‘Life After Fighting’: A new action hero is born, and his name is Bren Foster

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

JUNE 22 — Unless we’re talking about 70s and 80s Asian kung fu flicks or 80s American action movies, fight flicks have always hovered somewhere along the B-grade movie line or even below that.

Budgets tended to be low and the craftsmanship more often than not reflect that in the slapdash quality of the sets, locations and even acting quality.

It was only that brief moment during the late 80s and early 90s, when Hollywood just couldn’t help but notice the rise of action movie stars from the VHS explosion, that names like Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mark Dacascos got to headline their own Hollywood studio movies, before these fight flicks went back to where they came from as straight to video or direct-to-video (DTV) titles.

Every once in a while, like when The Raid, Ong Bak and Ip Man films became global sensations, we’ll get to see some of these action stars appear as supporting characters in big mainstream movies, but never in the way that Jackie Chan got to headline his own big Hollywood movies.

The surprise success of John Wick was probably the best that films of this genre could ever hope for, but I don’t think it would’ve become the franchise that it is now without the star power of Keanu Reeves to pull audiences into cinemas in the first place.

In short, outside of markets like Hong Kong and China, where martial arts films have always been entrenched in their film culture and history, and which can still produce quality hits like the recent Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In, which have collected RM15 million in Malaysia so far and almost HK$100 million (RM60 million) in Hong Kong, fight flicks have always been some sort of labour of love for everyone involved, whether behind or in front of the camera.

After catching the attention of action fans with sidekick and minor roles in latter day Steven Seagal movies like Force Of Execution and Maximum Conviction, it’s now time for relatively unknown Australian actor Bren Foster to take things into his own hands and deliver his own labour of love, Life After Fighting, by not only starring in and action-choreographing the movie, but also writing and directing it himself. The result is 125 minutes of action movie magic, regardless of the project’s modest budget.

Yes, I know, at first glance 125 minutes does seem a bit too long for a fight flick, especially a low budget one like this. How can anyone sustain the viewer’s attention with this kind of runtime?

Foster manages this by paying equal attention, in terms of quality, to both the action sequences and the dramatic material that makes up about half of the film’s runtime.

He sprinkles a good five to 10 minutes of action scenes here and there throughout the opening 70 or so minutes of the film, but the bulk of that opening 70 or so minutes are dedicated to establishing the life of main character Alex Faulkner (played with easy charisma and surprisingly good acting skills by Foster), a man beloved by the community surrounding his martial arts school, where he teaches all sorts of martial arts to people of all ages.

Conflict arises when he starts to date Sam, who came to the school to register her little son Terry for lessons, who apparently has a jealous and possessive ex-husband named Victor. But there’s more!

Alex was a world champion fighter before this (hence the title Life After Fighting), and he retired after he lost his final championship fight, and the current world champion Arrio Gomez is currently in Australia and is hell bent on challenging Alex to a fight to prove himself as a truly worthy champion, which will set up an awesome fight scene between the two somewhere in the middle of the film, a fight so good that most fight flicks would’ve put this one as their climactic fight scene.

Australian actor Bren Foster stars as the lead character Alex Faulkner in 'Life After Fighting'. — Screen capture via YouTube/KinoCheck Action
Australian actor Bren Foster stars as the lead character Alex Faulkner in 'Life After Fighting'. — Screen capture via YouTube/KinoCheck Action

Australian actor Bren Foster stars as the lead character Alex Faulkner in 'Life After Fighting'. — Screen capture via YouTube/KinoCheck Action

Alex’s run-ins with Victor also means that some of Victor’s shady associates get to come to the school to try and wreak havoc and beat up Alex in front of his students, which of course is another great excuse to sprinkle in some crunching fight scenes between them to showcase Alex’s martial arts prowess, and establish to the audience his deep held belief that he must try to avoid conflict and physical altercations as much as possible.

All this comes to a boil when some unseen person in a van snatches two kids who are daughters of Alex’s trusted employee Julie, which kickstarts the almost 40-minute action extravaganza that ends the film as Alex tries his best to save the kids, and discovers way more than he bargained for. Those final 40 minutes are destined to go down as some of the finest fight scenes you’ll witness this year.

It’s a pity that Foster had to basically do everything himself here to finally make people sit up and take notice, but I’m glad that he did because this is the kind of breakout martial arts film that, in a just world, would announce his arrival on the world stage and, who knows, maybe even nab a supporting role or two in big Hollywood movies in the next few years.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.