liked him in that too, and have also been surprised it took him so long to take off)

  5. It took me a minute to figure out where I’ve seen Bren Foster’s name/face before, and of course it’s because he played Wolf on The Last Ship! I feel like if I recognize an actor these days, they were either on Doctor Who or The Last Ship.

    The Last Ship was a very dadcore show and definitely a five-season-long commercial for the Navy, but has other, better, sometimes weirder things going for it, that got me to watch every episode. Like a pandemic kills most of humanity, and the last Navy ship which was way out to sea at the time has to find a cure, fight off the Russians, the British, restart the U.S. government, etc. There was a season loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey which had Peter Weller as the villain (he also directed a bunch of episodes). Overall it had pretty good action, and wasn’t afraid to kill off major characters or twist into different directions. I remember Foster’s Wolf as one of the cooler characters, who did a lot of kicking and hand-to-hand combat.

    Anyway, all of that is to say, I will check this movie out.

  6. On Bren Foster’s appearance on Scott Adkins’ ART OF ACTION podcast in 2022 he mentions at the end that he was making this movie. I somehow recalled that when I saw the title and thumbnail, which made me check it out and I’m glad I did. Pretty good stuff. I hope he gets a chance to do another action movie but on a bigger scale before he gets too much older and can’t do some of the awesome stuff he was able to do in this one, like that slow motion triple kick he did.

  7. Vern, I just now noticed your shout out at the end of the review. I guess I missed it the first time. You are too kind, I am just happy to share and glad you liked it:)

  8. JTS – Oh shit, I totally forgot that I watched that! Might want to rewatch it now that I know what he’s capable of.

    Charles – True story: Your posts were the first I’d heard of the movie, and I was intrigued. Then I saw other people posting about it and heard it reviewed on Action For Everyone. So I was planning to see it and then you directly recommended it to me. I showed that to my wife and said, “When this guy Charles directly recommends something to me I have to listen because I always end up liking it.” And I can’t remember which movies but I swear I’ve been through this exact sequence of events before. So I want you to know how much I appreciate that! (No pressure though.)

  9. Beyond this excellent review, I know nothing of this movie, but this is such a sweet and informative comments section!
    Aw guys! Always nice to visit Outlawvern.com.
    I think this one hit a lot of streaming sites recently, will have to sample.

  10. Vern, that warms my heart and means a lot coming from you. I think we run in a number of the same circles on Twitter so I am sure you would have discovered it eventually, but after reading your work for over a decade I will sometimes watch something and feel compelled or lets say honor bound (because it sounds cooler) to share with you a movie I am confident you will appreciate & enjoy the same way I did. And I always enjoy your writing on them. ALPHABET CITY was another one I felt the same way about & had to make sure it was on your radar.

  11. Great review Vern! I was unaware of it.
    Just finished it and went back and rewatched the mid movie Alex vs Arrio fight scene. This and Monkey Man are my two favorite action movies I’ve seen this year but I still haven’t seen Furiosa yet. Loved the choreography and sound design.

    I rewatched Warrior recently (a movie I love) but compared to the fighting in this it’s a reminder of what a stark difference it is to watch a fighter who is also an actor be filmed fighting compared to say and actor pretending to fight. Even at a much lower budget the realness just shines through.

  12. I worked on Life After Fighting and it was a great shoot. Bren is incredibly skilled and talented.

    Thanks for the review. The best way to help Bren and the team make another movie is to help this one get seen. That takes a crowd of people sharing, liking, commenting and recommending it across all social media and other sites.

    Follow Bren on whatever site you’re on and tell him you liked the movie.

    Give it a honest review and rating on streaming services and IMDb, Google & Apple etc. we didn’t make a 10/10 movie, but honest reviews & rankings from genre fans help other people find it.

    As for the military shade? Not intentional. Aussies don’t do “thank you for your service” and we don’t really have an expeditionary military. I can’t speak for Bren, but that Military dad’s name & situation matches another script that didn’t go into production (too expensive for a first film). You never know but you may see that character in future.

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