I think we all knew that a movie called “Jiu Jitsu” starring Nicolas Cage was destined to be at least a little bizarre. Still, from the time the film was announced, the title and lead actor were all that was needed to get the BJJ community curious (and dare I say excited?).
Well, the trailer is finally out, and trying to summarize it may feel like a weird dream you’d tell to your uninterested coworkers. There are aliens and swords and Nicolas Cage and Octavia from The 100 and mentions of “jiu-jitsu masters,” but no jiu-jitsu. It’s… a lot. I desperately want to know why they stuck with the “Jiu Jitsu” title when they could’ve gone with literally anything else and had it make more sense.
To be very clear, I’m still going to see this movie because I love the idea of getting to experience someone else’s fever dream. But my expectations for actually seeing jiu-jitsu in it are comfortably low.
If you’re looking for a good movie that actually features martial arts in it, though, allow me to recommend Enola Holmes, which can be found on Netflix.
Enola Holmes makes no secret about the role that martial arts (specifically Japanese ju-jitsu, which obviously shares a lot in common with our beloved Brazilian jiu-jitsu) plays in the film.
The gist of the plot is this: Enola Holmes (played by Stranger Things‘ Millie Bobby Brown), the sister of Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill), finds that her mother (Helene Bonham Carter) has suddenly and mysteriously left their large estate, leaving Enola in the care of the harsher, uptight brother Mycroft Holmes (Sam Claflin). Enola flees to find her mother and escape Mycroft’s plans for her to go to finishing school, and on the way, she encounters a young man named Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge) who is fleeing a terrible fate of his own. There’s danger, mystery, romance, fourth-wall breakage, multiple laugh-out-loud moments, and plenty of the witty dialogue that you’d expect out of any movie with the Holmes name attached to it.
Even if you’re not a martial artist, the movie is cute and, in my humble opinion, objectively good. It flips a lot of tropes (and a lot of actors) upside-down without being obnoxious about it, and it makes sure the big moments hit hard — there’s a villain death that made me gasp and a hand-touch moment that’s probably given a whole new generation of teenagers the same sense of aching dramatic longing that the rest of us experienced when we watched Pride and Prejudice (2005) for the first time.
Obviously, though, as a jiu-jitsu athlete, I’m a bit biased — martial arts aren’t just a sidenote thrown in for the sake of a bit more action, they’re a major plot point in the movie. The film features the battle for women’s voting rights in the UK as a subplot (that eventually becomes much bigger as the movie goes on), and in doing so, they incorporate “suffrajitsu” into the storyline.
Suffrajitsu was a real movement that happened in the early 1900s in the UK. As suffragettes fought for women’s rights to vote, they often clashed with police and male demonstrators, who assaulted and harassed them. A 4’11” woman named Edith Garrud began teaching jiu-jitsu to the suffragettes to protect them from angry crowds, ultimately becoming one of the main figureheads of the movement as more and more women learned to defend themselves against larger attackers. The formidable ju-jitsu instructor in Enola Holmes is named Edith as a nod to Garrud, and interestingly enough, Helena Bonham Carter’s character in a different movie called Suffragette was also named Edith for the same reason. You can read more about the suffrajitsu movement here.
Enola, her mother, and other women in Enola Holmes have been trained in ju-jitsu, and we see Enola experience many of the same struggles we’ve all faced in our martial arts journeys — getting beat up by our instructor, failing to execute a technique at the worst possible time, and having the sudden, scary realization that we’re kind of good at jiu-jitsu now and have to be responsible with how we use it.
There’s also this very relatable moment, which feels like an in-joke given that Millie Bobby Brown (who also worked as a producer for the film) has some real-life jiu-jitsu experience of her own:
Enola Holmes has been out for nearly a month now, so obviously, I’m not the first to recommend it. We also have no way of knowing yet if Nicolas Cage will actually start throwing on triangles and bow-and-arrow chokes in Jiu Jitsu (which would be absolutely bananas now that we’ve seen what’s in that trailer). But if you’re craving a movie with a solid storyline that actually involves martial arts and will leave you hoping for a sequel, hop onto Netflix and watch Millie beat up some bad guys with her bare hands.